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Romancing the Rover

1st Jan 2015 7:00 am

Viveck Goenka's love affair with Land Rovers has blossomed into a collection of 25 cars. And we discover there's more to it than meets the eye.


Let’s first get this out of the way. Yes, he is the chairman and managing director of Indian Express, but that’s not the story we are interested in. What we are interested in is his garage. Unlike other wealthy men, it’s not packed with the latest limousine or supercar, but with old cars. And he works on these cars himself. Car enthusiasts know Viveck Goenka as one of the country’s top car restorers. He is also known as a purist who refuses to cut corners. If the original car came with acrylic paint, he will not use polyurethane. Or substitute chrome for nickel plating. Three Cartiers in a row is enough proof of his obsessive eye for detail. While there are many achingly beautiful pre- and post-war classics in his collection, that’s not what we have come to see. We have come to see his collection of Land Rovers.

Viveck Goenka has one of the (if not the) largest collection of 4x4 vehicles in this country. Jeeps, Jongas, Gypsys, one-tonners, Land Cruisers, Pajeros and even a Unimog. But out of the 50-odd 4x4s in his collection, half are Land Rovers and Range Rovers. His love for cars with a 1961 Fiat, whose carburetor he took apart when he was eight, and is still in his collection. But his love for Land Rovers started a bit later – in 1986, to be precise, when a friend was having problems with his Land Rover, and turned to Viveck Goenka for his technical expertise. It was this Land Rover that started off a lifelong obsession. And it took him four more years to get his first green oval.

Asked about his favourite vehicle, he mentions his first-ever car from the British marque – a Range Rover which he bought from the Delhi State Trading Corporation. This was followed soon by a Land Rover. And from thereon, he continued buying them. The problem was, most were abused, broken down or discarded machines fit to be scrap. To build his current collection of 25 Land Rovers, he bought about 40 of them. Not more than six or seven were complete with all its parts intact. He cannibalised parts from the hopeless to give the relatively less seriously injured ones a new lease of life in his workshop. Today, all the cars have been meticulously restored to pristine condition.

His love for 4x4s also stems from his love of off-roading. That’s why many of his Land Rovers are kitted out with all that you need to go off the beaten track. Roll cages, mud tyres, snorkels, winches, twin batteries, high-lift jack, spade, shovel and everything else you would need to tackle the terrain. One of his Land Rovers carries the now defunct Camel Trophy colours in homage to this legendary race.

Perhaps one of the most interesting Land Rovers in Viveck Goenka’s collection is a 6x6. It was originally a normal Defender 127. But when he chanced upon an axle meant for a three-axle Land Rover, he decided to make one of his own. He designed the car to take him and his family on safaris. This is perhaps one of the most unique Land Rovers in India. He also has some rare early cars, a 1957 88-inch Series 1 with a truck cab body style being one of them.

Land Rover lovers talk nostalgically about how these were used as taxis in and around the hills of Darjeeling. They have all been replaced now by Mahindras. Yet, there’s one still in existence. With Viveck Goenka, of course. To celebrate this legacy of the Land Rover, he did up one of the Land Rovers in Darjeeling taxi colours and specifications.

If you think that these vehicles are kept hoarded in a pristine and sterile garage, think again. Goenka’s vehicles regularly participate in off-road challenges, safaris and rallys, as well as auto shows. Each vehicle is ready to go at the turn of the ignition.

In spite of his love for the green oval, Viveck Goenka will not buy a modern-day Land Rover for off-roading duties. Not because they are incapable. On the contrary. He is a man who likes to test his skills as a driver. He does not like the fact that today’s modern computers and electronics make all the decisions for the driver, rather than the driver making the decision.

How passionate is Viveck Goenka about off-roading? He is planning to set up a 4x4 museum in Navi Mumbai. It will not just be an exhibition space, but rather an interactive platform where people can learn about the finer aspects of this sport and even take the cars for a drive around a track. It is still in the planning stages and will take at least two more years. And when it does, we’ll be the first ones to bring you the full report.

Joy Chaudhuri

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