Boys under the hood

At every edition of the Cartier Concours d’Elegance (this February saw the fifth, in Hyderabad), the international judges convey pleasant surprise at the skill and resourcefulness of the restorers in India. The judges, from HRH Prince Michael of Kent to Rolls-Royce historian John Fasal have also been pointing out that many of the restorers of the cars that make the cut, are young hobbyists. Cartier Concours curator and automotive historian, Manvendra Singh of Barwani, agrees, adding that with ‘over restoration’ giving way to more international standards here, there are chances of India becoming a ‘restoration destination’. Costs are about 60% cheaper, for collectors bringing their cars from abroad, say some restorers, declining to discuss financials. A quick check reveals that car restoration in India begins at approximately ₹5,00,000 and can go up to over ₹1 crore, compared to the West, where it can be $2,000 per hour (at 300 hours minimum). The Mumbai restorers, who have begun working as a team, of late, say cutting the red tape on imports, revising laws regarding the ban on heritage cars over 15 years in the capital, and bringing car restoration under the Make in India umbrella, will help the cause. Meet some of the young restorers making the change:

Christopher Rodricks, Bengaluru

Boys under the hood

Gleaming gold at the Taj Falaknuma Palace, the Daimler 45 HP Special made for wealthy businessman Sir Seth Hukumchand, was a magnet for Cartier Concours celebrities and their photographers this year. But only those in the know pursued the mechanical restorer who had worked on it. Rodricks, 30, has been assisting Manvendra Barwani on some of the most important cars in our automobile history - the yellow 1911 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Dome Roof Limousine, the Throne Car of the erstwhile Nizam of Hyderabad, and two rare 1906-model Napier L76 cars. Having recently relocated to Bangalore from Australia, Rodricks has a two-year waiting list for big projects and clients from Punjab to Kerala. “It takes six to eight months to overhaul a car, from its engine, to steering, suspension, and all mechanical parts, so I insist on a primary and secondary inspection before giving an estimate,” he says. Working from 9 am to 7.30 pm, seven days a week, he quips that he does all the work himself, as a car, once opened, is like a jigsaw puzzle. “It is not an easy profession to get into, as a lot of vintage cars come with sentiment,” says the man who considers rock climbing a stress buster and now goes indoor climbing after work from 11.30 pm to midnight!

Himanshu Jangid, Jaipur

Boys under the hood

Having spent 10 years in the business, since his first car, a Ford A model 1928 classic, Jangid admits that the market has changed for the better since Cartier’s involvement. “But people still don’t want to spend much. We need more collectors and they should drive their cars more often, instead of just showing off at rallies,” he says. He has a fully-fledged set-up in Ajmer, and has restored over 150 cars, including those of Rajasthan royalty and collectors from Delhi, Orissa, Gujarat, etc. “People don’t want to wait longer than a year anymore for their car,” he shrugs. Winners in his portfolio include the Mercedes 1934, belonging to the Rajkot royal family, that was locked in a garage for over 30 years before he worked on it. In 2015, Jangid introduced Cartist, an event to promote automobile art, and to initiate youngsters to vintage and classic cars. “I now pick and choose my restoration projects, like a Jaguar E-Type or a Ford Lincoln 1947,” he says, sharing plans to bring Cartist Yatra to other cities, from Mumbai to Ahmedabad to Chennai, in November. The event will host camps and encourage artists to paint on autos, buses and other moving canvases.

Kaizad Engineer, Mumbai

Boys under the hood

A Parsi’s love for cars is legendary and Kaizad’s story is no different. But the resurrection of the 1949 Bristol 400 owned by Amit Sapre, from what was just rusted metal bones in Andheri, has given motor heads enough to talk about for years to come. In production from 1947 to 1950, there are only 487 units of the 400; it seems this high-quality sports car is the only one in the country and, possibly, the continent. Recalling how he and his team, which includes his brother Nekzad and commercial pilot, Sachin Ogale, took eight months to turn the car into showroom condition, Kaizad, 40, says, “We all knew about Sapre’s Bristol and its condition, so when he suggested I restore it, I thought he was joking and asked him not to waste his money. It was 2014 and the car, which was buried in rubbish and neglect in Andheri, had been dug out of its spot and transported to Pune. But Sapre persisted.” Research on eBay followed, and he was introduced to Bristol guru Geoff Dowdle in Sydney. Dowdle sent him pictures of “a half-cut chassis, a bit of a bonnet and a bit of a fender”. It was a beginning and Kaizad left for Australia in 2016. Over two weeks and 5,000 km, he travelled from Adelaide to Melbourne, collecting parts along the way. “I picked up a door and other scrap from one gentleman. Everything I could find, for $2,000 to $3,000, I picked up. By some strange happenstance, what I already had on the car was not there in the parts that turned up and vice versa; it all fit beautifully. And when, a day before the trip to Cartier Concours in Hyderabad, the handles that reached us were damaged, another restorer, Marespand, brought over a new set!” says Kaizad, currently in England with his two young daughters, on a holiday that involves autojumbles.

Marespand Dadachanji, Mumbai

Boys under the hood

This Parsi priest, who has been in the vintage automobile circuit since 1992, has restored over 80 cars, many of them famous beauties like the Rolls Royce Phantom 2 Continental of Amir Ali Jetha. Taking appointments post 11 am, only after he has completed his duties as a priest, Dadachanji is well-liked by fellow restorers. “He’s a perfectionist and his work is phenomenal,” says Kaizad, about the man who has a waiting list of four years. He works on four cars maximum each year, and is currently busy with a 1940 Chrysler. “I am afraid to go to shows as clients are after me. It is difficult to churn out cars like a factory,” he laughs. Confident about the ‘international talent’ of the young boys on his team, Dadachanji, 43, swears by YouTube videos for tips and has installed a smart TV in his workshop on the outskirts of Mumbai, to pick up on the fine nuances shared by other auto experts. “Getting spare parts is a challenge… the amount of praying I do, you have no idea. It is unquestionably the hand of God,” he insists. Recalling vintage car expert and judge, Simon Kidston’s words of advice during the first Cartier Concours, ‘Restore a car bumper to bumper, with no shortcuts’, the restorer says they have come a long way. “Earlier, we wouldn’t even touch the dials. That has changed and the Preservation Class is taken seriously,” he says, finding the time to create an almost half scale replica of this year’s winner, the 1936 Chrysler Imperial Aeroflow owned by Amal Tanna for the collector’s son’s fifth birthday. “My young collectors are clear about what they want, and will never settle for second best,” he concludes, adding that the car that got them noticed on the world map, Amir Jetha’s Rolls Royce Phantom 2 Continental, will take part at the prestigious Pebble Beach concours 2018.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 12:16:15 PM |

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