Motor spirit

Motor spirit
Photo Credit:

A slice of the Raj through British eyes, at a time when motor cars had just begun to share road space with the mandatory elephant

Sheetal Vyas
January 12 , 2015
01 Min Read

When you’ve ploughed through bumper-to-bumper traffic every morning to get anywhere at all, it brings on a sigh to realise that the first ever motor car clattered over Indian roads a little over a century ago. Sources — unreliable ones — inform us confidently that it was the Maharaja of Patiala who first brought a motor car to India: a De Dion-Bouton steam-powered, two-cylinder tricar in 1892.

There isn’t very much information about this beautifully-coloured advertorial poster — not even when it was made, or by whom — but the context places it in the 1930s or ‘40s, by when the motor car was no longer an oddity on Indian roads. Asiatic Petroleum had joined hands with Burmah Oil Company to form Burmah-Shell, and car owners could expect to see petrol pumps by the roadside instead of relying on canned petrol. As for posters such as this one, they were something of a Shell speciality, and characteristic of their advertising. Over the years, they commissioned various artists to produce about 7,000 artworks that captured the spirit of motoring as it was then. No surprise, the Shell Advertising Art Collection is now prized by collectors as well as museums.

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