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Reel history on wheels

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Actor Kunchacko Boban recalls the history of the recently reacquired 1955 Studebaker that has been in his family for over half a century

When a car has been with a family, intermittently, for almost 60 years, it is more than a set of wheels and the speedometer clocks history too. And if the car belongs to Malayalam film industry blue blood, add popular culture to the history. The car in question is a 1955 Studebaker Commander, registration number KRY 2464, which belonged to Kunchacko of Udaya Studios.

The elegant blue-green beauty, the late Kunchacko’s grandson Kunchacko Boban says, has been part of his memories. “I have been told that this car took my mother, as a new bride, to my father’s house in Alappuzha.”

The manufacturers of Studebaker cars were the United States-based Studebaker Corporation which was formerly Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company. This company which used to make wagons and buggies entered the automobile industry in 1902 with an electric car. It is said Thomas Alva Edison bought the second electric car. Production of Studebaker cars stopped in 1966, according to the website of the Studebaker National Museum.

The actor has memories and information culled from stories handed-down about how the who’s who of the Malayalam film industry starting from the 50s onwards travelled in or drove the car. Since the late Kunchacko was a well-known film producer it is a list that includes people with near-icon status such as Sathyan, Prem Nazir and Madhu.

“I have hazy memories of the car which has been part of several films. One film I remember is Lal Salaam when Madhu sir drives up in a cloud of dust,” Kunchacko says. Sunday morning drives with his grandmother to church, returning home from school, injuring his nose on the dashboard…are his memories of the family car. “Once the car broke down and it gulped close to five litres of petrol before the engine started again,” he says.

Sometime in the mid-90s the car changed hands and it went to vintage car dealers. That was that until a year ago. “A year back Santosh Chettan of ATS Cars, who owned the car, called up asking if I wanted the car.” On exchange of a ‘nominal’ amount, Kunchacko got his grandfather’s car back. A year’s worth of work later, the car was recently delivered to him.

Not only did the car’s ‘touch-up’ take time, it also took some finding. “There are obviously very few mechanics who can work on a vintage car. We found a mechanic in Fort Kochi and the septuagenarian ashaan worked on the car for almost a year to get it in running condition.” Spares were hard to come by and therefore had to be fabricated on the lathe. However, the paint wasn’t hard to find, “The colours are the same as before, it has two shades of green.”

A couple of weeks ago the car returned home to Alappuzha. Kunchacko says, “My father’s (the late Boban Kunchacko) friends called up and told me that it made them happy to see the car back. I didn’t hanker after it. I didn’t chase it, I got an opportunity to get the car back and made use of it.”

The mileage is almost nothing, he adds, “Maybe eight kilometres. The drive to Alappuzha consumed close to 40 litres of petrol. I told my mother that driving would be highly un-economical.”

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