The Wanderer that Contributed to India’s Independence

The Wanderer that Contributed to India’s Independence (1937 Wanderer W24)

As many of you may know, the very beginnings of the German Wanderer marque go back to the year 1885, when Johann Baptist Winklhofer and Richard Adolf Jaenicke founded the company ‘Chemnitzer Velociped-Depôt Winklhofer & Jaenicke’, registered to sell and repair bicycles. Not long after, they were manufacturing bicycles and, by 1902, had graduated to the manufacture of motorcycles. The first car from Wanderer, the 5/12hp Type W1, was shown at the 1911 Berlin motor show and, by 1913, series production of the car had begun.

Under pressure from the Dresdner Bank, which granted Wanderer loans of over 5 million Reichsmarks, Wanderer sold its licence for the manufacture of motorcycles to the Czech engineer Dr. Fr. Janecek, who founded the motorcycle brand Jawa, and then in 1932 merged with Audi, DKW and Horch to form Auto Union. This explains the logo of the group: the four interlinked rings that remain the logo of the only surviving brand among these four today, Audi.

While DKW, with its two-stroke engines, was to focus on the cheaper end of the market and Horch aimed right at the top, Audi and Wanderer models were developed to address the midsection. Thus, under Auto Union management, the Wanderer W21, a direct competitor to Mercedes-Benz’s 170, was launched in 1933. The six-cylinder W21 evolved into the W23 in 1937. The same year, Wanderer launched the W24, which was a smaller four-cylindered derivative of the W23 and the latter shared with the former several drivetrain and suspension components, as well as body and chassis parts. The new model policy enabled the brand to achieve its greatest commercial success. The W24 became Wanderer’s best ever seller, with more than 22,000 built over a three-year period.

Available with a variety of body styles – basic two- and four-door saloons, as well as two- and four-door convertibles – the W24 sold well in Germany and Continental Europe. However, very few came to India and, in all likelihood, the car that you see here is the only one extant in India today (though several DKWs do survive in the country). But more remarkable than the rarity of the car is its historical significance.

This is the car in which India’s most charismatic freedom fighter, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, ‘escaped’ from his residence at Calcutta’s Elgin Road to reach Gomoh railway station under cover of darkness, during the night of 16-17 January 1941. This was despite full-time surveillance by the British, who were aware that Netaji’s escape could create problems for the Raj. With Netaji’s 21-year-old nephew Sisir Kumar Bose at the wheel, the Wanderer covered the 300km to Gomoh in a few exciting hours, so that Netaji could catch the Kalka Mail to Delhi. From there he found his way to Peshawar and thence to the Soviet Union through Afghanistan.

Bought new in 1937 by Netaji’s elder brother, Sarat Chandra Bose, but registered in the name of Sisir Kumar Bose, the car was in regular use till 1957, driven mostly by Sisir Kumar Bose, when it was donated to the Netaji Research Bureau. Since then it has been immobile for the best part of five decades. The decision to have the car restored was taken in June 2016, in time for the 75th anniversary of Netaji’s Great Escape, and the task of restoration was given to Pallab Roy. Roy and his team worked flat out for seven very short months – and the result was highly impressive.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose didn’t survive WW II, breathing his last in a Japanese military hospital in 1945, after the plane carrying him crashed near Taipei. Yet this Wanderer, a touching testimony to the memory of one of India’s greatest freedom fighters, lives on as the key exhibit at the Netaji Bhawan Museum in Calcutta.

  • Gautam Sen
  • Photo credits: Shreya Goswami
The Wanderer that Contributed to India’s Independence