untamed

"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come from the depth of truth; Where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection; Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Into that heaven of freedom it should be our intent. ( my adaption from Rabindranath Tagores famous lines)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Car Racing Days

Believe it or not, I, Chandru Arni was the first Indian to build a sports car and race in an official race meet in India. This was in November 1953 at the Calcutta Airstrip under the auspices of CMSC (Calcutta Motor Sports Club). The CMSC was set up around 1952 and had 100% expatriates and they held their meetings in the then "Whites Only" Saturday Club. I was interested in car racing and met Robin Davies, who had a lot of time for Indians and he got me interested in building a ‘Special’. The car was fabricated at the Shalimar Tar Products Factory garage in Alipore out of a Standard Vanguard. Robin Davies (an Englishman who was the Works Manager of that Factory) and Henri Ribordy (a Frenchman) were mainly responsible for designing it. We named it ARD special after our three names. A specialist tinker and I designed the shape. Many foreigners were under contract not to take part in risky sports and hence their deep interest to see me do what they visualized for themselves.

My first act was to procure a car (economically) that was involved in an accident, with the engine and chassis in good condition. Also since I wanted to race in the 2_litre class it would be ideal to get a Standard Vanguard. To my immense luck this happened on 6th June 1953. My good friend, Mr.E.K.Srinivasan who was the MD of Hercules Insurance helped me. I got the "completely smashed "Vanguard ('52 model) for Rs.2500.The cost of the body frame came to Rs. 500. (Notice, in the video shown below) that there are no doors and no glasses - this was done for safety and in lowering the costs. The chassis was cut, cross-braced for strength and the steering lowered to reduce the height. Other modifications & additions were also engineered but I am omitting them. Suffice to say that the final cost came to Rs. 6500, a big amount in those days for a hobby!

Also notice that the holes in the front were positioned such that when racing they acted as ducts to cool the brakes and, when not racing, I could fit sealed headlights in them and enjoy my evening jaunts to Calcutta’s Night Life at Firpos ,Princess and 300 Club. Remember I had 2 cars now - the Morris Minor was my normal car since the ARD was usually parked in the Alipore Shalimar Tar Garage for there was always something necessary to be done before the fortnightly race meets.

Sunday November 22nd, 1953 was my 1st Race. On the previous day, Saturday, Robin Davies and Ribordy had the car checked out and Ribordy did the Test-drive. They had also extracted a promise from me that if they do not pass the car fit for racing I will not race! I am not present there as I am pretty nervous and I know they will be going on a binge that evening and I would be tempted to a late night also. I wanted to stay off alcohol and have a good rest for the next day. I am praying that they will find the car coming upto their expectations.

Alipore, the race strip where CMSC holds its races has a course length of1.4 miles with 2 hairpin bends and a chicane. Not complicated but one of the hairpins called for 2 fast gear changes prior to intensive braking and then another fast gear change with sudden acceleration to prevent being overtaken before entering the narrow "S" chicane.

All the races were not scratch races. The handicaps were based on the previous meet's best timings per lap for each car. There were 2 methods of handicapping when cars from 1.5 litre race with 3.5 litre. (1) Start them off one after the other based on the total handicap for the number of laps for the race, or (2) Start them all together and make them take a compulsory pit stop for that time. The latter delighted the crowd and challenged the drivers, as they have to do a "standing lap" again and not overshoot the pits! The races were normally 3 laps, 5 laps and 10 laps. The grand prix of the season was for 20 laps.

Even in 1953 there were some crowds as the Statesman newspaper carried the advertisements & the warning that the spectators come at their own risk & neither the club nor the drivers take responsibility. We, the so-called racing car drivers had to also sign an indemnity bond to protect the other drivers and the CMSC against claims, etc. Once, when I got a little nervous, I approached my good friend E.K.Srinivasan (MD of Hercules Insurance) & requested an Insurance policy for just the racing days at a premium he can decide. His answer "We only insure contingencies - not certainties!"

The races were held only in the (lovely) winter months every fortnight. After every race we stripped the engine and examined the chassis. In my case every month the brake linings and several clutch items had to be changed. Compression ratios with the engine cylinder head gaskets were sometimes "fiddled" to get higher compression ratios to beat the handicap! For a whole season of racing it cost me Rs 300 per race day when my Monthly Salary was then Rs 400!

My competitors were all “whites” and they won more races than I. I was also the youngest and being an Indian in those days was not really acceptable to them (except to Robin Davies and Ribordy). Alan Ramsay ( Director of ‘Tractors India’ was the best driver in my 2 years of racing.

Just 3 years of this “activity” brought an end to my racing history. It was before marriage and was strongly brought home to me that I will have to quit as a result of my new responsibility. The quitting was made easier as my last race ended in an accident with the right front wheel shearing off its connecting rod and me hitting the fence, walking shamefully back to the pits.

The video below reveals some of this history. (The camera generally used those days were of Black and White pictures!)

3 Comments:

  • At 6:47 PM, Blogger abhilekh said…

    Hi,
    Really Glad to look at ur acheivements......

    Look forward to communicate with you.

     
  • At 5:26 PM, Blogger crazythink said…

    Do communicate if you think 'my profile' suits yours

     
  • At 2:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ek Srinivasan was my grandfather


    Nikhil Srinivasan

     

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