Luxury

Yohan Poonawalla’s Salon Privé 2021 moment

Yohan Poonawalla at Salon Privé   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The first week of the month saw a well-attended lobster luncheon, Pommery champagne and tyre-screeching action at UK’s historic Blenheim Palace. Also known as the ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill, this country house was the venue for the Salon Privé Concours d’Elegance, one of the world’s leading automotive events. It was also where industrialist Yohan Poonawalla’s trio of cars took home prestigious prizes — from the 1949 Bentley MK VI to the 1927 Rolls-Royce 20HP Tourer by Barker and the 1979 Rolls-Royce Phantom VI Limousine by Mulliner Park Ward. Talking about the 1949 Bentley MK VI, which belonged to Jayachamaraja Wadiyar, the Maharaja of Mysore, and went on to win the Duke of Marlborough Award at Salon Privé, Poonawalla says, “When I bought her 15 years ago, I didn’t know she was the Maharaja of Mysore’s car. She was one of my first Bentleys.” It was only when his team returned with the car and its original build sheet to Pune that he realised its provenance. “She was in another blue and silver colour scheme. Her original colour (bright red and yellow) was prepared for the 21 Gun Salute Concours last year in New Delhi.” The Bentley was restored by Allan Almeida in Viveck Goenka’s restoration workshop in Mumbai and soon got itself the ‘Rhubarb and Custard car’ nickname.

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Made for a maharaja

Speaking to The Hindu Weekend from his office in the UK, Poonawalla recalls how Manvendra Singh of Barwani, an authority on vintage vehicles in the country, helped with the research. “I consulted with him on restoring the Bentley to her original glory, which included that special paint combination. I was very apprehensive when I saw the swatches sent to me, then said if that’s how the car was ordered by the Maharaja, that’s what it needs to be.” It turned out to be a head-turner, sporting cream leather and piped green upholstery. Other features include plaques and shields in solid silver and 24k gold (the Maharaja of Mysore was reportedly the second richest man in the world at the time, after the Nizam of Hyderabad).

Yohan Poonawalla with his family at Salon Privé

Yohan Poonawalla with his family at Salon Privé   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

From a pope and a sporting motorist

A connoisseur of both cars and watches, Poonawalla is joined by his wife and painter, Michelle, and his two children, at most rare and vintage car shows these days. “From the flags to the crest, I am more than 100 % involved with every car I pick up. Both my children are involved too and I know my collection will be in safe hands,” he says of his sizeable collection in Pune that includes Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Phantom II and the Lincoln Continental imported in 1964 by the Vatican for Pope Paul VI’s visit to India. Sharing how he was introduced to the former, he says the 1933 40/50hp Phantom II Continental Touring Saloon was one of the Great Eight Phantoms at the popular 2017 exhibition by Rolls-Royce in London. In a special blue — Rolls-Royce was rumoured to use fish scales in the paint mixture to achieve a metallic finish — it caught his eye. “I admired the car from up close; little did I know that three years later it was going to be mine. That’s how life is,” he says. The other Phantoms at that show included a couple owned by Queen Elizabeth II and Fred Astaire. And John Lennon’s ‘Psychedelic Rolls’ with floral motifs and Romany scrolls.

More to discover

Declining to reveal how large his collection is, Poonawalla, 49, adds that he focusses on quality not quantity, and that Indian historical value matters. International prices and sales of classic and vintage cars are up, and the passion is picking up in India, he observes. Recent rules in India regulating the registration process for vintage cars will help collectors, he continues. “While they blocked the export of vintage cars, so heritage cars don’t go out — unfortunately, a lot of fabulous cars left India in the 60s and the 70s — it only made sense to open imports. Manvendra Singh, curator of the Cartier Concours d’Elegance, agrees that while the Indian history of cars is important “only those who are wealthy can take them to shows abroad”. He adds that there are a few large collections still lying locked up in garages in the country, with historical value. “It is up to the children of those families to restore them,” he says.

The Lincoln Continental

The Lincoln Continental   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Poonawalla ensures his family is familiar with all his cars — at least a couple are taken out for a Sunday spin. “Sometimes, in the evenings, we take a family walk in the gardens and I like looking at the lineup. It is fascinating to see the old and the new parked together side by side, each with their personalities and their striking lines,” he says. While he shares details of his cars on Instagram (an exercise he began during the pandemic), he plans to release a coffee table book on a select few. The 1927 Rolls-Royce 20HP Tourer by Barker, the other winner at Blenheim Palace, for Most Exceptional Coachwork, will certainly be on that list. The first car of its kind to be brought into India and originally acquired by Haidar Muhammad Yakut Khan, the nawab of Sachin, it was showcased at the Cartier Concours d’Elegance in Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, in 2019. “It was a split-second decision. Someone sent me a picture from the Concours and I fell in love with it. I sent two of my boys over immediately to Delhi to negotiate and bring it home,” he concludes.


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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 3:51:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/luxury/salon-priv-concours-delegance-yohan-poonawalla-2021/article36653736.ece

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