Almost all of us have seen and lusted after these pieces of rolling sculpture, either on the road or in the movies. The effect these icons of a bygone age have on us is sometimes difficult to describe. Maybe it is the impeccable craftsmanship, maybe it’s their ability to propel your mind into a different era, or the fact that they stand out so much from their modern surroundings. Whatever it may be, the desire to own them often becomes overpowering. But, taking care of these fantastic machines is an arduous job and should be attempted only if you truly enjoy the process of maintaining a difficult-to-take-care-of car. We’ll tell you about how these cars are classified, what makes them special and valuable, how to find and buy such a car, as well as how to maintain and run one of them.
Before the advent of mass production pioneered by Henry Ford, most cars were hand-built. Purists consider these machines the real vintage cars and have been collecting them since as early as the 1930s. British clubs classify these in the following categories – pre-1919 models are called Edwardian, pre-1931 are vintage and a few car models produced till the dawn of the Second World War are colloquially termed post-Vintage Thoroughbreds. The term ‘classic’ is popularly used to describe a variety of cars, from a 1928 Ford to a 1967 Ferrari. Although most cars produced during this period are called classics, the exact definition differs.
Pedigree, rarity, condition and desirability are the prime parameters that determine a classic car’s worth. Since desirability is subjective and immeasurable, things can sometimes get interesting. Some cars, imprinted in our minds through movies or made popular through their celebrity owners, tend to fetch a higher price. Although this fluctuating parameter is instrumental in giving a car its worth, there are also better defined objective factors to make things a little easier.The manufacturer and the craftsmanship are the prime determinants of the worth of the car. Having some sort of pedigree attached to the brand’s genealogy is always a good thing and will set you back by a considerable sum. A fair amount of importance is also attached to a car’s rarity, based on the import figures and surviving stock. The final deciding factor is the condition the car is in. Cars that require a substantial amount of restoration can be bought at a fraction of the cost of a Concours-ready jewel.As a general rule, in India, sportscars tend to fetch the highest premium, because a couple of decades ago they simply weren’t available. Next in line are convertibles, which are popular due to the style quotient they offer. Coupés, saloons and station wagons generally follow next, and are a tad easier to find. Overall, iconic cars that are representative of their decade or brand will always linger at the top of the price chain.
Classic and vintage car hunters often dream of stumbling upon a neglected car in someone’s garage that’s waiting to be restored. This is all well and good, but will rarely happen. Every collector and expert will tell you that finding a car worthy of collecting requires you to be a part-time detective. You also need to keep your ears open for an interesting story and many a times, you buy the story rather than the actual car. Through the advent of internet forums, locating classic cars has become slightly easier, but may not always yield results. Magazine and newspaper adverts are common, but be wary of the product quality.
Recently, some specialised classic and vintage car dealers have come up too, but these might be expensive. It is absolutely crucial that you start asking around at the scrap dealers or kabaadiwallahs, who could give you useful information about the whereabouts of some old cars. More reliably, veteran car dealers, workshops and mechanics could have good leads. Although the rewards could be truly satisfying, be prepared to find yourself wandering through many by-lanes and alleys in frustration.
Classic car clubs may be an informal gateway to classics in the market. But if you are just starting out, chances are you will lose out to veteran collectors. Vintage and classic car shows are a hotbed of trading activity, but prices at these shows often get blown out of proportion. So it is advisable to get in touch with the owners at a later date, once the adrenaline has subsided, for a better deal. Contrary to popular belief, the erstwhile princely states, with the exception of city of Kolkata, have few cars left on offer. It would be more worth your while to look into smaller towns in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Chattisgarh. Bangalore has a number of marque-specific car clubs and auto restorers, where reliable data and records of cars in and around the area can be found. These days, cars found in South India are in better shape and hence cost more. And do not underestimate the power of word of mouth and keep a keen ear out when in collectors’ company.
