The Good Life

A Class Of One's Own

Owning a vintage car with a royal history is, arguably, the epitome of style and substance 

What could be more opulent than owning a beautiful set of wheels that come with the tag of being a classic or vintage? The ownership experience is only further enhanced by the rarity of the vehicle, apart from its provenance — after all, the story behind the car is just as important as the car itself.

Since most of the cars that came to India during the early 1900s belonged to the maharajas, it goes without saying that just about every one of these beauties has an equally amazing story behind it. The maharajas were known for their extravagances, and when it came to their cars, they would have some some rather exquisite machines built for them. In fact, the maharajas of India  played a major role in establishing Rolls-Royce as a premiere brand. From a Rolls-Royce customised for hunting to the ‘Swan Car’ that was once owned by the Maharaja of Nabha — these exquisite machines have their own place in history.

Going beyond just the Rolls-Royce brand, the elite of India bought cars from Austin, Minerva, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Delage, Stutz, Lancia, Packard and a slew of other brands that were willing to go out and deliver products that allowed the owner to truly travel in style. Over the years these cars have changed hands numerous times and have been picked up by vintage car collectors across the globe, including the likes of Jay Leno. Having said that, there are enough collectors in India as well. With each car literally worth its weight in gold, being a collector of vintage and classic cars is truly for the well-heeled.

Speaking about pursuing this passion, Manvendra Singh, the Maharana of Barwani, who is also a leading automotive historian and curator of the Cartier ‘Travel with Style’ Concours d’Elegance as well as a judge for the Pebble Beach Concours, states, “Collecting classic cars may sound glamorous and exciting, but it takes a lot of patience and effort, not to mention a sizeable bank balance. Compared to modern cars, classics require constant upkeep and care. They may have once been cutting-edge and ultra-luxurious, but they cannot now match their modern counterparts. They have a capability to frustrate, and my advice to any new collector would be to budget extra time and money. It would be pertinent to study the subject well, and find balance, because it is easy to lose your way pursuing this hobby.”

Restoring a vintage or classic car might be a time-consuming process and have its own share of frustrations. But it can be quite a rewarding activity as well. Such vehicles are painstakingly restored, using as many original parts as possible that are sourced from across the globe. They also require a lot of fabrication to be done along the lines of the original vehicle. The entire process can sometimes take years to achieve and is undoubtedly a rather costly affair too. However, once the car is ready and restored to its past glory, there is really nothing that can give a true automobile connoisseur the feeling of pure bliss than one of these immaculate machines. It isn’t just about having a fancy set of wheels. For a collector’s item with a fantastic pedigree, it is also about owning, reviving and reliving a bit of history.

Luckily, these magnificent cars aren’t all locked up in private collections and hidden from the world. There are enough events across the world that bring collectors together and provide them with an opportunity to showcase their vintage cars for all to see. Top ranking events include the Concours d’Elegance held at Pebble Beach, Lake Como and of course the Cartier ‘Travel with Style’ Concours held once every two years in India. Undoubtedly, these events attract the finest of these cars.  

Being a collector of vintage and classic cars does raise the bar in terms of the club you belong to. This isn’t about fast cars, or having an expensive toy. At best, being a connoisseur of such rare and vintage beauties would best be described as a preserver of art. They truly exist in a class of their own.

The writer is an editor with MotorScribes and tweets at @VikramGour