India’s largest performance and supercar club, Throttle 97, has nearly 200 members. Consisting of like-minded, hard-charging enthusiasts keen to get the most out of their supercars and enjoy all the benefits associated with driving them in a group, the club has grown massively over the years. Whereas earlier all they did was meet up and drive around early in the morning, they now go for track days to the Formula 1 track in Delhi, have drift days and are courted by sportscar and supercar makers from all around the world. But where did it all begin?
It all started in 2014 with Damandeip Singh Chadha, driving out alone in his Mercedes C 63 AMG. Prowling the streets like a lone wolf, he was a happy camper. He was in love with his car (who wouldn’t be), he enjoyed giving it a ‘proper’ workout every time he took it for a drive, and then, with Mumbai’s streets empty in the early hours of the morning, he could really drive the wheels off it too.
Damandeip loves going sideways in his C63; he’s learnt his craft at some of the best drift schools.
After a bit, however, there grew in him a restlessness. He yearned for the companionship of kindred spirits, someone he could drive along with, share information, swap stories, shoot the breeze. Every lone wolf after all wants to run with the pack. “I knew nobody else who owned a performance car and who enjoyed early morning drives,” he looks back almost wistfully. “So, every time I met up with someone who was doing something similar, I stopped to chat. I exchanged numbers, spoke about driving together and kept in touch. And that’s actually how it all began.”
Shooting the breeze and discussing the drive; all part of what makes club membership a blast.
Then, more and more connections happened, and a WhatsApp group was formed. Initially, at least, many joined primarily to know when and where you could get the high-octane Speed 97 fuel, which was a rare commodity at the time. And that’s where the group’s name came from too. Of course, the real objective was connecting with like-minded supercar and sportscar owners and going out and having experiences you couldn’t have on your own. In fact, Throttle 97 proved to be so compelling, there were 25 or so owners on board in the first year itself. Friends connected the group with others, and then friends of friends who heard of the group and its drives also signed up. Slowly but steadily, the cars being driven out on Sunday mornings and participants stepping out early for a coffee grew in number.
No Sunday morning is too early for a Throttle 97 group drive.
What helped make the drives all the more compelling at the time was that Mumbai had the 5.6km Sea Link, the Eastern freeway (a roughly 14km, partly elevated road) had been recently opened, and back then, roads were generally in a better condition. So, it was simple; meet up at 5:30am and pedal to the metal. Now, of course, there are almost 200 members, and T-97, for its Republic Day drive, regularly gets upwards of 140 or 150 cars.
There’s always an eclectic collection of high-performance machinery at the events.
Which brings us neatly to the slight issue of membership. So, who can become a member? Well, to join Throttle 97 you don’t just have to have the right sort of car, you have to have the right mindset as well. “Someone buying an Audi A5 cabriolet clearly likes cars, but he or she also has a different mindset. They are clearly less interested in performance and more interested in driving in a relaxed manner, and this means they aren’t a good fit with people who like to drive hard and push the car. Someone driving a modified Polo GTi, on the other hand, is – and there’s the difference. Of course, a vast majority of the cars in the group are supercars, sportscars and high-performance sedans from M, AMG or Audi Sport. And there are a couple of Teslas too. “We are also very clear about keeping out egomaniacs, who always want their cars to be first and who always want to hog the limelight.”
Not a scene from Mad Max, but T-97 heading to the Autocar Performance Show ’18 after a breakfast run.
Members, over the years, have enjoyed all manner of long drives and high-performance days. Apart from the drives up to the hill stations around Mumbai, T-97 has also organised participation in drag races, excursions to the F1 track in Delhi (with the cars transported by truck), and drift days closer to home in Mumbai. And that’s the real benefit: without T-97, owners wouldn’t have gotten to experience anything like this.
Vicky Sawant does a burnout with his E63 S before a drag race.
T-97 is also expanding its scope. It now hosts off-road events, there’s a new website coming up where there will be a forum, and there is space for some of T-97’s spotters and bloggers to put their views and thoughts. T-97 will later also expand out of Mumbai to India’s major metros and there will be more and more drifting events.
Fans are always welcome at T-97 events; it’s often more fun than a motor show.
Whereas T-97 is similar to every other car club around, where there are benefits to being in a car-based community, what makes it quite different is its focus on driving and really enjoying the cars. And that needs to be celebrated.
Damandeip Singh Chadha, founder, Throttle 97
How do you decide who gets into the club and who doesn’t?
It’s tough, and also makes me unpopular at times, but what we look for is a combination of the right car and the right attitude. We actually look for real enthusiasts, people who will drive their cars (hard), enjoy them, be willing to come out early and also not have massive egos. So, for example, while something like a Mercedes S Class may not find an entry, a John Cooper Works Mini would. Of course, on the flip side a Mini diesel will also be left out. And once you sell your supercar, you need to step out. You can rejoin when you buy an appropriate car again.
Do many cars in the club have performance mods carried out?
Yes, a lot, and there are lots of sleepers. Most members enjoy drag-racing them, and that’s what we try and arrange, along with track days and drifting, in a relatively safe environment.
What does the future hold for Throttle 97?
I’ve just incorporated T-97 to give it a formal structure. We are in the process of building our own website and forum where everyone is welcome to join the discussion. And we won’t just discuss our cars, we will also discuss technical subjects, and get various workshops around the country involved, so owners can get a level of protection and support.
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