Wheels of history: Swanky cars from the Independence era

Maharaja Rajinder Singh of Patiala imported the first car 'French-made De Dion Bouton' in India.

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India’s well-heeled loved their swanky set of vehicles. Here’s a look at the cars from the Independence era:

Rolls Royce Barker Tourer
Rolls Royce Barker Tourer

Owned by the royal family of Udaipur, the 1924 classic car has been with the family since the 1930s. It has been parked with the royals of Udaipur for seven generations. The car has a rich legacy as it was retrofitted to accommodate cricket teams. Arvind Singh Mewar is the current owner of the car. A part of the company’s smallest cars made in the 1920s. The car was designed by Henry Royce. The car had a 3.1-litre inline six-cylinder engine that produced 20 HP of power.


French De Dion Bouton
French De Dion Bouton
French De Dion Bouton and Maharaja Rajinder Singh of Patiala (R)

The first car to be imported in India by Maharaja Rajinder Singh of Patiala was the French-made De Dion Bouton. This steam car came in 1892 — it had the registration number plate of ‘0’. It is said that he also became the first Indian to own a motor-operated four-wheeled car. A two-cylinder tricar, it was lightweight and had pneumatic tyres.

Rolls Royce Silver Wraith
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Rolls Royce Silver Wraith
<p>Rolls Royce Silver Wraith and Louis Mountbatten<span class="redactor-invisible-space"> (R)</span><br></p>

The car was originally a gift from Queen Elizabeth to her last Viceroy in India, Louis Mountbatten. Before leaving India, Mountbatten handed over the car to the Indian government. The car has historical significance for it served several government luminaries from Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri to foreign heads of state like the Shah of Iran and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It became the state car of India and served the country till the late 1960s.

Packard 120

Packard 120
Packard 120 and Ghanshyam Das Birla (inset)

Believing in a non-materialistic lifestyle, MK Gandhi did not personally own any cars. However, his well-wishers offered him their vehicles. One such car was a Packard 120 owned by industrialist and freedom fighter Ghanshyam Das Birla. Gandhi was often clicked alongside the car during the freedom movement in the 1940s.

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Auto Union W24 Wanderer

​Auto Union W24 Wanderer​ and Subhash Chandra Bose​ (R)
Auto Union W24 Wanderer and Subhash Chandra Bose (R)

This car made by the now defunct Auto Union has a place in Indian history for being the vehicle Subhash Chandra Bose made his escape in. Bose posed as a Pathan insurance agent and escaped his house arrest in 1941. The car was restored in 2017, and unveiled to the public by former president Pranab Mukherjee. Nicknamed the ‘Great Escape Car’, its top speed was around 108km/hour.
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Gandhi, Nehru: A Look At Real Heroes Of India Inc From The Independence Era
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Turning the lens back on those photos of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru with some big corporate names of the time.

In pic: Mahatma Gandhi (left) and then PM Jawaharlal Nehru at the old JD(S) office which became new Congress Bhavan after the Congress party occupied the building after fighting years long legal battle, at Race course road in Bengaluru.
Turning the lens back on those photos of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru with some big corporate names of the time. In pic: Mahatma Gandhi (left) and then PM Jawaharlal Nehru at the old JD(S) of..
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The incoming and outgoing presidents of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Tulsidas Kilachand (left) and K D Jalan (right) escort Nehru as he arrives to inaugurate the 23rd Annual Day of the Federation on March 11, 1950 in New Delhi.
The incoming and outgoing presidents of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Tulsidas Kilachand (left) and K D Jalan (right) escort Nehru as he arrives to inaugurate the 23rd Ann..
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Nehru is being greeted by Purushotamdas Thakurdas (centre) on his arrival at the offices of the Indian Merchants Chamber as industrialist Naval Tata (extreme left) looks on.
Nehru is being greeted by Purushotamdas Thakurdas (centre) on his arrival at the offices of the Indian Merchants Chamber as industrialist Naval Tata (extreme left) looks on.
JRD Tata (centre) receives Nehru at Santacruz Airport with other dignitaries on his return from the United Nations. Tata asked Nehru about his experience of flying Air India’s ‘Everest’ flight.
JRD Tata (centre) receives Nehru at Santacruz Airport with other dignitaries on his return from the United Nations. Tata asked Nehru about his experience of flying Air India’s ‘Everest’ flight.
Mahatma Gandhi with Jamnalal Bajaj (left). Here, Bajaj was collecting funds for his Harijan Welfare program.
Mahatma Gandhi with Jamnalal Bajaj (left). Here, Bajaj was collecting funds for his Harijan Welfare program.
Ramdas Kilachand (left), president of the Indian Merchants Chambers, hosted a reception in honour of then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru on April 26, 1948, at his Napean Sea Road residence, Bombay.
Ramdas Kilachand (left), president of the Indian Merchants Chambers, hosted a reception in honour of then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru on April 26, 1948, at his Napean Sea Road residence, Bombay.
Gandhi came to Bombay on January 17, 1936 to attend to his health. He was staying at RD Birla’s bungalow in Juhu. This picture was taken as he was leaving for his morning stroll.
Gandhi came to Bombay on January 17, 1936 to attend to his health. He was staying at RD Birla’s bungalow in Juhu. This picture was taken as he was leaving for his morning stroll.

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