I’ve just set foot on the famed 18th fairway at the Pebble Beach Golf Links and I’m convinced I’m already short on time; because around me are over 200 glorious vintage and antique cars with enough combined history to fill volumes of books. The spectacular setting by the Pacific Ocean and the sheer grandeur of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is not lost on me either.
This beautiful 1935 Bentley 3½ Litre belongs to Jagdish Thackersey.
There’s an 11-car-strong contingent from India and that’s my first port of call. The cars in question are on display in the two ‘Motor Cars of the Raj’ categories and expectantly there’s a lot of curiosity among the showgoers. Even a certain Mr Jay Leno, comedian and car nut extraordinaire, lets out a little secret while inspecting one of the models, smilingly telling us, “The best cars here are from India!” It’s a spread-out field with race cars, tourers, open tops and ceremonial cars. Amal Tanna’s bright red 1921 Fiat 501 S Corsa race car looks factory fresh but it’s actually fresh from a comprehensive restoration. The car originally belonged to the Maharaja of Patiala who was known for his penchant for Rolls-Royces (he had 44!). As I learn, the Fiat was sent back all the way to Turin for a wheel replacement when it arrived in India with wire wheels and not the stronger artillery wheels it was ordered with. Not too far away is Nishant Nitin Dossa’s 1936 Alvis Speed 25 with coachwork by Vanden Plas. The story goes that the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj, its original owner, happened to see this car when passing by the Alvis showroom in London and just had to have it. Sharad Sanghi’s 1934 Lagonda M45 Rapide Abbott Sports Tourer has a similar back story. The Maharaja of Bhavnagar bought the car straight off the show floor at the 1934 London Motor Show. The M45 was built as a replica of Lagonda’s Rapide race car that was a strong competitor in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
This 1927 Phantom I Windover’s rear windows were tinted for privacy.
Also glimmering in the California sun is Delhi-based collector Diljeet Titus’ exquisite 1930 Stutz M LeBaron Speedster. Believed to be the only Stutz in India, the Speedster once belonged to His Highness Sir Ranjitsinhji of Baria. A few steps away is Abbas Jasdanwalla’s 1923 Lanchester 40 HP Convertible Tourer. The 40 HP, introduced after the First World War, was even more expensive than a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost of the time and was a car revered by European royalty. This very car was ordered by the Maharaja of Gondal. Perhaps, the Maharaja of Nawanagar had a greater affinity for the British marque, having had 20 Lanchesters to his name. The 1927 21 HP, that today belongs to Gurgaon-based Madan Mohan, was one in the Maharaja’s collection. Lanchesters were known to be incredibly reliable and, thanks to their special radiators, were averse to heating issues in India like other cars of the time. Lanchester’s own advertising declared, ‘No Lanchester should overheat in traffic in any city in the British Empire’.
Is there a BMW more beautiful than the 507?
Jagdish Thackersey’s beautifully maintained 1935 Bentley 3½ Litre, with body work by Antem, has its own chequered history. Originally owned by Greece’s Embiricos shipping family, the car was taken to England to be sold at the advent of the Second World War. In 1942, the Maharaja of Talcher bought it, loaded it on to a troopship and sailed with it to Calcutta.
The 2018 Concours allowed a rare sighting of the Tucker 48.
Of course, you can’t talk Indian royalty and not talk Rolls-Royce. Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance’s Honorary Judge Manvendra Singh (see box) tells us that one-third of Rolls-Royce’s production between 1912 and 1947 made its way to India. Incredible! It’s also quite something to find out that the very car, a 1937 25/30 HP Gurney Nutting All Weather Tourer, featured by Rolls-Royce in its newspaper advertisements in India back in the day is amongst us. The car is today owned by Roshni Jaiswal and is one of three identical cars in existence in India. Another famous Roller from India is the ‘Wankaner Rolls-Royce’. Amazingly, this 1921 40/50 HP Silver Ghost has been with the Wankaner royal family for four generations, although its usage has been limited to state and wedding functions, alone. That should explain why the car’s speedometre shows it has covered just 3,000 miles (4,828km) in all its time!
This 1937 Cadillac Series 90 Cabriolet snagged the prize for Most Elegant Convertible.
Another low-mileage Rolls-Royce from India is Maharaja Gaj Singhji of Marwar-Jodhpur’s 1927 Phantom I with Windover bodywork. Designed to transport female members of the royal family, the car features blue glass for the rear windows to ensure privacy. The silver car also ends up bringing home silverware by being selected for the Montagu of Beaulieu Trophy that is awarded to the most significant car of British origin. Arguably, the car from India that’s winning the most hearts is Amir Jetha’s 1935 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental Streamline Coupe with Gurney Nutting body work (see box). The fabulous cream and green-finished Rolls is the poster car for the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and also takes home the Best in Class award for the Motor Cars of the Raj (Rolls-Royce and Bentley) category and the Lucius Beebe Trophy.
