Featuring royals, rockstars and grand restoration projects, the fourth edition of Cartier Concours d’Elegance once again highlighted our resourcefulness
By Rosella Stephen
OUR editions of Cartier Concours d’Elegance have raised the standards of classic car events in India. Autoholics have come to expect fine vintage and classic cars, many of them with a royal connection and rarely seen in public; happy hours with other petrol heads; and a chance encounter with a celebrity judge or two. The fourth installment of the glamorous event at the sprawling Jaipur Polo Grounds in New Delhi last month, checked all the boxes – 80 cars and 19 motorcycles competing and 21 trophies to vie for; international judges like FIA President Jean Todt, racing veteran Ricardo Patrese and Duran Duran’s frontman, Simon le Bon; and royal patrons and private collectors willing to stop and chat. What came as a pleasant surprise, however – also observed by the judges – was that the restorers were getting younger and that the quality of their work was meeting international requirements. ‘‘Usually, the judges, the entrants and the restorers are all old,’’ says automotive historian and restorer Manvendra Singh Barwani, also the curator of the Cartier Concours since inception. He adds that car collectors in their 20s and 30s are now a welcome sight at the event.
When Barwani restored some of the most important cars from our nation’s history, like the yellow 1911 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Dome Roof Limousine, the Throne Car of the erstwhile Nizam of Hyderabad, and two rare 1906-model Napier L76 cars, he was assisted by Bangalore-based Christopher Rodricks. At 28, this mechanical restorer is one of the youngest in the country. Rodricks, whose cars made it to the Cartier Concours 2015, admits that he was happy to be at the event, looking under the hoods at ‘‘the beautiful engines of automotive gems like the Hispano-Suiza and the 1939 Lagonda.’’ Referring to fellow restorers like the 39-year-old Marespand Dadachanji, a Parsi priest who also has a workshop in Karjat, and Himanshu Jangid in Jaipur, he observes that it is the Indian resourcefulness that makes them comparable to the best in the world. Rodricks worked in Australia with a company that collaborated with Rolls-Royce and Jaguar, before relocating to India in 2012 with access to a wide network of car enthusiasts. ‘‘My interest was initiated by my father’s collection of vintage cars. Increased buying power has made it easier to import vintage car parts. Sometimes, I meet young collectors just out of college, who want to invest in old Contessas, Fiats and Ambassadors,’’ he says.
Meanwhile, Jangid, 33, is also doing his bit to encourage young restorers. His Cartist, a workshop and exhibition at Jaipur’s ITC Rajputana that ends today ‘‘is a residency automobile art festival to help youngsters learn from artists like Raghu Rai, Wajid Khan and Subodh Gupta. As leading vintage and classic automobile restorers, we are certain such workshops on miniature art, photography and calligraphy will lead to a higher level of detailing as sometimes, you can’t source parts from around the world,’’ he says, having restored about 150 cars in under a decade. Rodricks agrees. ‘‘After all, it is our ‘jugaad kaam’ (makeshift work) that is our advantage when parts are not available,’’ he reasons.
Winner takes it all
Collectors are also known for their perseverence and attention to detail. Delhi-based Diljeet Titus, whose 1933 Minerva Type AL won the Best of Show this year at the Cartier Concours, recalls how work on the showstopper began way back in 2008. Belonging to the Vanden Plas class (the Belgian coach builder to the Maharajas created bespoke bodies on the chassis of luxury cars such as Rolls Royce, Bentley and Daimler) it is unquestionably rare —just eight are known to survive against a production run of fewer than 50. Diljeet, an attorney and regular at the Cartier Concours, admits that the quality of car restoration in India has improved after the Cartier event. ‘‘But most of us have also been to Pebble Beach (arguably the world’s ultimate classic car event, launched six decades ago) to see fine specimens up close and get pointers on restoration. I meet extensively with restorers in England and research colours, patterns, even the wood under the upholstery for my cars,’’ he says, adding that preserving the integrity of the car is paramount. For the Minerva, he selected a Van Dyke brown, an excellent choice, and three unconventional shades of blue for the interiors – the headlining, seats and carpets. ‘‘I spent days sourcing the velvet and satin upholstery in Paris, and silk Persian rugs in powder blue,’’ he recalls, adding that Barwani, who helped him restore the car, worked on an art deco design to match the exterior. Titus’ attention to detail extends to the custom-made trunk he has ordered for the car – from Louis Vuitton back in 2012 and still in production. He recalls how the Raja of Mahmudabad, from whom he purchased the car, did not want to part with the original trunk. With 72 cars in his stable, many from erstwhile Maharajas, this collector of watches, chandeliers and sterling silver says he only wants cars he can restore in his lifetime. An expert on coach builders in India, he promises a coffee table book that will include information on Simpson’s in Chennai.
