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Updated: June 12, 2013 14:06 IST

In reverse gear

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At one of the earlier rally orgnised by the Madras Heritage Motoring Club. Photo: M. Karunakaran
The Hindu
At one of the earlier rally orgnised by the Madras Heritage Motoring Club. Photo: M. Karunakaran

Machines of yore will take over the roads on January 19 when the fourth edition of The Hindu Chennai-Pondy Heritage Rally is flagged off

Once a year, vintage and classic machines from the Madras Heritage Motoring Club are spruced up to their glittering best and lined up for a scrutiny by experts of the calibre of Raja Mookherjee and Partha Banik. For those who don’t know these men, Raja can be brutally honest and look an owner straight in the face and tell him his vehicle is simply no good. Partha tries to sugar-coat his criticism, but the effect on the owners is just as devastating. Given this, owners dread these inspections. They find only one thing more dreadful: the annual Chennai to Pondy heritage rally. To call this rally a gruelling journey for these old machines is a striking understatement. Making matters worse for their owners, Raja and Partha are joining this edition of the rally, ‘The Hindu Chennai-Pondy Heritage Rally 2013’, January 19 to 20!

In its fourth year, the rally has registered notable improvements, one of which is the participation of bike owners. Sumanth Chaganti, a colossus among the bike collectors of Chennai, and S. Srivardhan are among those expected to bring an impressive set of vintage two-wheelers to ‘the motorcade’. Considering the rally was seen as the preserve of car owners, this is a significant development.

“The fact that the rally has become an annual feature on Chennai’s calendar speaks for its success. Only those privy to the challenges of organising this event can fully appreciate its uniqueness. It’s a struggle to find good drivers for these machines. These cars require hands trained to handle them,” says Kylas Swaminathan, founder-secretary, Madras Heritage Motoring Club.

Another challenge is finding mechanics to accompany the group. Again, not any mechanic, only the ones attuned to the peculiarities of these machines, will do. The problem looks more formidable when you factor in the widely varying characters of these machines. Putting a number to the issue, Balraj Vasudevan, says, “The cars cover a period stretching from the 1920s to the 1970s.” Fortunately, a bunch of mechanics with a reputation for building a wide range of such machines from the ground-up — Pitambaram, Veerabadhran, Vernon Miller, ‘Chikki’ and Ramachandran, to name a few — have agreed to go on this trip.

As usual, Ranjit Pratap and M.S. Guhan, known as all-weather men for their ability to produce a fleet of cars at short notice, play a pivotal role in the rally. This year, the roll-call, which routinely precedes the flag-off, will be marked by a few new names, including Capt. Vernon Saldhana who brings his 1946 Ford Anglia to the party.

Kylas places geographical advantage among factors believed to have contributed to the success of this motoring initiative.

“A great number of these machines are air-cooled and were originally made for regions that often experience freezing temperatures. They are unequal to the challenge posed by extremely hot conditions. The East Coast Road, with its cool breeze, affords a slightly better condition than any other road in our part of the world. Not just for the machines, even the owners and drivers of these vehicles, most of which lack air-conditioning, will not feel the heat,” says Kylas.

But, the heat will come, from another quarter: when their performance will be judged on the run.

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