High on the highway: The Concours dElegance at Mumbai successfully set the stage for exhibiting Indias best vintage automobiles
Photographs by Abhijeet Anand
One out of every four Rolls Royces built in the pre-Independence era was imported to India. During the Raj, Indias Maharajas bought exotic cars in unbelievable quantities and supported a large percentage of the British automobile industry. Some of the greatest international coachbuilders and designers were specially commissioned to produce lavish, distinctive and sometimes bizarre vehicles to satisfy the whims and fancies and sometimes, eccentricities of their prestigious clients. Today, India is home to over 6,000 classic and vintage cars.
India saw its first Concours dElegance recently; a competition of vintage automobiles, to be judged on the appearance of the automobiles. The Cartier Travel with Style Concours in Mumbai showcased around 60 of the countrys finest vintage cars, celebrating automotive design and coach building of Indias belle époque.
These magnificent cars, owned by Indias royalty and private collectors have never been displayed on an international stage; in fact, many have never been exhibited in India before. The combination of a brand like Cartier and the immense heritage that India holds can go places, said Mark Shand, brother-in-law of Prince Charles and a celebrated travel writer, and one of the judges at the Concours.
The event, ranked alongside other world-renowned Concours such as the Pebble Beach, Meadow Brook, Amelia Island Concours dElegance and the Louis Vuitton Classic, along with illustrious judges, has put India on the International Classic Car circuit.
Mumbai hosting the Cartier Travel with Style show was a logical choice, being the commercial capital of the country and a potentially large market for Cartier. A significant number of cars displayed were from Mumbai itself. Against the luscious setting of the Royal Western India Turf Club, guests were exclusively treated to the events opulence and elegance.
Each car had an interesting story to tell. It was the first time that HRH Prince Michael of Kent saw his grandfather, King George Vs, 1936 Daimler Royal Limousine, which is now owned by Indore-based Sharad Sanghi. Only three of its kind were built. It was also the first time since 1931 that three of the six Pierce Arrows brought into the country were reunited!
The Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipurs Jaguar XK120 was a gift from the Maharaja since she loved its design. The car was commissioned and delivered to her doorstep in London as a surprise. Sharad Sanghi showed off his Lagonda 1936, which once belonged to the Maharaja of Bhavnagar. The Maharaja had bought the cars chassis and racing engine from Lagonda after he was impressed by their victory in the 1935 Le Mans 24 hour race. However, the coach work is a special touring version designed and built in London.
The elite panel of judges included Prof. Gordon Murray and Peter Stevens, the designers of the McLaren F1 and the Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR supercar, Imran Khan and HRH Prince Michael of Kent who has an obsession with Bentleys and is a patron of the Bentley Club in England.
Other judges were Nick Mason, founding member and drummer of Pink Floyd and an ardent Ferrari enthusiast, the Hon. Sir Michael Kadoorie, a classic car collector and Chairman of CPL Holdings which operates and owns the Peninsula Hotel Group and Mark Stewart, son of F1 legend Sir Jackie Stewart. James Lindsay, Don McCullin, veteran war photographer and Iranian-British supermodel Yasmin Le Bon were also part of the judging group.
The judges graded the cars within four broad categories — Vintage Classics, Post-War Classics, Roadsters and Exotics and there was an overall winner as well. Keeping in mind the limitations collectors in India faced due to restrictions on the import of spares parts until very recently, the quality of restoration of these magnificent cars was impressive, acknowledged HRH Prince Michael of Kent. He was part of a team that set a new 1,000-mile speed record for cars over 5000cc in a 1929 Bentley special in 1999. Three of the six Bentleys Mark VI commissioned for the Maharaja of Mysore in 1949 were exhibited, much to the delight of the prince!
Remember the hit Pink Cadillac? Parked tidily in one of the corners was the car that inspired Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Presley! However, the car that quite easily won the show was Maharaja Duleep Singhji of Jodhpurs 1939 Delahaye 135 MS, with an electromagnetic gear shift, designed by the famous automotive artist, George Hamel or Geo Ham .
Amongst the other classics was a 1939 Daimler DB18, a rare 1930 Lancia Dilambda 7-seater tourer and an immaculate 1949 Healey-Westland owned by P. P. Asher who spends most of his spare time working on his cars himself. Also present were Maharani Chimna Bai II of Barodas Rolls Royce Wraith and Vijay Mallyas Mercedes-Benz 500K.
In attendance were several celebrities, connoisseurs, collectors and former maharajas. One could have spotted the Camas, Poonawallas, Shah Rukh Khan, Yuvraj Singh, Shobha De, The Gondals, and of course, Rana Manvendra Singh of the royal house of Barwani, who is Indias most well known vintage car expert and author and the curator of the event.
Organising the event took almost 18 months. Hopefully the Cartier Travel with Style show will set the stage for a new era of vintage cars and the first of many more such events in the country.