As the automobile industry continues to amaze us, John Castellas takes us on a sweet ride in the vintage vehicles that whizzed past the roads in Vizag.
The 1900s brought the Industrial Revolution to Vizag. Railways, with steam locomotives, joined Vizag to Calcutta and Madras. Steamers anchored offshore to offload visitors and take on various cargo bound for Europe. Bullock cart tracks marked the Main Road, through the Old Town, past St John’s Church, and transit through Kotha Veedhi and the Dargah, to the waterfront at the channel entrance. Horse and carriages were the transport of the wealthy. Hand pulled rickshaws, and horse drawn jutkas, provided transport for the local people.
Vintage vehicles of Vizag:
Early motorcars to the city
The first motorcars and vintage vehicles brought to Vizag were the ones by Ford in 1904 by Messrs. Arbuthnot & Co of Chittivalasa Indigo Factory and its engineer, Mr. Innes. The second Ford car was brought by Capt. C Arlington in 1907, the adjutant of the East Coast Battalion. These were most likely Ford Model AC as advertised at that time. The two-cylinder Model AC was sold for about US $1,000, whereas the larger four passenger, four-cylinder luxury Ford B was sold for about US $2,000. The aristocrats of the city travelled in the steamers to Europe and were fascinated by this new mode of personal luxury travel – the automobile.
The early luxury cars were made to the specifications of their owners. In 1912, the Vizagapatam royals had ordered a Humber Landaulette with windows that were smoked and lined with fine gauze. This was for Her Highness Seetaba Rani Sahib of Wadhwan (daughter of Maharajah Gajapathi Rao), and the ladies of the zenana, when she had relocated back to Vizag after being widowed.
By 1915, more motorcars arrived in Vizag as the respective Maharajahs of Bobbili, Jeypore, and Vizianagaram, jostled to order the next model for their private collections. The usage of their automobiles also led to their financing of proper solid roads linking Waltair, where they had built summer palaces, to Bhimblipatam, Vizianagaram and Vizag’s Beach Road. Bridges were built and washed away by the monsoons many times. To cross rivers, motorcars had to be unloaded, have their wheels removed and ferried over on palmyra rafts.
In 1911, the Government had brought the first Rolls Royce cars to India for the Delhi Durbar. The aristocrats were special guests, at this event, and Rolls Royce sales to the Maharajahs skyrocketed from then on. The Maharajah of Vizianagaram purchased a 1925 RR 16 HC Windovers Open Tourer, a 1927 RR 93YC Windover All Weather and a 1927 RR 1EF Barker Open Tourer. The Maharajah also had a Silver Ghost Rolls Royce. This, along with other cars and elephants, proudly took part in the annual Vizianagram stately procession. In 1923, the Raja of Bobbili bought a RR G806 Simpson Landaulette.
Motor vehicles were becoming increasingly popular among senior government officials in the public works department, ports, railways, posts & telegraphs, police, forestry, and the military. Companies, and their senior managers and missionaries, were also registering motorcycles. Fifteen were registered with Vizagapatam number plates. BSA and Triumph motorcycles were by far the most popular brands during that era.
The Maharajah’s choice
The Maharajahs garages had dozens of cars and they were particularly partial to English brands such as Rolls Royce, Daimler, Austin Morris and Standard. These men were rich, powerful, and obsessed with the pageantry of luxury. But during the time, when automobiles were less reliable than weather reports, the most exclusive cars were ones that didn’t break down. The workshops of Vizag’s St Aloysius Technical School (also called the Bishop Tissot Memorial Industrial School) provided the breakdown support, and repairs, for early European and American cars. Additionally, training for many of the youth in automotive mechanics was also given here. The Rolls Royce sales promotion, however, was full of a British understatement when they claimed that, ‘A Rolls Royce never breaks down, it simply fails to proceed!’
Motor car rules of the yesteryears
The Madras Presidency Government introduced the Madras Motor Car Rules of 1921 to exercise the intent of the Indian Motor Car Act of 1914. Motor vehicles that were to be driven on public roads had to be registered. But many Maharajahs, who owned the more luxurious vehicles and drove them on their own estates, did not register the vehicles with the government. The fee for registration was Rs 16 per vehicle and Rs 1 for a motorcycle. In 1921 there were 7,312 cars and motorcycles registered in the Madras Presidency of which 28 cars were registered for Vizagapatam.
The Madras Motor Car Rules of 1921 had some interesting regulations for cars in the Presidency such as:
- Motor vehicles were restricted to a speed limit of seven miles per hour (equal to 5 kilometers per hour) in public places.
- Motor vehicles had to be driven on the left side of the road except when passing horses and other vehicles going in the same direction.
- Every person driving a motor vehicle in a public place was required to have a ready and available horn capable of giving sufficient warning of the approach or position of the motor vehicle.
- The driver of a vehicle, turning left, had to keep as close to the corner and if turning to the right, make a wide turn. The driver shall further, when turning right, hold out his right hand horizontally to the right of the vehicle and when about to stop, raise his hand vertically, palm to the front.
- No person may cause or permit a motor vehicle to stand, or be used, in a public place, between half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise, or may drive a vehicle when so used, unless it carries three lighted lamps of suitable illumination. One of these will be attached on either side of the front of the vehicle, exhibiting a white light in the direction the motor vehicle is proceeding and the third at the back of the vehicle exhibiting red light in the reverse direction.
The Madras Almanac 1921
Here are the records of the owners of registered vintage motor vehicles in Vizag at the time:
- Rajah Rajagopal of Siripuram had a Darracq
- Mr. F N Fenr had an Oldsmobile
- G Chinnayya Bros of Vizianagaram had a Dedion and a Wolseley
- D Sree Rama Sastri had a Darracq
- Rajah of Salur had an F N Touring car
- Maharajah of Vizianagram had a Napier
- G Chambret Bros had a Darracq
- Maharajah of Jeypore had a Darracq
- M P Ramamurthy Chetty of Waltair Estate had a Napier
- A P Leith had an Excelsior
- C V Tatachari had a Ford
- C A Henderson of Waltair had a Clement Talbot
- A N Bhanoji Rawgan had an Austin
- Rajah Gajapati Narayan had a Humber
- H Sastri had a Ford
- Rajah of Bobbili had a Studebaker and a Chevrolet
- Ranee of Salur had a Ford
- Sankarayya Tiyyale had an Overland
- Lt Kelty had a Ford
- Binny & Co had a Ford
- Ranee of Wadhwan Vizag had a Ford
- V Adinarayana Sastry had a Ford
- L B Thangamma had a Ford
- I Sri Ranganayakulu had a Ford
- E M Blomfeld had a Ford
- Rajah Jagga Rao had an Overland
- Zamindar of Kurupam had a Humber
Earlier, in 1902, the Madras Presidency adopted a car registration format that used the alphabet for the district in which the car was registered e.g. V for Vizagapatam, MC was for cars in Madras, CO for Coimbatore, MD for Madura, MN for Nilgiris etc. The photograph of the car 98 V is a 1921 Essex Super Six Tourer, with canvas foldaway top. This was an American mid-priced car for the general population. Registration 98V indicates that it was number 98 in the Madras Presidency and V the District of Vizagapatam.
This article on the vintage vehicles of Vizag has been written by John Castellas whose family belonged to Vizag for 5 generations. Educated at St Aloysius, migrated to Melbourne, Australia in 1966, former General Manager Engineering at Boeing & Qantas Airways, in retirement Lecturers in Aviation Management at Swinburne University and is a Vizag aficionado.