The vehicle which set in motion one of the most daring adventures of India’s freedom struggle is all set to be back in action… 80 years after it first hit the road.
The German-made Wanderer W24, which transported Subhas Chandra Bose from his Elgin Road residence to Gomoh railway station in then Bihar on the midnight of 16 January 1941 reaching its destination a day later, has been restored by a group of about 10 Kolkata mechanics back to its original shape.
And the first person to have a feel of the now-restored historic vehicle would be President Pranab Mukherjee, who is scheduled to unveil the car on 18 January this year at Netaji Bhavan in Kolkata.
The manufacturer of Wanderer, Auto Union, is the predecessor of the German Auto Giant, Audi. And it is Audi which has provided the technical expertise to restore the car back to its original avatar. The restoration began in July last year with mechanics and experts working on it on the rear lawn of Netaji Bhavan. The work, now, is nearly complete.
Four years after it was bought in 1937, the car — one of the two vehicles owned by Netaji’s elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose and registered in the name of his son Sisir Kumar Bose – was instrumental in assisting Subhas’s meticulously planned, spine-chilling escape from under the noses the sleuths of the British Raj which had held him under a house arrest. It was the barely-out-of-his-teens nephew Sisir who, handpicked by Bose for the job, chauffeured the leader to Gomoh on that moonlit winter night 76 years ago. Bose took the Delhi-Kalka Mail from Gomoh and eventually reached Berlin through Peshawar, Kabul and Moscow. The rest, as they is history.
Back in 1937, the 1.8 litre four-door Limo cost Sarat Bose Rs 4,680 and was in regular use till the late-50s. The catalogue of the car says it was painted in an exquisite shade of turquoise blue and had black borders over its wheel guards.
“I remember riding it regularly after my marriage in 1955. By then, it had got its fresh coat of a black paint all over its body. Later, as recent visitors to Netaji Bhavan remember it, the car was painted grey,” reminisced Krishna Bose, wife of Late Dr Sisir Bose and former MP. “Even as a baby, Sugata, my elder son, took many a drive in that car along with us. At times it used to break down and I have so many memories of having to push it down the Rashbehari Avenue,” she added, smiling.
“It was driven perhaps for the last time by Dr Bose in 1978 for a Japanese television team which had come over to film a documentary on Subhas,” informed Ms Bose. Ever since then, the car remained exhibited inside a glass case on the driveway next to the front porch of Netaji Bhavan.
“But the car has always been a prize exhibit at the Netaji Research Bureau which was set up by Dr Bose in 1957 at the Elgin Road family residence of the Boses. In fact, it was the first exhibit at the Bureau, besides a bunch of letters which were exchanged between CR Das and Netaji with which Dr Sisir Bose had started the institution,” said Sugata Bose, MP and a Professor of History at Harvard University.
“Audi has taken great care to ensure that the car looks exactly the same it looked 80 years ago. That includes its interiors… the dash board, upholstery, wooden frames and the fabric roof,” he explained.
But what can bring real delight to Netaji enthusiasts is the decision of Bureau authorities to actually drive the Wanderer around for visitors to behold, at least once a week. That, some might consider as history on the move. Yet again.