Kylas Swaminathan, secretary of Madras Heritage Motoring Club, on the thrills and spills of The Hindu Chennai-Pondy Heritage Rally 2011

'Is this car taking me on a journey? Or, am I taking it on one?' Anyone who has a vintage car and is brave enough to drive it for a long distance may end up with these questions. During The Hindu Chennai-Pondy Heritage Rally 2011 (January 8-9), a few men found out that both can be answered with a resounding yes.

A rally of such nature is a test for both man and machine. More so, in India. Since a majority of these cars come from outside the country, it involves the additional odds of unsuitable weather conditions and a lack of easily available technical support. Air-cooled cars, which may go on for hours on end in colder climates, will fare badly under a blazing sun. .

And then, there is the question of technical support. Participants of the London-to-Brighton vintage car rally, have any number of clubs that will minister to the unique needs of their cars. Here, we have to overcome shortage of specific spares with the ingenuity of our mechanics. In the Indian context, the greater part of restoration (or servicing) involves fabrication. As a result, our vehicles have to be in the garage for weeks prior to a rally. The Madras Heritage Motoring Club, the brand owner of the annual Chennai-Pondy rally, began with a disadvantage, this year. Philip Miller, who attends to cars of many of our members, migrated to Australia. Luckily, his son Stephen Miller stepped into his shoes and showed he is a chip off the old block.

Fearing trouble along the way, most members came stocked up on spares, most of them electrical parts. R. Srinivasan with his 1946 Morris 8 did not leave anything to chance. But, when you throw in your lot with these machines, adequate preparation does not always help. The Eight's three-brush dynamo packed up and M.S. Guhan helped Srinivasan get another battery and start the vehicle.

Moments before the return trip, I noticed that my battery drained out. I had failed to notice the sidelights that had being glowing all night. Professor V.K. Parthasarathy and his Fiat Elegant came to my rescue. He jumpstarted my 1946 Austin 8 with the aid of crocodile clips.

These vehicles are old but not totally outdated. To drive home the point, some vintage cars did better than their younger counterparts. Jaikumar's 1950 Hindustan 14, which shares its technology with the Ambassador, had a broken axle. Now, you will seldom encounter such hitches in Morris and Austin cars, which are blessed with full-floating axles. Such an axle acts as a fuse when excessive load is brought to bear on the differentials.

The problems faced on route were not big enough to mar the rally. There was always the MyTVS truck to bail us out of breakdowns and the mechanics to get the vehicles back on road. Then there were the members who watched out for each other. Thanks to all this, 39 of the 40 cars — most of them vintage and classic and a few, modern classic — did the two-way trip.

Last year, Ranjit Pratap and Guhan stretched their resources to enable the rally reach the 40-car mark. About 20 of the cars were theirs. This year, they did not have to stretch themselves that much. Between them, they brought 12 cars. I see this as evidence of greater participation.

Another improvement: more members brought their wives. Not just that, some brought their pets. Ramji Srinvasan brought Griffy, his Labrador. And I brought Tyson, my golden retriever. After the rally, Tyson hops into my Austin 8 every time I take it out. He's bowled over by its charms — and I am not surprised.