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French-made De Dion-Bouton: The First Motor Car Of Mangalore

In the present scenario, when the most low end cars help you zoom through heavy traffic, a car that moves at a speed of 19.5 km per hour, may not awe you. But for those Mangaloreons who were alive in the prime of the last century, just the luxury of getting a glance of the French-made De Dion which was an 8-10 HP single cylinder four-wheel, couch-type automobile, was a big deal. The first motor car that entered the coastal town was definitely a memory to cherish.

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It was the pioneer of the coffee business of Highland Coffee Works, P. F. X. Saldanha who bought the car that was shipped to the coastal town in October 1906, from Paris. In comparison to the horse drawn carriages that was famous then, this brand new idea of a four wheeler brought a great amount of people to the doorstep of Mr. Saldanha. 

Even when a car was available, as there were no persons who could be the driver of this prestigious vehicle, Luis Williams, a twenty two year old man from Bombay (now Mumbai) had to be hired for a Rs. 30 per month- a meagre amount in the present times. He was under a one year contract signed on a stamp paper by him along with three witnesses. This stamp paper is a piece of paper that the succeeding generations of Mr. Saldanha still have in their homes. The driver according to the contract was required to do everything for the car from cleaning to making sure that neither passengers nor passersby nor animals were endangered. 

This car was a luxury, it was not used like one uses a car for every small journey they may have. It was a sense of prestige and was used only for special occasions. Just as cars were not prominent then, even petrol was not. Thus petrol had to be exported in 5 or 10 gallon drums by boat from Madras(now Chennai)  to Bombay then to Mangalore with the help of special license.

F. X. Saldanha passed away in 1935 and with his death, the frequency of the De Dion also reduced. Then in 1956, his son, Joseph G X Saldanha gifted the car to St. Aloysius College Museum called Aloysium. And since then, anyone interested can visit Aloysium to get a glimpse of Mangalore’s first motor car.

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