The white steed of Kolhapur: At the Cartier Concours d’Elegance

India was collecting cars well before it became fashionable to do so. And nothing highlights this as well as the Cartier Concours d’Elegance. At the sixth edition, held at Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace, more than 80 cars were on display, with many pointing to a royal provenance. “These maharajas and the other rulers of the first half of the 20th century were the first real car collectors. I’d say it happened by accident. They were collecting cars because they bought a lot and never sold anything,” chuckles Simon Kidston, classic car dealer and Chief Judge at the Cartier Concours. At a time when car collectors did not exist at all in the western world (that happened only after the Second World War, he points out), the maharajas had fabulous palaces with garages brimming with automotive treasures.

Year of restorers

But the big revelation in Jaipur, adds Kidston, is the quality of restoration. This is something I have heard often from him and his fellow judges, HRH Prince Michael of Kent and Sandra Button in particular, at earlier editions of the Cartier Concours. But this year, they unanimously insist, has been exceptional. Button, Chairman of the Pebble Beach Concours, the luxury car world’s biggest gathering in California, says 10 years of the Indian show has seen not just fine restoration, but sensitivity to the original colours and to the history of the participating cars.

The white steed of Kolhapur: At the Cartier Concours d’Elegance

“I have judged cars in the Pre-war European Class that have been re-restored correctly,” she says, referring to collector Shrivardhan Kanoria’s 1906 Renault. The crazy speed at which the cars are restored in India is another unique characteristic. “At Pebble Beach, sometimes cars are in restoration for over five years. And then I come here to Jaipur and I talk to a family member and they’ve got their car ready in eight months! You need a big team effort to make that happen,” continues Button.

Racing to the finish

The busy restorers on the Rambagh lawns agree that it can be an all-consuming passion. The Cartier Concours is a pilgrimage of sorts for them, and many of them share an easy camaraderie. Mumbai-based Allan Almeida, who works with his uncle, India’s top restorer Viveck Goenka, has the largest team, with 50 technicians. Kaizad Engineer, who with his brother possibly had the highest number of entries, at seven, says the two weeks before the Concours saw him following a punishing schedule. “I would come back at 6 in the morning, drop my girls to school, take a shower, take a nap at work for two hours and get back to work,” he explains. He went on to win in four classes at the Concours, two of them for his own entries, a truck and convertible — the 1934 Chevrolet 1/2 Ton Series PA and the 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster. Meanwhile, Diljeet Titus, Delhi-based lawyer and collector, admits that while speed is one thing, what matters is how permanent the restoration can be. “All of us are focussed on getting a car ready for a show. I took a month off my practice to work on this. My hood was repainted about four times,” he says. His 1930 Stutz Model M was best in class, in the Pre-war American category.


The white steed of Kolhapur: At the Cartier Concours d’Elegance

Spotting a tycoon

Raymond chairman Gautam Singhania, elected to the FIA World Motor Sport Council in 2017, was one of the big industrialists shopping at the event. Stopping for a quick chat right after closing a deal (he said he wasn’t ready to share the details of the car he had purchased just yet), he agreed that the restoration quality was “getting better and better”. His favourites included the 1906 Renault and the Alfa Romeos.

The white steed of Kolhapur: At the Cartier Concours d’Elegance

The transporters

This year’s edition saw interesting new classes, the most popular being the Pre-War Transportation Class. “The nicest thing at this edition, which put a card up my sleeve, is the Transportation Class,” says Barwani, adding, “They are not Rolls-Royces, but they are part of our culture, with Indian colours and motifs.”

The white steed of Kolhapur: At the Cartier Concours d’Elegance

Collector’s diary

Classic car historian and curator of the Cartier Concours, Manvendra Singh Barwani, enjoys the research and reinvention that goes into the show. “It is a gift, that Manvendra has the ability to be so focussed on Indian cars,” says Button, recalling how it was a challenge to get people to come when they first showed the Maharaja cars. This year, Barwani added new categories like the Pre-War Transportation Class, the Roadster Class and the Sports Car Class. We heard the new Thunderbird Class came in for some gentle ribbing from his co-judges.

“I will be straightforward. Cartier said, ‘We are in Jaipur in 2019 and the present Maharaja is a world-renowned polo player and is a smart guy. We would like to have his car, not just Gayatri Devi’s car’,” recounts Barwani. But they realised that Maharaja Padmanabh Singh has just one car. “That’s how the Thunderbird Class was introduced,” he says, having added his red Thunderbird to the showcase. “Fifteen cars came to India between 1955 and 1969 and I own the first, the red Thunderbird 1955, which was imported by Yuvraj Shivendra Singh of Palitana,” he says.

The white steed of Kolhapur: At the Cartier Concours d’Elegance

Eye on the world

This edition also saw new judges, Lamborghini’s Stefano Domenicali and Pininfarina legend, Lorenzo Ramaciotti, paired together. “It is always good to have a fresh perspective. Lorenzo is very experienced and head of the jury at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, a talented designer with a fantastic CV,” says fellow judge, Kidston, also praising “Stefano’s enthusiasm and freshness”. Referring to global trends, he says the age of cars people collect is getting younger. “There is a new generation of collectors who are in their 30s and 40s. They make their money in finance, tech and real estate, primarily. They are still North American and North European, English, German, Dutch, Swiss. But we are seeing the first serious collectors to emerge from the Middle East: Dubai and Bahrain,” he says. The next growth area will be India, he insists, but there is also the re-emergence of Japan. “Japanese love Italian cars: Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Abarths. They like the rare, obscure, individual, and Made in Italy jewel-like cars (referred to in slang as Etceterinis).”

The white steed of Kolhapur: At the Cartier Concours d’Elegance

Pure obsession

Kaizad Engineer restored the 1937 Daimler, owned by Ravi Pittie and that originally belonged to the Princess of Kolhapur. Hers is the story that had many narrators at the Concours. Apparently, she got married as a child and then was widowed at the age of 13. “She had ordered an all-white car, so there is the white exterior paint, white wheels, white brakes, white carpets on the interior and even a white engine block,” says Engineer. She had reclining seats, a sun roof and a telephone to communicate with her chauffeur. Her insignia on the car says: Such is life. The Daimler went on to win Special Award.

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 5:22:34 AM |

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