UFO alert! The Ferrari 512 S Modulo concept from 1970 is otherworldly.
I’ve been lucky to see a disproportionate number of F40s, F50s and 288 GTOs in the support events leading up to the Concours but I can’t even pretend to be blasé when I see the 1958 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa Scaglietti Spyder. It’s a breathtaking sight with its extended nose, pontoon front-fenders and sunken body work aft the front wheels. Just gorgeous. The other Ferrari that has everyone talking is the wild 512 S Modulo Pininfarina Coupe concept. Think of it as a wedge on wheels. Hidden wheels, a single-piece canopy in place of conventional doors, this mad Ferrari has it all. It looks outlandish in 2018. I can only imagine the impact it had when it was revealed in 1970.
1933 Delage D8 S with Freestone and Webb bodywork is a work of art.
Amidst the sea of cars from Europe – including a full fleet of vintage Citroens – a few particularly catch my eye. The 1933 Delage D8 S is as seductive as they come and I’m not alone in admiring the 1928 Minerva Type AF either. And let me tell you, you’ll need blinkers to walk by a 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K Special Roadster without stopping for a closer look. On that note, one of the big things for me at Pebble Beach is just how relaxed the atmosphere is. There’s no cordon and no bouncers to shoo you away from the show cars. More often than not, it’s the owners themselves who will talk you through the story behind their multi-million dollar cars.
1921 Fiat with original literature intact!
The best of American old-school is on show as well. I’m sure Pebble Beach is where most show goers see a Tucker for the first time. Only 51 Tucker 48s were ever built before maverick company founder Preston Tucker got embroiled in investigations regarding funding. Of the 13 cars on show, one bears the name Francis Coppola, better known as the director of The Godfather and also the man behind the movie ‘Tucker: The Man and His Dream’. There’s a full field of Cadillacs, Duesenbergs and Packards too, and even a class for 1960’s Indy 500 racers. But at the end of the day, all eyes are on the immaculate 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta that is adjudged the 2018 Best of Show. Those in the know tell me the Alfa was the most advanced sportscar of the 1930s. All I can tell you is, it’s a sight to behold.
And the Best of Show award goes to...the Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring.
I’m still kicking myself for having missed the Tour d’Elegance that has the show cars take to the road for a drive, a moving museum if you will. That being said, if you have a passion for vintage cars, you have to find a way to see the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It’s a trip that’ll take you back in time.
Man of the moment
In what was a proud moment for the Indian classic car movement, noted Indian auto historian, Honorary Judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the man behind the ‘Motor Cars of the Raj’ classes, Manvendra Singh was honoured at the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours. Singh was awarded the prestigious Lorin Tryon Award for his contribution towards the promotion of classic cars, and in particular, his endeavour to establish India on the vintage and classic car map. Singh has been serving as an Honorary Judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance since 2012, the year he also helped assemble the first ever ‘Cars of the Maharaja’ class. He also serves as curator of the Cartier ‘Travel with Style’ Concours in India, and can be credited with convincing Indian classic and vintage car owners to exhibit their cars. We’re proud to say Manvendra Singh has also been on the Autocar India Awards jury panel since 2002.
The prize-winning 1935 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental Gurney Nutting Streamline Coupe was originally commissioned by the Maharaja of Jodhpur. In 1944, the car was sold to the Maharaja of Rewa and in the 1950s it was bought by a Mumbai-based collector. The car has been with present owner Amir Jetha’s family since 1962. “My father bought it without having a full look at the car!” Amir quips, telling us only the front of the Rolls was visible at the former owner’s garage. The car had less than 2,000 miles (3,219km) on the clock at the time. Running the Rolls-Royce wasn’t an issue to begin with, but niggling issues did crop up and with the restrictions on imports, sourcing spares became a problem. Things are a lot better today, says Amir who is hands-on with the car and is fully prepped to fix routine issues in the fuel system and electricals. Amir makes it a point to drive the Rolls every weekend in Mumbai and even embarked on a 600-mile (around 965km) drive across the California coast with his family after the Concours judging, though the ethanol-rich fuel in California did call for some attention. Incidentally, we at Autocar India also have a close bond with this car. After all, our office compound is home to it!