The bi-annual Cartier Concours D’Elegance features some of the finest cars to have ever graced Indian roads. The 6th edition not only showcases magnificent vehicles, but some incredible stories too.
Ithink it’s fair to say that, in our quest to put ourselves back on the global map, we forget about our own phenomenally rich history. Often, it takes curious foreigners to make us aware of our own riches and culture.
It’s no wonder, then, that it’s taken an event on the scale of the Cartier ‘Travel With Style’ Concours to remind us of our intensely rich and diverse motoring history. To be honest, there has been a growing resurgence of the vintage and classic automobile scene in India for a few decades now. In the decades after independence, many of our finest automobiles were quietly smuggled out to global collectors across the world – and the Indian vintage automobile scene was left to a small group of enthusiasts with a limited audience.
Now, with Cartier partnering with Manvendra Singh Barwani, a leading Indian automotive historian and restorer, the focus is back on our rich automotive heritage – and this story is reaching out to a far bigger audience than ever before.
Given the grandeur of the Travel With Style Concours, it was only fitting that its sixth edition be held in the regal setting of the Rambagh Palace – the erstwhile residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur. And, like every Concours, this year’s event too highlighted some of the unique stories that make up the rich automotive history of India – so-much-so that I’ll only be able to barely scratch the surface of all that I learnt over the course of the event in the next few pages.
Gift from a Maharaja
My tryst with these interesting anecdotes began with a chat involving Vijit Singh, who had on display his 1937 Ford V8 Woody Stationwagon in the preservation class. The car has been in his family since 1937 and has never undergone a restoration – which means it’s in its original condition, and has been for over eight decades now. And, get this, in these eight decades, the car has just been driven for just 25,000 kilometres. But, that’s just one part of the story!
In 1937, the then Maharaja of Jaipur, while out on a hunt, commandeered a car that belonged to Vijit’s grandfather and it was damaged. Even though the car was fixed, the Maharaja, as a token of his gratitude, gifted his grandfather a brand-new Ford V8 as a present. Imagine owning a car that was gifted to your grandfather by the Maharaja himself. If that isn’t an interesting piece of history, I don’t know what is.
Similarly, it was exciting to see the immaculate 1955 BMW R69 of Hurvaksh Irani. Originally owned by his grandfather, the bike was sold for financial reasons. But, like most passionate owners, Hurvaksh’s father later tracked the bike down and bought it to restore it to the family collection. And a look at the stunning condition of the bike is enough to tell you about all the hard work that has gone into getting the bike back to its original condition.
More than just cars & bikes
There were two surprises at this year’s Concours. First was the Pre-War Classic Transportation class, which gave us a glimpse into how utility vehicles, buses and pick-up trucks for instance, were manufactured in the 1930s – a time when the bus or truck industry didn’t exist in India. In fact, on some of the bodies, you could explicitly see the influence of Indian architecture. For instance, the windows of Diljeet Titus’s 1933 Chevrolet seemed to have been inspired by the windows of the Rambagh Palace itself.
Amongst the large collection of vehicles at the Concours was a rather unique automobile – perhaps my favourite of all. It was a 1973 Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV – most likely the only 2000 GTV known to exist in India. This is, after all, one of first sports sedans in the world, with compact dimensions, beautiful Italian styling and driving flair to boot – a pretty special package even amongst this elite bunch.
Needless to say, I’m deeply jealous of Arjun Oberoi who owns this beauty and, in his own words, gets to enjoy it on a spirited drive every now and then. Interestingly, the Alfa, along with five other cars, were part of the Sports Cars category, which allowed the entry of a car as young as the 1979 Ferrari 308 GTS of Apurv Kumar.
I started this piece by lamenting how it’s taken a world-class event like the Cartier Travel With Style Concours to make the larger populace of India aware of the existence of such a rich history, so, let’s look at the story of a car that even most experts attending the event were not aware of. Evidently, the princess of Kolhapur State in the 1930s – Princess Indumati, who was widowed in her teens – ordered a custom-built Daimler 24EL Limousine, built entirely to her specs. Since she was a widow, it was a one-of-a-kind car with all-white paintwork – the wheels, brakes and, interestingly enough, even the engine and chassis were painted white from the factory in the honour of the widowed princess, owing to the accepted dress code for a widow at the time.
To be honest, the Cartier Concours has done the vintage and classic automotive scene in India a huge favour. With the newfound focus and attention on this aspect of Indian history, it has challenged the Indian participants to up their game and has raised the standards of automobile restoration in India to an extent that was unimaginable a decade or two ago. The appeal of the event on the global classic automobile circuit is also immense, given some of the most qualified and respected judges from around the world attend the event regularly.
Of course, a report on the show would be incomplete without the major winners of this year’s Concours. In this edition, the ‘Best of Show’ award for cars went to the immaculate 1935 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental, which belongs to Amir Jetha, while, in the bike category, top honours went to Sandeep Kapoor’s unrestored 1940 Indian Junior Scout. Needless to say, in a country with a still-developing culture of collecting and restoring classic automobiles, the Cartier Concours has been a breath of fresh air. And, like each of the previous six editions, I look forward to attending the next event in the expectation that it’ll be another tryst with the history of transportation in India.
A new addition to this year’s Cartier Concours was the Transportation Class, highlighting the design and construction of utility and passenger vehicles in the pre-war era.
One of the highlights of this year’s Cartier Concours was this gorgeous 1973 Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV - one of the first sports sedans in the world - owned by Arjun Oberoi.
Some of the notable cars at this year’s Concours were the custom-ordered 1937 Daimler 24El, finished in all-white (left) and the two Ferraris in the Sports Cars category (extreme left). Winning the ‘Best of Show’ awards were the 1935 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental in the cars class, and the 1940 Indian Junior Scout (both below) in the motorcycles class.