Incidentally, Barwani is also working on a book on Indian automobile history, following up on his first success – The Automobiles of the Maharajas. If you have read his captivating stories about Indian cars like the Shikar and Purdah, where religion, terrain and climate played a huge role in design, you will agree that this one is worth waiting for. As for the Cartier Concours, having witnessed how the rarest Indian cars have sometimes been resurrected from nothing, or have made a showing after many years, we are certainly looking forward to the next edition.
The writer was invited to the event by Cartier
When judging a classic car, we go with the stance, presence, beautiful lines and provenance (a bonus).
It’s like in a room of 12 beautiful women, when one stands out
—Sandra Button, Pebble Beach
TWO new categories, Piccolo Fiats (celebrating the Italian company’s famous small cars), and Coachbuilders to the Maharajas: Vanden Plas have been added to pre-established categories like Pre-War, Post-War, Indian Heritage, Preservation and Roadster classes. The competition that is held every two years in India is known for its exclusive turnout, and this year doesn’t disappoint. The grounds are teeming with sharply dressed men in khakhi jodhpurs and bandis, and the women have their Cartier watches. There are snaking lines near the live food counters, given that it is catered by celebrity chef Ritu Dalmia. Of course, visitors cannot help but track the judges at the event. Chief judge, HRH Prince Michael of Kent, prefers to keep a low profile, and then decides to zip across the grounds on a 1951 Royal Enfield. Later, he reveals his plans for a heritage rally in Scotland in the first weekend of September. The two-day trip, featuring 80 cars, is all about ‘‘having as much fun as you can, as nothing beats the older cars.’’ He admits that the engineering ingenuity of Indians is always impressive, and shares his preference for the 1931 Lanchester among the cars displayed. ‘‘With its hydraulic brakes and overhead valves, it is far ahead of its times,’’ he confides, before recounting earlier experiences in the country. ‘‘We have had memorable holidays in India, especially in Kerala. I have visited 12 times since my honeymoon here in 1978,’’ he recalls, adding that the cause of Asian elephants is close to his heart.
GENEVA-based classic car expert, Simon Kidston, explains how his aristocratic upbringing (his grandfather, father and uncle were the famous Bentley Boys) got him interested in vintage and classic cars. With an exclusive clientele across the world, including buyers in the Middle East and Russia, he lets on that American designer Ralph Lauren colour-codes his cars, with the Ferraris in red, Jaguars in green, and silver Mercedes. ‘‘Classic cars need to be driven, and not remain a two-dimensional experience. From sight to smell, all senses must be stimulated. You must drive the car and perhaps have a break down. The first kilometer after fixing it is the sweetest of all, when the road disappears in front of you,’’ he grins. And the thumb rule of buying classic cars, it appears, applies to all luxury products. ‘‘Buy the best you can in that category. And when it comes to the price, let it be a short discussion. Be decisive and straightforward,’’ he says. Given that collector cars elsewhere are being perceived as an asset class, he admits it is refreshing that no speculators are seen in India. ‘‘But with the law having changed and India now being able to import classic cars, it will be interesting to see how this works out. It is reassuring that heritage cars cannot be exported from here and therefore cannot be removed from its natural habitat,’’ he observes, sharing plans for a post-event holiday at the Lake Palace in Udaipur. ‘‘I am a James Bond fan and cannot overlook its Octopussy connection!’’
Le Bons Connection
ICONIC British rock band Duran Duran’s frontman, Simon Le Bon, is clearly a hit with the media, but he good-naturedly laughs it off and sits down to talk about his passion for bikes. While his supermodel wife, Yasmin Le Bon, and daughter Amber, pose in Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Anita Dongre and Cartier jewellery against the classic cars, for a fashion magazine, Le Bon lets on that he is currently completing work on their 14th studio album and that it will feature producer Nile Rodgers. ‘‘Interest in what we’re going to do has been escalating ever since we launched our Girl Panic video years ago, where I was played by supermodel Naomi Campbell,’’ he shrugs. Just then, a motorcycle is fired up in the distance, and Le Bon scans the expansive grounds for the glorious sound. ‘‘It’s a Triumph, perhaps the 1936 Triumph Tiger,’’ he insists. The singer-songwriter rides a 1977 Yamaha XT 500, a twin-valve single cylinder motorcycle that he adds, fondly, is ‘‘a little temperamental,’’ a 1968 Triumph Bonneville for sunny days, and the ultimate racer from 1991, Ducati 888 SPS. As another motorcycle roars past, Le Bon says, as an afterthought, that noisy bikes are actually safer. Speeding on his bikes is history, he insists, agreeing, ‘‘I was naughty in the past but as I’ve grown older, I’ve become safer.’’ Duran Duran may tour festivals later this year, including Lollapalooza Berlin in September. Meanwhile, wife Yasmin, another car enthusiast, will be racing a rickshaw in November as part of Travels To My Elephant, an eight-day race of 30 rickshaws across Madhya Pradesh to help protect the Asian elephant from extinction.