A judge of vintage vehicles, Partha Banik gets into the micro details of these machines

Triumph of redundant technology. Time frozen in metal. Parade of history. Turns of phrase that adequately define vintage vehicles for us. For Partha Banik, these machines signify much more. Going beyond the romanticism associated with these vehicles, Partha gets into the nuts and bolts of what it means to keep them tuned to their times. He judges these machines at rallies, including The Statesman Vintage & Classic Car Rally (Kolkata), arguably the best in the country.

For Partha — a mechanical engineer with stints at Hindustan Motors and Bajaj Auto providing him rich experience in automotive engineering, designing and styling — entered the world of vintage machines by default. As a kid, he could not help learning the various features of a Standard Super 10. At any given point of time, this car, which belonged to the Banik household, had some niggling issue to be fixed. The result: by 13, Partha could be entrusted with the job of fixing the car’s mal-functioning gearbox.

Eye for specifics

While judging vehicles that hark back to different eras and cover a wide technological and stylistic ground, expertise in automotive engineering alone is insufficient. Knowledge about the specifics of each machine to be judged is essential. Before a rally, Partha as well as Raja Mookerjee, another judge with whom he has forged a great partnership, ask about the vehicles, especially the ones not displayed at any of the previous editions. Study and research about these machines follow.

“In the case of familiar vehicles, we ask the owners if they had carried out any modifications since the last rally,” says Partha, who did just that with regard to vehicles of The Madras Heritage Motoring Club that went on The Hindu Chennai-Pondy Heritage Rally 2013. “In every club and group, five to seven per cent of owners keep improving their vehicles.”

On the parameters for judging, Partha says, “They vary from rally to rally.” For example, The Statesman rally at Kolkata has a road run, where the vehicles are put through a punishing drill to assess their performance. Most other rallies in India lack this feature.

Among those common to all are an assessment of mechanical soundness, which includes engine noise and brake efficiency, a check on tyres and soft parts such as upholstery. Authenticity is the most critical parameter. “To see if a vehicle conforms to its original specifications, we literally go under it. We look at the suspension, tyre tread and a caboodle of other things. In the event of a part being unavailable, we expect the owner to have fabricated it. With the kind of technology at our disposal, almost any automotive part from the past can be re-created. At the least, an owner is expected to find a replacement from the same period.”

Given owners’ understandably indulgent view of their respective vehicles, does Partha have to deal with complaints over the results? “Contentions are unavoidable, but can be ignored.”