Ahead of The New Indian Express’ debut Auto Expo, Dilip Chhabria talks to us about the Avanti, India’s first homegrown sports car, and what’s next on the radar for its maker.
THROUGHOUT history, designers have shaped the opinions of everything around us and, in that sense, great design is not just art, but a responsibility as well. It’s the first glimpse that really sets the tone for every opinion the human mind forms thereafter. Dilip Chhabria is no stranger to automotive design. If anything, he is the pioneer of the field in the country. He is the sculptor of the Indian automotivedesign industry and, in 2012, he achieved something truly spectacular, the Avanti.
Dawn of the Avanti
Chhabria’s DC Design had showed off a conceptsports car, called the ‘S’, alongside the hugely talked about Ambierod, in 2008, and this waswhere the idea for the Avanti was first born. “The S concept elicited a lot of favourable response. I put myself in the customers’ shoes. And I was young—I wanted a sports car very badly but couldn’t get one. I realised that if it was made at an affordable price it could bring about a new segment because the imports were way too expensive,” reminisces Chhabria. Four years later, on a cold winter morning in New Delhi, the wraps came off a sleek silhouette of metal, fibre and pure emotion. This was the first time the world got a glimpse of the DC Design Avanti, and it looked menacing, ready to pounce. As Indians, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that sports cars and their ilk are things from far beyond our shores, and we would be relegated to making the small hatchbacks of the world. That’s when he broke the mould with the mid-engined sportscar packing 250 horsepower in a body that was shaped like it was at top speed even while standing still. And yet it promised to be as usable as any regular road car, every single day. “Of course, it had to be low, wide and sexy as a supercar, but it had to have ground clearance so that it could traverse anywhere in the country. In fact, them,Avanti has been seen driving on terrain that only SUVs can,” he says. It may have taken a little over three years to turn the Avanti from showcar concept to a production reality, but the end result is something that the world is envious of—India’s first homegrown sports car. It symbolises decades of design and prototyping expertise that Chhabria has amassed with DC Design and there’s nothing like it on Indian roads.
Driving his doodles
The one thing that was crystal clear for the designer extraordinaire from the beginning was that the Avanti had to be something that was “as attractive as an Italian supermodel in stilettos”. It had to have the power to stop traffic dead in its tracks as people craned to get a glimpse of it. The end result is just that—with a wide body, low roofline and flowing contours all the way from the front to the back, broken at intervals only to make space for menacing air intakes, the Avanti is a gorgeous machine. When asked about the clientele that it attracts, Chhabria clarifies, “Buyers of the Avanti range encompass people who show up in expensive luxury sedans to people who drive in with common hatchbacks to take delivery. But the age bracket tends to be younger.” And why not, because once you swing open the doors, the insides are quite sharp. With race-crafted bucket seats that hold you in place, the cascading centre console fitted with a touchscreen infotainment system and a completely digital instrument console sporting a resolution can put your your iPad to shame, the Avanti reflects with class.
Beyond the beauty
Chhabria knows that a sportscar isn’t just about the way it looks, so the Avanti had to pack in great performance, too. Nestled behind the cabin and under a cascade of transparent louvers is a two-litre, turbocharged, inlinefour petrol engine that makes 250 horsepower and 340Nm of torque, mated to a six-speed manual transmission—enough to take the Avanti to 100 kmph from a standstill in a respectable six seconds. For the uninitiated, that means it will leave almost every other car biting its dust as it zooms ahead. What makes the Avanti even more of an achievement is the fact that, despite its performance, Chhabria wanted it to be used as an everyday car. So crawling around in city traffic or lazy cruising on highways isn’t a big ask from the engine-gearbox setup. The suspension and dynamics along with the ground clearance of 165 mm have been designed to soak up everything that Indian roads throw at you. As with every car, the Avanti is also set for upgrades, even if they are still about a year away. He adds, “There will be two new versions coming out with higher capacity engines and an auto-transmission, along with a face lift, by the end of 2017.
The designer has single-handedly taken Indian automotive dreams to a whole new level with the `36 lakh (ex-showroom) DC Avanti. In doing so, he has also given wings to aspirations not only of people queuing up to buy the car but also to a whole new generation of enthusiasts who are interested in taking up a career in automotive design. His advice to aspiring automotive designers is simple, “With India poised to be the third biggest player globally in the automotive world, youngsters will have a very important role to play in the next 20 or so years. Design is set to be a great career option!” Chhabria was already a pioneer. With the Avanti, he has now moved into the halls of legends. Catch the DC Design Avanti and more of Chhabria’s magic at Stall XX at the Express Auto Expo, Chennai Trade Centre, between November 5 and 6. Details: 044 23457601
JOURNEY SO FAR
DC Design is a well-known entity in a field that probably didn’t even exist in India about two decades ago, automotive design. Ever since he was a child, Chhabria lived and breathed cars, and after completing his graduation in commerce, he chanced upon an advertisement in an automotive magazine about vehicle design schools. This led him to apply to one of the world’s bestknown colleges for the subject, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Post his design education and a brief stint at General Motors, he returned to India and took the entrepreneurial path. He established DC Design in 1993 and has been making magic ever since. His mission for great design revolves around improving what is redundant and in creating a certain charm of uniqueness in each of his products. It all started with custom body kits, which, when bolted on, could simply change the way regular cars looked. Since then, DC Design has evolved into one of the most formidable design houses in the world, which not only makes body kits and full-custom designs, but is also heavily into prototyping for major manufacturers. Speaking of his favourite designs, he says, “It has to be the 2003 Gaia and the 2008 Ambierod. Those were special.”
Over the years, Chhabria has given India some of the most distinctive pieces of automotive art on wheels. Looking back at the DC Design portfolio, one of the first ones that got me hooked was the Arya—a Tata Sierra converted into a slick orange lifestyle SUV. Then there were concepts and custom cars like the scissor-door Accord, the Gaia, Infidel, Rolls- Royce Black Ruby, Imperator, Ambierod, Urban Thar and, of course, the mighty Juggernaut. While all of these rely on striking external styling to catch the eye, his most opulent products are barely visible from the outside. DC Design has perfected the art of converting the interiors of regular cars into five-star lounges for the owners to relax in while on the move. These triple up as mobile offices, entertainment centres and even just places to hang out in. Take the DC Design Duster, for example. There are subtle changes to the bodywork and face of the car, but on the inside, it is completely transformed. With exquisite detailing that incorporates leather linings and wooden panels mixed with metallic and chrome elements, the interiors are fit for royalty. Over two decades on and the fire to keep creating something new and interesting continues to drive Chhabria. There could be no better role model for a whole new generation of aspiring designers. In the end though, it’s the hard work that pays off, just as it did for DC.
Catch the DC Design Avanti and more of Chhabria’s magic at Stall XX at the Express Auto Expo, Chennai Trade Centre, between November 5 and 6. Details: 044 23457601
By Muntaser Mirkar