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Updated: April 23, 2014 18:35 IST
man & machine

The romance resumes…

PRINCE FREDERICK
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Sainath Guptha with his 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster. Photo: R. Ravindran
The Hindu
Sainath Guptha with his 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster. Photo: R. Ravindran

After a search spanning a decade and three cities, D.V. Sainath Guptha has got the car of his heart — a 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster

When it comes to cars, the flush of first love lasts a lifetime. Here are two stories, one from a county in Ohio and the other from Chennai, that prove the point.

Detroit-based weekly Automotive News has put out an article on one Emery Ward Jr., a man from Ohio, who displayed an inconceivable fascination with Ford vehicles of the year 1936. Until his death in 2007, he tirelessly hunted down old Fords, bought and restored them. He is reported to have accumulated more than twenty 1936 Fords, including trucks.

The man’s son Emery Ward III, who inherited the fleet of Fords — all of which are incidentally going to the auction house on May 16 and 17 this year — has told the reporter on the story that the first car his father drove was a 1936 Ford.

A couple of days ago, I met D.V. Sainath Guptha in Chennai, who has an almost comparable fascination with a particular car from a particular year. He has had an emotional attachment to the 1947 Chevrolet. However, unlike Emery Ward Jr., Sainath was never planning an eclectic collection of Chevy cars and trucks from 1947. He wanted a 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster. And he wanted only that. He was prepared to wait for it. He did wait patiently, for well more than a decade. And finally, six months ago, he got his car.

“I was two when my father bought a 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster from Sundaram Motors. I grew up watching this car, sitting in it and going for drives in it. The car was with us until the late 1970s,” says Sainath, 69 now.  Sainath’s father, D.V. Sesiah Guptha, a manufacturer of perfumes and cosmetics, would go on to buy other cars that were the toast of the decades that followed, but none of them would leave a mark on Sainath’s mind as indelible as the Fleetmaster.

“It was the car of my childhood and my adolescent years. I knew it inside out. I knew the shapes of the door handles, the length of the sidelights and every little detail regarding its dashboard,” explains Sainath, as he settles for a chat, standing close to his gleaming maroon Fleetmaster, but careful not to lean on it.

This car, which he bought six months ago, is almost spotlessly restored. The instrument panel is complete, with the gasoline, temperature and ampere gauges intact. The car has a searchlight.  “Even the lenses on the sidelights are original,” says Sainath.  The upholstery has been neatly done, with the characteristic long leather handle placed on the reverse of the front seat for the benefit of the people sitting behind.

“I did not do anything. I bought this car in such an immaculate condition,” Sainath concedes.  

Except for minor elements that make for better functionality — such as an alternative horn switch to prevent damage to the original horn unit on the wheel and the provision of a coolant tank — Sainath has left the car untouched.

For well over a decade, he was actively searching for such a well-restored 1947 Fleetmaster. As he is a member of two vintage car clubs — Sainath has a 1967 Lambretta too — and the world of vintage car lovers is small and efficiently networked, finding Fleetmasters that were up for sale was easy. But choosing one was not. His thorough knowledge of the 1947 model, ironically, was what threw a spanner in the works: it made him extremely fastidious regarding making a choice. “Besides Chennai, I have checked out 1947 Fleetmaster cars in Pune and Bangalore. I rejected many of them for want of originality. I could not help it. In my mind, there was this brand-new Fleetmaster that my father brought home and I wanted a car that came close to looking like that. A makeshift instrument panel and substitute door handles were not acceptable to me,” says Sainath. He did not want to settle for even a well-restored Chevrolet Fleetmaster from 1946 or 1948. 

“The Fleetmaster models from 1946, 1947 and 1948 were not radically different from one another. They could be differentiated only by minor features. But I was not going to make a compromise,” he says. All the three models shared a 3.5 litre inline-six engine and other significant features. The dissimilarities lay only in the aesthetics such as the shapes and patterns of the grille and the radiator.

Says Sainath, “These differences would not have mattered to me, if I had not been seeking to recapture a part of my past in all its details.”

Prince Frederick is a staff writer for MetroPlus & MetroPlus Melange.

(The column is being revived, on popular demand.)

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