Car collector Ranjit Pratap on restoring antique cars, and how they fuel his memories of childhood. Since his uncle, the Raja of Bobbili, had a collection of 72 cars, Ranjit was exposed to exotic cars very early in life. The process of restoring an out-of-production car is a complex one. And, when you deal with a huge number of such cars, the hobby can be stressful.

Automobile history is parked in Ranjit Pratap's garage. A Ford Mustang that blazed a trail in America. An Austin Cambridge that captures the quintessence of old English cars. An MG TD that opens a window on sports car technology of the 1950s. He has two dozen other cars that highlight various other facets of car-making from 1949 to the early 1980s. But the rich history surrounding these machines is not the primary attraction for Ranjit. Classic cars partly define his childhood and youth and, therefore, he feels an instinctive pull towards them.

Since his uncle, the Raja of Bobbili, had a collection of 72 cars, Ranjit was exposed to exotic cars very early in life.

In addition, Ranjit's grandfather M.R. Rajagopal Naidu ran a successful business, importing cars and a variety of heavy machines for the local market.

The family's link with automobiles snapped in the mid-1950s, following the Government policy to curb sale of imported automobiles into the country. The company (Rayala Corporation), under Ranjit's father M.R. Pratap, flourished as one that sold a wide spectrum of office equipment.

In 1982, Rayala reconnected with automobiles. Ranjit, back from the U.S. after completing his MS, took over the reins of the company and, almost immediately, engineered a collaboration with the German company, Fitchel and Sachs, to make shock absorbers.

Time-consuming hobby

Despite the group's extensive diversification in recent years, including a foray into the hospitality industry, manufacture of automobile parts has remained one of its main businesses. Ranjit takes his business commitments seriously and it is natural to wonder how he manages the time-consuming hobby of restoring antique cars. “An organised man always has time to spare,” he says.

Among his other hobbies are horse-riding at the Madras Riding Club (Velachery) where he keeps a stable of horses, and tennis at the courts in his house and at the Madras Club. A fitness freak, Ranjit does not miss his sessions with a visiting yoga instructor.

Despite the multiple demands on his time, he does not shy away from social commitments. He is the secretary of the Madras Club and a key member of the Madras Heritage Motoring Club.

For his old cars, Ranjit spares a portion of his morning. He inspects them, especially the ones that are under restoration, and gives instructions to his drivers and a couple of mechanics who take care of these cars on a day-to-day basis. When a major restoration is underway, a painter and a tinker are hired.

The process of restoring an out-of-production car is a complex one. And, when you deal with a huge number of such cars, the hobby can be stressful.

When he began to restore a rundown 1968 Mercedes Benz 250 SE, his mechanics were sceptical of the project's success and efforts to source spares kept failing.

Ranjit used his contacts in Germany to source a majority of the spares. “Still, the restoration took four long years,” he says.

While discussing any of his cars, Ranjit relates how a network of friends and associates made the process of restoration easy. He depends on them constantly, because old cars fall into disrepair regularly.

As it is difficult to maintain two dozen cars to show standards, Ranjit does not want to add to his collection. He is now focussed on restoring cars that have been begging for attention for sometime. At present, he's working on a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow II.

However, the gleam in his eyes as he discusses this Rolls Royce makes you wonder if he'll ever really stop adding to his mammoth classic car collection.

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