It took one whole hour to get the Palani-bound bus road-ready in the 1940s. Before the driver turned the ignition on, an assistant would add wood chips into a wood gasifier fitted behind. “When these burned inside the furnace, it resulted in combustible wood gas,” says M Suresh, the general manager of GD Naidu Charities. The bus had a petrol engine, but science pioneer GD Naidu had modified it to suit hybrid fuel owing to a shortage of petrol and diesel across the world after World War II. Painted blue, it is in running condition, and is among the latest additions to Coimbatore’s famed Gedee Car Museum.
For the longest time, visitors at the museum, that was set up in April 2015, felt it did not showcase that many Indian cars. “We did have a few. But many people wrote to us about this,” says Suresh. This year, the museum, that is run by the GD Naidu Charities, decided to act on this feedback. “We have added over 40 Indian cars to our previous collection of 70,” he adds.
“Indian cars have a history, which is why we thought of opening a new bay for them,” says 85-year-old G D Gopal, Naidu’s son, speaking to us from his tree-lined residence on Avinashi Road. Gopal, who has a love for cars himself, has a shiny new MG electric vehicle parked at his verandah. His favourite car of all time, however, is the Morris Minor. “It is a simple car that is easy to service and is ideal for Indian roads,” he says. His first Morris was a black one, and is now on display at the museum.
The new bay has plenty of informative text panels along with the cars, in keeping with the museum’s USP. This includes displays about the history of motor vehicles and public transport in India, with focus on Naidu’s Universal Motor Service. Notable among these panels, are those describing India’s attempts at manufacturing indigenous cars that had charming names such as Meera, Swadeshi, Mayura, and Aravind.
Cars are arranged according to their manufacturer. We walk past a stately Ambassador from 1964, that rubs shoulders with a 1948 Morris Minor and a 1984 Contessa Classic, all by Hindustan Motors. How does India’s popular budget family car by Tata, the Nano look like on the inside? A cutaway of the car shows the interiors of its popular rear engine.
There are Tata’s cars such as Indigo and Indica, including the now discontinued Aria. Another Nano from 2007, that belonged to V Sumantran who oversaw the development of the car, has been donated to the museum. There also is Bajaj’s cute PTV from 1980, a three-wheeled creation modelled around an autorickshaw, that is proof of how Indian manufacturers constantly experimented to offer affordable automobiles for families dreaming of owning a car.
A Bedford studio van from 1931 bearing the name Pakshiraja Studios and the popular logo of a bird with outstretched wings, that Suresh says was used during the shoot of the MGR film, Malaikkallan, is on display. The van has a small section for artistes to sit, and behind it, a dark room for film to be processed. Another prized possession of the GD family, a caravan bus used by politician and social activist EVR Periyar for campaigning stands at the far end with gleaming polished wooden interiors. Suresh points out that the van was a gift from Periyar to Naidu, and the two of them shared a warm friendship spanning several years.
Remember the Padmini? Uno? Matiz? Cars that plied our roads during simpler times, when traffic was sparse and people travelled with windows down with the wind on their hair. Many cars on display are bound to trigger happy memories.
Gedee Car Museum is located at 734, President Hall Building, Avinashi Road. Open from Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 6.30pm. For details, call 2222548.