A passion for old wheels

Sunday morning when traffic is mercifully lighter, one sees dowager dukes and duchesses; some make a stately progression in keeping with their age and status, some eternally youthfully types set off in sportive energy. 

Coaxing, nudging, patting them along are their proud owners, members of the Karnataka Vintage and Classic Car Club. These aristocrats on wheels are much cherished possessions of the Club’s members who number 270. The club started in 1979 and boasts of nearly 700 cars and 300 motorcycles. 

Every once in a while, the drivers tog up in period costume, invite friends and other enthusiasts to drive a couple of cars from their stable and set off on a lovely little drive through the main thoroughfares of Bengaluru. These showstoppers spread much joy not just among those who participate but all those who watch and cheer these vintage beauties along the way.

From professional mechanics and others with similar backgrounds to the rich and famous, passion for these old cars and bikes is the glue that binds them in a spirit of bonhomie and respect. The way they speak about their indulgence reveals a lot more about the owner than they probably realize.

Sulaiman Jamal, the genial President of the Karnataka Vintage and Classic Car Club, treats his cars like they were ladies. He is of course a thoroughbred old school gentleman and certainly knows how to treat a woman. If further proof is needed, one just needs to look at his gracious and gorgeous wife, ace hotelier Christine Fernandes Jamal.

Silloo, as he is known to friends, collected his first car a 1939 Austin 14 (seen in the photo) in 1979 for the princely sum of a little over Rs.4000. “I couldn’t say no when the opportunity presented itself, and I couldn’t believe my luck when my bid was accepted”, he says. Growing up in Coimbatore, he was much impressed by the classic cars that used to ferry his schoolmates from wealthy families.

“We didn’t know that a way of life would pass forever, and such lovely cars would become relics.”

It was much later, as an young engineer, that he bid on the Dodge and from there grew a collection that today stands at 24 cars and half a dozen motorbikes in his sprawling country home in Whitefield. The collection consists of cars that have seized his fancy as he passed by – sometimes in Bengaluru, sometimes in Mumbai, and each time, he has followed the owner to compliment and woo their cars. When the owners finally decided to sell them for whatever reason, they remembered his courtship, and contacted him to pass on the cars.

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 Jamal works on restoring one car a year, tinkering around with them with an expert team on call. “These cars are not complicated, all you need is time and tools to take them apart and put them together”. 

Subbaiah Kuppanda hails from a family that has loved classic cars, and he has woven family history and the restoration of cars into an interesting narrative that can be read on this link: http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/post-war/154705-our-lost-found-classic-1954-dodge-convertible.html

A chartered accountant who works with a bank, he and his father currently own a 1954 Dodge convertible and a 1932 Plymouth. The latter has been a Kannadiga car its whole life, it was first imported by a liquor baron in Bellary who passed it on to his son from whole Subbaiah acquired it.

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Subbaiah’s feeling for classic cars is balanced with its value which is typically measured by the mark of the car, the number of cars produced and the body style. He is not the sort to hold on to a car for sentimental reasons and will gladly trade up for a better car. “We own only two classic cars at any given time, and we ensure that these are in the best condition”, he says.

Dr.Raviprakash, Vice-President of the club, currently owns 225 vintage cars, 60 mobikes, 50 cycles and 40 carriages. Before you swoon, please note that he is setting up a museum to commemorate these vehicles. The museum is going to be kick started in 16 months, and will ready in 30 months.

A rallyist in his youth, and the national champion for three consecutive years to boot, the dashing Ravi “settled” down to collecting vintage cars after he stopped racing. His wife Sabina, and daughters Rupali and Shefali share his passion, and their home in Kala Farms looks and feels unreal with the number of vehicles gracing the premises. The museum is being set up by a family trust, and they plan to use half the revenue to maintain the vehicles and the other half to assist victims of road traffic accidents.

Many of the cars have royal lineage, including one that belonged to Yashwantrao Holkar of Indore that took him 10 years to get on to the road. “Yes, it’s expensive, but when you have a passion, it’s not the money but the heart that rules”.

Thus far, it’s been the genuine classic car and bike enthusiasts who have pursued their true passion – be it a mechanic or an industrialist. Things have begun to change in recent years with new age millionaires acquiring such vehicles as just another fad, without any real feeling for the cars except as status symbols. This fad has driven cost of the classic cars very high, making them unaffordable to the true blue lover.


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