The Red Fort is old and majestic. Even imposing, some would say. It would have been hard to find a more perfect place to play host to a vintage car display. This display formed the prelude of the 6th 21 Gun Salute vintage car rally.
After wading through the formidable Delhi traffic, I thought it was very unlikely that I could enjoy a display of cars, or anything at all to do with cars. But the sight of the cars which were on display chipped away at my cynicism.
Hoping to be as inclusive as possible in the selection of cars to be showcased, the rally sought out not just manufacturers but also owners of these cars. Due to relatively low penetration of private vehicles in the early years of automobiles, a lot of early vehicles were bought by the princely rulers of India. These add insignia to the vehicles, adding to the historical context of these cars. This connection to the old royal houses of the Indian princely states is also seen in the names of the organizers. The 21 gun salute refers to the hierarchical order of salutes given to rulers of these states. The biggest ones, Hyderabad, Jammu and Kashmir, Mysore, Baroda and Gwalior received the highest number of gun salutes, which was 21.
Inaugurated by Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, the vintage car rally was not limited to being just an automobile exhibition, but it also featured cultural performances. The performances were intended to reflect the cultural traditions of the countries which were participating in the rally, namely the UK and Germany.
The display also had the Benz Patent Motorwagon, which is widely regarded as the world’s first automobile, created by Karl Benz. This was the vehicle which received the first patent for a car, in 1886.
Madam Mohan, founder of 21 gun salute expressed as much “This year the vintage car rally will be organized at a much larger scale, with 125 hand-picked vintage & classic cars and will be grander than all the previous editions. The vision of the event is to place India as a world-class global motoring tourism destination” he said.
The rally featured not just vintage cars from India, but also had an international segment. A total of 125 cars formed part of the display, with motorcycles also adding to that number. The cars on display included some which marked landmark evolutions in the automotive industry. Prominent amongst the crowd were the Lister Costin Jaguar, 1933 Jaguar SS1 Coupe, Jaguar XK 120, Mercedes 630 Murphy, Rolls Royce – Silver Ghost, Maybach SW 38 1937 and the Horch 780 Cabriolet, 1959.
The display also had the Benz Patent Motorwagon, which is widely regarded as the world’s first automobile, created by Karl Benz. This was the vehicle which received the first patent for a car, in 1886. The rally also featured the Ford Quadricycle, created by Henry Ford before he established his company. The vehicle is a precursor to cars, and acted as a blueprint for early vehicles. These two were the culmination of the efforts of early inventors. The 1896 Quadricycle uses the ethanol based engine which Ford developed, which could provide sufficient power for the vehicle to be self-propelling.
The Royal Enfield Interceptor, the classic 60s motorcycles was also display, along with a range of old Harleys and classic Indian motorcycles.
The oldness of the vehicles, though the main attraction, did come with a unique set of problems. The less refined engines of the vehicles led to the rally being subjected to the scrutiny of the National Green Tribunal. The plan to drive these vehicles to the Buddh Circuit on the second day after the Red Fort led to the NGT considering whether the cars would be too polluting to be driven on Delhi roads. The rally to the Buddh circuit would be followed by ceremonial laps around the venue, and another display for connoisseurs.
Besides, showcasing the rich automotive heritage to the world, the rally also took up a social cause. Previous editions had given support for the welfare of spastic and blind children. This year it has added the message of ‘Save the Girl Child’. A percentage of the proceedings from this event would be given as charity for the welfare & education of Girl Children.