The 51st edition of The Statesman Vintage Car Rally had the rarely glimpsed on Delhi's roads once again
By: Suman Tarafdar
Posted on: February 28, 2017
Vintage cars are part of heritage, right? Of course, and in most countries, they are accorded that status, making them exempt from many modern rules applied to newer vehicles. Well, in Delhi, home to the oldest continuously running vintage car rally in Asia, things are a bit more complicated.
For one, due to excessive pollution, all cars aged 15 years or more are banned, even VINTAGE CARS, which makes driving them a cognisable offence! So ever since the ban, each year a special permission is required to keep the rally running. The Statesman’s Bhupinder Singh, the man who has been behind the rally for four long decades, and has seen it all, stresses that an exception must be made for these cars.
Mr Singh estimates there are 300 of them in Delhi today, in various states of repair. Ironically, even as the ban has thrown a spanner in the works, the desire to own vintage cars has only grown. This edition of the race saw more than 100 cars flagged off on February 26 from the Statesman House. Of course, as Mr Singh explains, not all cars are technically ‘vintage’. That’s reserved for cars made up to 1939. Those made between 1940 and 1956 are classified as ‘classic’.
Once bought for use, over the years, many of them had been gathering dust due to neglect and lack of spare parts. However the advent of Internet has opened up the market. Patrons, nay, lovers of vintage cars now seek experts from around the world and are ready to pay the world. One Rolls Royce expert travels business class and charges apparently £100 an hour while in India, reveals an owner! Mr Singh is encouraged by the interest the younger generation is showing. “It gives the young a chance to understand why their elders praised the cars, to see the workmanship and quality of these cars.”
Rishi Kapoor, with a stunning 1936 Ford V8, is a good example. A hotelier from Khajuraho, his family has 42 vintage cars. “They are like babies to handle,” he says. At Syna Hotel, the cars transport guests from the airport to the hotel. It always adds to the pleasure of the guests, he says.
Atul Anand is here with a 1951 MG, a company that no longer exists, making the car a rarity. Just 888 were made, and just about 80 survive, he reveals, pride apparent as he presents his immaculate car. His daughter Aditi has now inherited the interest and drives too, winning an award for driving at the previous edition of the rally.
Hotelier and Bird Group head Ankur Bhatia has five cars at the rally. Passionate about the cars, he has been part of the rally since 1994. Among the cars is a 1934 Singer, another brand that no longer exists. Incidentally, this is a race car, part of the 1935 Le Mans. There’s also a 1946 Ford jeep, a war model, which has been lovingly restored. He himself rode a grand 1949 Jaguar. He too parks some of his cars in his hotels, lending a vintage touch to them. “We have a garage to maintain the cars,” he explains as a way to maintain these beauties.
It would be hard to ignore Sanjay Varma’s 1930 Ford, now a canary yellow. Registered to the long gone Bombay state, his family is full of vintage car enthusiasts, having participated in the very first vintage car rally in Kolkata, flagged off by the legendary General Sam Manekshaw. A 4-cylinder convertible, Varma tries to drive it at least every fortnight.
Then there was the ‘killer car’. This 1930 Studebaker sported a red board with the word ‘killer’ emblazoned on it! A conversation with Javed Rehman, whose father owns the car, revealed this was the car Nathuram Godse rode when he went to shoot Mohandas Gandhi! Okay, that sent shivers down my spine on a hot February morning, and I never got around to admiring this once made to order car for a maharaja whose name has been lost to history. I only hoped that the tale was fanciful invention as I quickly moved on!
Young Shivraj Anand is here with a stunning 1948 Hillman. “I like the individuality of these cars. They are about enjoying the journey.”
The Commissioner of Delhi Police, Amulya Kumar Patnaik, gave away the prizes. The CR Irani Memorial Trophy for the "Queen of the Rally" for the most outstanding vintage cars judged on the basis of authenticity, maintenance, restoration and elegance went to Roshni Sanah Jaiswal for Rolls Royce 1937 while Ashish Jain won The Blue Star Trophy for most elegant British car which completes the course for his 1933 model Rolls Royce.
The HMCI Trophy for the most authentically restored car manufactured in USA went to Hitesh Arora for his 1959 Chevrolet while The Syna Vintage collections trophy for the most outstanding outstation entry went to Gurangand Singh Manco for his 1962 Mercedes Benz.
Another graceful car, HW Bhatnagar’s Cadillac 1949 won the Malibu Towne Trophy for the most elegant and most maintained classic car of the period 1940-56 participated for the first time.
Often seen as an ultimate status symbol, the cars are perhaps given more love and attention than a spouse! And they, in their shiny, even glossy, colourful best, put on a grand display as they drive in to take their place in the roll of honour at Delhi’s majestic National Stadium. Before they return next year to delight fans again, hopefully the act banning old vehicles will have exempted vintage cars by then.