“There will be around 190 special cars at the Concours Show this time,” says Madan Mohan, president, Heritage Motorcars of India (HMCI). At the 10th 21 Gun Salute International Concours d’ Elegance, to be flagged off on January 5, 2023, some of the star attractions will be the 1951 Dodge Station Wagon used by Field Marshal KM Cariappa, former Chief of Army Staff; a 1934 Nash Ambassador; an Austin 7 convertible and a 1947 Buick Super 8.
The competition (by invitation only) and the ticketed event (January 6-8) open to the public, is bi-annual. It was founded in 2011 to promote motoring tourism in India. For the first time, the venue has moved out of New Delhi to the Lukshmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara. Samarjit Singh and Radhikaraje Gaekwad of the erstwhile royal family of Baroda are patrons of the event, which is supported by the Union Ministry of Tourism. It is organised by the 21 Gun Salute Cultural and Heritage Trust. On day one, a 90-kilometre ride from the Palace Golf Course Concours to the Statue of Unity at Kevadia will be held.
Vintage and classic car stables across the country are gearing up to present their beauties and showcase their roadworthiness. Palakkad-based vintage car restorer and collector Rajesh Ambal likens taking his 93-year-old Fiat Roadster to the show to “taking my great-great- grandmother. Originality gets top priority,” he says.
According to Delhi-based Diljeet Titus, founder and managing partner, Titus&Co, Advocates, “three-fourths of the cars will be on show for the first time ever or for the first time after restoration.” Diljeet, who will be exhibiting six of his cars, has a private Vintage and Classic Cars Museum at his farmhouse in Mehrauli, which also shows “other collectibles”. He explains that the cars will be evaluated on different aspects like originality, quality, back story, restoration, provenance and more. The originality of a vintage car is assessed by gauging how close the restored car is to when it left the factory or the dealership. A provenance assessment is of the post sale story, of how the car changed hands and its different owners.
Car owners have an emotional connect with their machines, he avers. “Why do we end up spending so much time on a car? What draws us to each one individually?” While each car represents a different era, design, character, form, colour, size and purpose, they also are testimony to “the development of automobile engineering and design. There were hunting cars, cars for maharajas, pickup trucks … these were very early modes of transport”. The high compression engines came in the late 1920s, air conditioning in the 1940s and the introduction of power steering, gears, brakes and electric seat windows in the 1950s.
Well-known car restorer Ravi Kapur, 83, is busy setting right seven cars for the rally. Ravi converted his passion and hobby for cars into a profession in 1992 by setting up a restoration unit — Kapur’s Vintage Cars — in Jaipur, which he runs along with his son Sanjeev and a team of 30 mechanics. He is currently working on an Austin 7 belonging to another 85-year-old rallyist Prabha Nene. “Mechanically the car is road-worthy, it’s now in the painting booth,” says Ravi, who is also sprucing up a 1947 Buick Super 8 and a Dodge D2 1936 Convertible both of which belong to Anant Narain Singh, titular maharaja of Benares.
“The maharaja used the Buick Super 8 when foreign guests visited Varanasi,” says Ravi. A 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan Town Sedan belonging to a Jaipur-based doctor and a 1938 Packard V 12 four-door saloon of a Delhi-based private collector too are being “looked after” by his team. “Only 450 models of the Packard V 12 were manufactured, of which just three survive in the world. This is the only one of its kind in India,” says Ravi, who recently invested in a sand-blasting machine to work on the car body, and was also one of the earliest to install a painting booth for cars to give the final coat a smooth finish.
With the craze for old cars and a demand for restoration increasing, the next two generations of his family too have joined the business. Despite the high duty on importing vintage cars, there is still a growing niche market, he says. Ravi’s love affair with cars began when he bought his first Austin in 1966. While he laughs about his “mad man’s fancy” he says that the greatest satisfaction comes when he finds the “Mercedes car-wala roll down his window and give the vintage car a thumbs up”.
“The maharajas were the largest owners and collectors of these cars. But many private collectors have bought it off them and have large inventories,” says Madan Mohan, who has one of the largest collections of vintage and classic cars in the country in New Delhi. In the 2020 rally, he participated with his 1937 Rolls Royce and will do so again with other cars. “My car did the 4,200 kilometre ride last time without a breakdown. We went up to speeds of 150 kmph in stretches like Bikaner to Jodhpur,” he says, adding that vintage cars are as good as any new car if tuned well. Over the years, the quality of restoration has grown “by leaps and bounds”, he says, adding that it is now on a par with international restorers. Madan, who built his collection over 22 years, is also a member of the jury this time to select the winners across 14 categories. “Everyone is under high pressure to prepare their cars to the highest level,” he says.
Prabha Nene calls her Austin Seven her “saheli” or friend. Prabha, who is 85, says her car is older than her: “88 years old”. In 1970, she was the only female participant in a Mumbai-Nagpur Vespa Scooter rally. “It’s a privilege to be part of this prestigious event,” says Prabha. “Cars need to be in immaculate condition for the show, as the standards are very high.” Prabha has been a volunteer traffic controller in Pune for the past 22 years, and is now the subject of a feature length documentary film by filmmaker Vinita Negi.
Chennai-based collector and restorer, Ranjit Pratap, and his team have been working on the engine of his 1965 model Ford Thunderbird, which will be participating in the event. Two of his classic cars — the Hudson 1949 and Jaguar Mark 2, 1967 — are ready. Ranjit’s collection of 90 classic and vintage cars are in “impeccable condition”, as he spends two hours (4pm to 6pm) every day attending to them. His family were dealers of Hudson from 1946 to 1951. This is where he gets his passion for such cars, he says. Ranjit too agrees that restoration standards in India have gone up but parts are not easily available because of the massive increase in freight charges. “The Thunderbird engine is eight-cylinder and to import the parts from the US is exorbitant,” he says. Ranjit has been galvanising car owners and collectors from South India to make a more robust representation in the event. He has also been advocating that the Motor Vehicle Department implement better policies with regard to classic and vintage cars. “We are fighting many challenges. Though the MV Act, set by the Central Government, says that cars beyond 50 years from date of manufacture are exempt from taxes and other regulatory factors, the implementation agencies are the State Governments and not conversant with many aspects of the act,” he rues.
Meanwhile Baroda royal Radhikaraje is looking forward to making the event happening at her home, “as traditional as possible” in terms of cuisine, craft and culture. “It is going to be unusual for the city of Vadodara and for our family to have it in our home garden.” The release of a coffee table book, The Motorcars of the Baroda State, on their 55 classic cars, by leading automotive author Karl Bhote will be one of the highlights, as is the introduction of a special category in competition- The Motorcars of the Baroda State Class. “We are looking forward to the homecoming of some Baroda cars, now in the hands of private collectors, like the convertible Bentley used by Maharani Chimnabai, the visionary queen of Baroda,” says Radhikaraje.