One out of every four Rolls-Royces built in the pre-independence era was imported to India. Wealthy maharajas bought exotic cars in large numbers and supported a large percentage of the British automobile industry back then. Some of the greatest international coachbuilders and designers were specially commissioned to produce lavish, distinctive and sometimes bizarre body styles to satisfy the whims, fancies, and sometimes eccentricities, of their prestigious clients. A little known fact is that India is home to over 6,000 vintage and classic cars.
To celebrate this heritage, Cartier organised the Concours d’Elegance, a competition among automobile owners, judged on the appearance of their automobiles, at The Royal Western India Turf Club in Mumbai on November 1 and 2. The cars showcased were owned by Indian royalty as well as private collectors and had never been displayed on the international stage. In fact, many had never been exhibited in India ever before.
Each car was handpicked by India’s most respected automobile historian, Manvendra Singh of Barwani, who has also been instrumental in restoring many of these cars. Along with Manvendra, Mark Shand, the acclaimed travel writer, vintage car aficionado and brother-in-law of Prince Charles, was responsible for conceiving the event.
“This event will rank alongside other world-renowned Concours and will put India on the International Classic Car circuit,” said Mark Shand. The elite panel of judges included Gordon Murray, designer of the McLaren F1 and Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR road-going supercars, HRH Prince Michael of Kent who has an obsession with Bentleys and is a patron of the Bentley Club in England. Also on the panel were Nick Mason, drummer of the band Pink Floyd; Sir Michael Kadoorie, classic car collector and chairman of CPL Holdings; Mark Stewart, son of Formula 1 legend Sir Jackie Stewart; Iranian-British supermodel Yasmin Lebon; automobile design guru Peter Stevens, and former cricketer Imran Khan.
Grading was based on factors like history, originality of parts and most importantly styling. Keeping in mind the limitations collectors in India faced during the license raj rule on import of spare parts until very recently, the quality of restoration of these exotic automobiles was very impressive, a fact acknowledged by HRH Prince Michael of Kent. Much to his delight, three of six Bentley Mark VIs commissioned for the Maharaja of Mysore were showcased at the show.
Inevitably, the car that swept everyone off their feet was a 1939 Figoni et Falaschi Delahaye 135 MS. The car features an electromagnetic gearbox and is one of only 11 produced. It was originally brought into the country by a Frenchman who left it behind when he returned after World War II. Hopefully, the event should set the stage for a new era of vintage and classic cars in India.
BEST OF SHOW
Delahaye MS 135 1939 – Maharaja Duleep Singhji of Jodhpur
BEST OF CLASS
1st Rolls-Royce 20 HP 1924 – Arvind Singhji of Mewar
2nd Rolls-Royce Phanthom II Continental 1935 – Amirali Jetha
3rd Lancia Dilambda 1930 –
Hemant Kumar Ruia
Cadillac Series 62 1952 – Diljeet Titus
Healey Westland 1949 – P P Asher
Rolls-Royce 20 HP 1923 – Mr Patnaik
Jaguar XK120 1950 – HH Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur
Daimler DB 18 1939 – Viveck Goenka
Bentley Mark VI 1949 – Nishant Dossa
Jaguar SS 100 1937 – Ayesha and Jackie Shroff