As singer Johnny Cash would say, you have to build the car “one piece at a time”. It’s a slow, expensive process and patience is a virtue. Restoration work can be fun or nightmarish depending on whether you are a die-hard enthusiast smelling of transmission fluid on a Sunday afternoon or the pragmatic investor looking to make a few bucks from your archaic automobile.To start out, make sure you have a garage to protect your expensive classic from the elements. Collect as many good books and manuals on restoration as possible. Make a note of the chassis and engine numbers as this will help you to source parts internationally. Besides, it will help people identify your car on online forums and international car clubs.
Take photographs at vintage and classic car events for reference as this will come in handy to fabricate body parts in case the originals are not available. Tyres are particularly hard to source and getting the right size and type could be difficult, depending on the car. Be prepared to pay about Rs 40,000 a tyre for some cars. Remember that many of the CKDs that came to India during the ’50s share most of their mechanical parts. For example, the mechanical bits on the Dodge, DeSoto and Plymouth sold in India are interchangeable. With government laws prohibiting the import of second-hand parts from overseas, the fact that skilled manual workers abound in India is a boon. Body panels that are expensive to source can be fabricated. Before you embark on the journey and dive in, make sure you give yourself a good talking to.
If you are someone who thinks maintaining a regular car is a pain or gets easily frustrated with the processes of regular maintenance, you are definitely not cut out for classic or vintage car ownership, however attractive the prospect of driving your own shiny car on a Sunday may seem. Classic or vintage car ownership works only if you are prepared to buy wisely, if you can dedicate time, patience and money to it, and if you understand the associated pitfalls and frustrations. Who knows, you may even see your money multiply several times over.
Always look for a car that has as many original parts on it as possible. A decently maintained, non-restored car is a far better bet than a shoddily restored one. These will definitely cost more, but are worth the pinch as restoration work in India is still at its nascent stage. Once you have decided on the car you want, remember, the internet is your friend. Research as much as possible and consult experienced restorers of the particular marque through online forums. Also, don’t let the shiny new brass horns or lamps fool you. Non-factory-fitted after-market accessories tend to decrease the value of a car. Finally, do get the car’s papers looked at.
These cars are relatively easy to find, restore and maintain. Ideally, look for cars from 1956 to 1962, as they are rapidly gaining importance. These cars are commonly known as Dukkar Fiats. The Dukkar is actually a Fiat 1100-103 and came with an 1100 cc engine with approximately 35bhp. Asking prices start at about Rs 45,000 for shoddily maintained cars right up to Rs 4.5 lakh for very well restored examples.
Popularly known as the Landy, it makes a great gateway car to start you off with your collection. Like the early Fiats, the Landmaster too is relatively easy to restore and maintain. Scout for examples that have the original headlamps, door handles and front grille on them, as these parts are difficult to source. Prices start at approximately Rs 50,000 for cars that need a lot of work and go up to around Rs 4.5 Lakh for well-preserved ones.
Look for early models called the ‘Lowlight’. Built built between 1948 and 1950, they were available in two-door saloon or convertible form. Under the bonnet lies an 803cc, side-valve engine without a water pump. The price ranges from Rs 1 lakh for a car that needs a lot of work to Rs 3.5 lakh for a functional car in good condition.
DODGE, PLYMOUTH, DESOTO
These three brands were sold in India by Chrysler. All three have essentially the same mechanical bits, most of which are interchangeable. Try and get your hands on the two-door or station wagon models. Quite a few have been ‘dieselised’ in recent times, so scout for ones running the original six-cylinder petrol engine. Deteriorated examples can cost upto Rs 2.5 lakh, while fantastically restored ones cost upwards of Rs 10 lakh.
MODEL A FORD
These Fords were built between 1927 and 1931. Although parts are relatively easy to procure from the US, this car is significantly more expensive to buy and restore than a Landy or a Dukkar Fiat. Non-operational examples start at approximately Rs 2.5 lakh, going up to a whopping Rs 12 lakh for well restored cars.