In 1910, a wealthy Scotsman, Robert Nicholl Matthewson, took a swan-shaped car down the streets of Calcutta, where he lived. He had commissioned the car, which combined the features of a boat, the previous year to JW Brooke and Company, England. According to an automotive history blog, the pearl white body of the Brooke Swan car “resembled a swan floating gracefully in a lake amidst golden lilies”. There were a few remarkable features – the swan’s eyes were fitted with lights and an open beak allowed the driver to spray steam to clear the road of pedestrians. The wings were fixed with brushes to clean the tyres of any elephant droppings.
The fascinating story of Brooke’s Swan Car caught the attention of K Sudhakar Yadav, a Hyderabad-based car designer and fabricator and he set out to create a replica some years ago. Nearly complete, the car is today displayed at Sudha Cars Museum, a permanent exhibition space Yadav opened in 2010 amidst scrapyards on the busy Bahadurpura Cross Roads to exhibit vehicles of myriad shapes and sizes.
The Swan Car takes its design and name from the Brooke and Company’s creation, and Yadav has made a remarkable attempt at recreating the ingenuity of an extraordinary vehicle, now nearly a century old. “It took us nearly three years and we are still tweaking it a bit,” he said. “You could say it is 90% to 95% close to the original, including the glowing eyes and hot steam blowing out of its beak. I used only the photographs of the original as a reference and worked it all out to come up with this version. A little imagination also came into play, especially with details of interiors – for example, the gap between the driver’s seat and rear seat.”
As for the original Brooke Swan Car, it is believed to have spread panic on the streets in Calcutta and was reportedly banned soon after its first ride, compelling Matthewson to sell it. The Maharaja of Nabha purchased it and it stayed with his family for nearly 70 years until the Louwman Museum in the Netherlands purchased it at an auction in 1990. The museum restored the Brooke Swan Car completely, with attention to every detail, including its upholstery.
Museum of oddities
At Sudha Cars Museum, all the 200 vehicles on display are handmade and many are modelled after ubiquitous objects such as a helmet, football, computer, snooker table, double bed, camera and even a burger. While visitors are delighted with the cars and their peculiar concepts, most of them find it hard to believe these are functional models. To this end, each car is accompanied by a plaque with details of the engine, load capacity, maximum speed and year of manufacture. Posters on display also demonstrate Yadav and other enthusiasts operating the vehicle. According to Yadav, around 1,000 people visit the museum every day, and the revenue from entry tickets takes care of maintenance costs as well as the costs of adding new models.
Never formal trained, Yadav began his design career by building toy cars and buses as a teenager. His ability to conceive and fashion car models is attributed to a mentor, Babu Khan, who was a small-time mechanic with great ideas. He also acknowledges the role of tinkerers in helping him create all the beautiful designs, with simple tools. Before he founded Sudha Cars, Yadav used to run his own printing press. “I never imagined or planned to set up a museum, it just happened over time,” he said.
In 2005, Yadav set a Guinness world record for building the world’s largest tricycle, which is 37 ft tall and has a wheel diameter of 17 ft. He is also credited with building the world’s smallest double-decker bus, which can seat 10 people. “Every car is a challenge [to make],” said Yadav. “I take a subject and create a dummy after scaling up the model. Later, we check balance and suspension, and calculate the weight depending on which an engine is selected. We go through a lot of trial and errors, before we arrive at the model that works. Even with the tallest tricycle, we had about 50 failed attempts before we got a working model.”
Labour of love
The time from design to execution of any car can vary from 20 days to three years. All the cars are made with parts that are sourced from the junkyards and garages in the neighbourhood, Yadav said. “Every panel in the body of the football car is handmade and when these panels are joined together, we need to ensure that the resulting shape comes out accurately. Likewise with the dimples of the golf-ball car.”
Yadav’s office, too, is built entirely from scrap and his desk is made from the body of a 1908 Model T Ford replica, which was the world’s first affordable automobile. Ideas for new cars are drawn from various sources – feedback from visitors to the museum, festivals and commemorative days. Having come to realise that people are drawn more towards wacky cars, Yadav relies on his eccentric imagination and combines mechanics, creativity and humour.
Janardhan K, a visitor, credits Yadav’s passion for the car collection. “Clearly, he has put in time and effort, and managed to breathe life into discarded cars and machinery,” he said. Another visitor, Mohammed Shabbir said, “There are just so many different types of (wacky) cars in the museum. But I am not sure we are ready to see such cars on the road, soon.”
None of the cars made at the museum are for sale or commissioned, nor can visitors try them out for ride. Occasionally, Yadav does organise shows in public spaces where select models are on display and can be driven.
For Women’s Day in 2012, he created low-powered cars shaped like a stiletto and handbag. The cars designed for Children’s Day 2013, too, were low-powered machines that came right out of a schoolchild’s pencil box in the form of an eraser, a sharpener, a pen and a pencil. To promote safe sex on World AIDS Day in 2002, he even designed a vehicle in the shape of a condom.