It’s an odd feeling when you enter a place, and the people around you – dressed in fancy clothing and shoes – are looking at you wearing jeans and a formal shirt in a manner I can only describe as ‘the third world look.’ You also feel out of place when the gentlemen who surround you have prefixes to their names, such as Sir, Maharaja, His Excellency, His Highness, and many more. I, frankly, did not know that titles such as these still existed – but they do. Though they might not appear to be, these men who sipped on their champagne (or something more potent) are descendants of royal families. The women, on the other hand, greeted each other by hugging and kissing the air. So, I, in the scheme of things, was the odd man out – I don’t think I need to substantiate that with a reason now, do I? After all, I’m just a regular hack!
The gathering of such an elite group of people was thanks, once again, to the Cartier ‘Travel With Style’ Concours D’Elegance. This unique vintage car exhibit and competition curated by Mavendra Singh of Barwani, and organised by Mark Shand, the famous Indophile and brother of the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla, brings together collectors and owners from different parts of India to showcase their cars to remind us of the rich heritage and the blue blood that still runs through the veins of parts of this country.
The vintage car and motorcycle collection goes through a very stringent and meticulous judging process, post which the winners from every category are announced. With five pre-established classes, namely – Pre-War, Post-War, Indian heritage, Preservation, and Roadster, the Cartier Concours takes you back in time to renew your memory about the good old days. This year, two more classes were added to the list, the Edwardian (oldest preserved automobiles in India) and the Shikar (automobiles used for the royal hunt), which clearly added greater elegance to the whole collection. Indian royalty have always had a strong affinity for luxury cars, especially customised ones. And nowhere is this more evident then in the Shikar cars commissioned by the Maharaja’s of yore, with even cars like Rolls-Royce’s commissioned to serve as the chariot for the Maharaja’s hunt.
As you try and make your way through the entire exhibit, you cannot help but stand in one place with your jaw dropped, and a stark expression of awe on your face. I realised that this must be the reason why it’s more of a private affair, as entry is on an invite-only basis. But I couldn’t keep my eyes away from beauties like the 1934 Rolls Royce Phantom II or the Invicta S type, the 1931 Bentley 8-litre Tourer, or, for that matter, even a roadster like the 1936 Adler Trumpf Junior Sport. I was like a child in a massive candy store, but with all the candies already sold. The oldest car in the whole lot was the 1905 Darracq 20HP, while three cars from 1959 – the Mercedes 300d W189, the Lancia Flaminia Sport, and the Hindustan Ambassador Mark I traveller – shared the spot for being the youngest.
Even Mr. Louis Ferla, MD, Cartier Middle East, India and Africa, was thrilled with the response that the Concours got this year. “India always had a rich heritage with cars, and we all know about it. This is just one way of showing how much is still inherently Indian, and it’s remarkable to see all these cars under one roof.” Even one of the greatest F1 drivers, Sir Stirling Moss, was most happy to meet the car he once drove on the circuit nearly 60 years ago – the Jaguar C-type. He still has fond memories of his first race in the C-type. But ask him about his favourite race car, and he blurts out that it is, in fact, the Maserati 250F. Sir Moss, along with the other judges, like the legendary McLaren F1 designer Prof. Gordon Murray, 8 time GP World Champion Phil Read, and other notable personalities, must have had a tough time as they wandered through these rare gems to finally reach a verdict. A task only made more difficult by the fact that not only were there cars to judge but motorcycles too.
The motorcycle collection was immensely engaging, as the entire evolution from a cycle being transformed into a motorised vehicle could be seen at a glance. Bikes like the 1914 Triumph Trusty, to the more race oriented 1956 Velocette Viper, and even the Honda CB72 Clubmans were all part of this magnificent and comprehensive exhibit.
Of course, the machines were judged, and the Best Car of the show was awarded to the 1935 Rolls Royce Phantom II, owned by HH Maharaja Gaj Singhji of Jodhpur, while the Best Motorcycle of the show was the 1915 Indian owned by Subodh Nath.
As the day came to a close, I knew it would be another two years before I would meet these ageless beauties in the flesh again, but there was hope that I would be witness to even more such vehicles in the next edition. It’s an experience to remember, and I must admit that I too came out feeling royal – not by blood of course, but by experience.