We realise “wow” doesn't quite sum up how we feel when we visit Auto World that showcases a slice of automobile history

“Exhibition of Rare Vintage and Classic Cars” says the elaborate ticket, with the picture of the elegant office building on one side and a paragraph on “vintage” and “classic” on the other. That is only a hint to the extraordinary collection at Auto World, Dastan outside Ahmedabad. Cars? These are oil-run chariots — experimental, customised — in which men and women in regalia sat, hunted, saw their fortunes rise and fall. Now, in their stationary days, they sit as symbols of a slice of our pre-Independence history. When in Ahmedabad, ride down to Auto World.

Almost every one of the 105 vintage cars has a story. The best one would naturally be how Pranlal Bhogilal, a chronic collector of art, jewellery, bronze antiques and palatial bungalows, came to possess 200-odd classic beauties. Curator Sunil bhai will tell you that and more if he's had lunch, and is convinced your interest is genuine. “During his press conference in India, Maybach's CEO offered five of the latest in return for the 1955 model you see here,” he flat-tones. “Pranlal refused. Maybach sells at Rs. 5.5 crore.”

With companion Satishbhai's commentary playing background, I go “ooh! ah!” at the Ford A (1926), Austin (1928 — two-door, 7HP), Chevrelet Saloon (1929), Bentley (1934), Austin Ruby Tourer (1935 — red + yellow), Lagonda (1936), Citreon (1946 — front-wheel drive, signal-light on top), Daimler (1947), Chrysler Convertible (1948), Jaguar Mark V (1950), Sunbeam Saloon (1950), Merc (1937, Nepal), Plymouth (1954), Wolseley (1964 — used in the film “Bobby”!), Fiat 1500 (1964), Lincoln Continental (1972)... “The Alvis carries two spare-wheels because there were no tyre-service shops around,” he cuts in, and doles out more nuggets. “The Lincoln Continental had a fluid drive, its hydraulic suspension allowed the height to come down by three inches, which made it a favourite among senior citizens in the U.S. That long horn with its enlarged mouth on the lower right outside the Playboy Roadster was meant to carry the toot into the distance. The braking mechanism wasn't good, so the poor sops on the roads had to be scared away! The emblem on Ford ‘T' (1910) hasn't changed at all; the 1911 Daimler has its radiator on its nose with a ‘metal guy' standing on it; this tall, green Hispano Suiza (HGC-1927) accommodates guns in the glass case fitted outside. That 1958 Cadillac is 20 feet long! In 1955, Merc had auto-transmission!”

At the special enclosure for the eight sleek Rolls Royces, we only stand and stare, for ‘wow!' sounds like an insult. The 1923 — 20 HP with a shooting brake, 1936 Phantom III, 1926 Azad Phantom I with inverted suspension, 1932 Junior Car Club member with seven lamps, 1927 Phantom I with spring between wheel and chassis for smooth rides, 1923 Silver Ghost with its front-cranking and brass bell, Victoria State Landau with wick lights on either side, 1927 Phantom I boat-tail roadster with a huge luggage rack — it's a beauty parade, alright! There is one used by Rajendra Prasad, another by Lord Lilithgow. Pranlal's standard reply to “Which one is your favourite?” was, “How can a mother choose her favourite child?” I have no such problem. Mine is the Hotchkiss Convertible 1936 — leather seat, handsome wood panels — meant for a princess!

Sunil then takes me to a room with small models in glass cases and large photographs on the walls. “Time for some background,” he says. “The assembly here includes vintage cars from 1906 (Minerva — Belgium / Mors —France) to 1972. Pranlal's is the world's largest collection of vintage cars. He parked 105 of them in this 2,000-acre farmhouse and kept them in good condition.”

You walk around, and swallow your envy with traditional food at Vintage Village. You let the kids run around Fun World and gawk at the Phaetons, family / dog carts, Valedus (embroidered bride cart, pulled by a single bullock), a gig, tonga, goat cart, wagonette, cabriolet, a landaulette with lovely lamps, and a handsome Victoria.

And understand why Sardar Patel Ring Road leading to Dastan is silky smooth. It would be a shame to let the magnificent four-wheelers glide on anything less. Pick one for a ride (8 a.m. to 9.30 p.m.) or hire one for a wedding. “You can use it till you take the bride home,” says Sunil. “The latest cars will not survive 50 years. These were used by maharajas and viceroys. Where will you get that privilege?” Where indeed!

(For details, call 079-22820699)

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Pranlal, founder-member of Vintage and Classic Car Club of India, passed away on January 12, 2011

His only child Chamundeshwari inherited the treasure

Pranlal began gathering classic cars in the 1960s, encouraged by his father. All the cars are original

What he did not inherit, he bought from erstwhile maharajas / princes who were happy to part with their ‘white elephants'

Pranlal used his cars regularly. He never rode in a modern car. He took part in vintage / classic car rallies but would not compete