Prince Frederick studies a Chevrolet Superior and an Austin Seven Chummy, two of the city’s oldest vintage cars in running condition, for some tips on getting better with age

Age is a taboo subject, except where vintage cars are concerned. Their stock goes up along with their age. Being the oldest in their respective clubs, this Chevrolet Superior and Austin Seven Chummy are highly valued. Here’s how they have stood the test of time.

Austin Seven Chummy

Date of Birth: 1926

Status: Oldest car in the Madras Heritage Motoring Club

Owner: Balraj Vasudevan

What is believed to be the dinosaur’s undoing is this car’s main defence against time: size. The Chummy is only around 360 kg. Being a midget of a machine, its demands are as few as its parts. Considering maintenance of vintage cars is about either sourcing out-dated spares that go decades back in time or fabricating them, this is the biggest advantage any vintage car enthusiast can hope for.

“Being governed by a simple system, this car is easy maintenance,” says Balraj, who is obviously speaking in relative terms. He has gone through a ground-up restoration to put this machine on its four spoke wheels, but the effort cost him considerably less in time and money than what it cost to keep three classic machines — a Dodge, a Vanguard and Willys jeep, all from the 1950s — going.

Years ago, Balraj went through an exercise of simplifying his life by freeing it of the clutter of things, which included giving away a few rare machines. The Chummy was among those things that survived the purge.

Peering through the lens of history, one notices that the Austin Seven, including the Chummy, has survived many difficult situations. More than that, it has helped people skirt around many such situations. The Austin Seven came as an answer to the tax horsepower rating, adopted by countries across Europe in 1921. Tax depended on a car’s horsepower. To combat this measure, Austin introduced the Seven in 1922, with a four-cylinder 696cc engine. Calculations by a section of the Royal Automobile Club, dedicated to the purpose, returned a 7.2 horsepower rating for this subcompact car.

Subsequently, the Seven was upgraded to a 747cc engine that put out 10hp. Balraj’s Chummy has the bigger engine and the concomitant advantage of greater output.

But its body is more reduced in dimensions than many other Austin Seven models. And, it is believed, that the name — Chummy — has something to do with this. Here’s a theory: The seats being so compact, passengers are forced to sit close together. Like best chums.

Chevrolet Superior

Date of Birth: 1924

Status: Oldest car in the Vintage and Classic Vehicles Foundation (VCVF)

Owner: Durai Mohan

Driving vintage cars requires making a few adjustments. In the case of Durai Mohan’s 1924 Chevrolet Superior, it calls for a drastic change in orientation. The pedals are patterned on the BAC model: in simple terms the accelerator pedal is in the middle, between the brake and clutch pedals. Durai Mohan is not complaining, because this frighteningly anachronistic feature keeps people from asking the car out for fun drives. Mohan has mastered the art of switching effortlessly between the BAC and the regular ABC model. Not so adept at this game, his son Aswanth, who has inherited Mohan’s interest in time-defying cars, stays away from the Chevvy and sticks to driving a 1953 Vauxhall Wyvern.

Thanks to this unusual pedal sequence, Durai Mohan ends up driving the car most of the time, even when it has to be taken to the garage for repairs. As a result, Mohan — who has roughly half a dozen heritage-rich cars, some at various stages of restoration — has developed a greater liking for the Chevvy.

“It’s rare in many ways. Take the firing order of its four-cylinder engine: it goes 1-2-4-3. I believe this is an unusual feature even among vintage cars,” he says.

A study of the machine reveals a painstaking effort to keep it as true to its era as possible, but this does not rule out a few innovations. Instead of the updraft carburettor, an original feature, a downdraft carburettor does air-and-fuel blending duty.

“A change for the sake of performance,” explains Mohan. “Very old machines need crutches such as these to go on.”


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