It’s not easy being a judge at the Cartier ‘Travel With Style’ Concours d’Elegance. Acknowledged as India’s premier beauty contest for vintage and classic automobiles, this event is held once in two years in the most beautiful environs. The cars that participate at the Concours are curated by Indore-based Manvendra Singh Barwani, India’s foremost automotive historian and restorer, who is also a jury member at the world’s most famous Concours, Pebble Beach.
Cars are judged by some of the biggest names from the global vintage and classic car community, as well as legends from the worlds of motorsport, fashion, culture and, of course, the automotive industry. What makes the job of the judges difficult is not just the kind of cars, their rarity or their levels of restoration – it is the unique stories behind the cars and their provenance. This is because the Indian subcontinent has been host to an exceptional and unique automotive culture, right from the early days of the automobile.
This year’s edition of the Cartier Concours was held in Jaipur, with 86 cars classified across different categories, spread out on the lawns of the beautiful Rambagh Palace. While the job of the judges is tough, what I have set out to do in these pages is even tougher: to present a handful of my own awards. Here goes.
WHO NEEDS HORSES AWARD
1906 RENAULT 8HP RUNABOUT OF SHRIVARDHAN KANORIA
The oldest car at the event – classified as a Veteran in heritage car nomenclature – was this Renault from Kolkata. It’s so old that it looks as if the horses that pull it have bolted off somewhere. No worries, it was the dawn of the internal combustion engine, and horsepower would have a new meaning altogether. Part of the Kanoria family for over five decades, Kanoria has worked hands-on to bring it up to this astonishing condition.
WHAT THE TRUCK AWARD
1934 CHEVROLET 1.5 TON SERIES PA TRUCK OF KAIZAD ENGINEER
This year’s Cartier had a special category – Pre-War ClassicsTransportation – to acknowledge the important role played by commercial vehicles in building modern India. Of the buses and trucks on display, this humble Chevrolet stood out for its transformation from virtual scrap to what it is today. It functioned as a water tanker for the Mandsaur fire department, and instead of retiring, worked some more with the Turf Club in Pune. Now it’s just happy to be alive.
HEAVY METAL AWARD
1961 FORD THUNDERBIRD HARDTOP COUPE OF VIVECK & ZITA GOENKA
The evocative Thunderbird name comes from a bird in Native American mythology. While that may itself give this burly American the Heavy Metal Award, this car also wins it because of its immaculate restoration – ‘as good as new’ is too pale a cliché to be applied to this third-generation T-bird. Ford developed the Thunderbird series in 1955 as a ‘personal luxury car’ and over time, it grew to become this personal land barge.
RED, SPORTY AND ITALIAN AWARD
1921 FIAT 501S CORSA SPEEDSTER OF AMAL TANNA
A unique car, the Fiat was modelled closely on a Fiat Grand Prix car of the 1920s. The Maharaja of Patiala, who saw the original car racing at a GP, ordered this replica for himself. Looking purposeful, the Fiat has offset seats for the driver and the mechanic, a tail that tapers sharply and a large fuel tank lid placed high up for quick refills, while it barks via an exhaust pipe that runs along its side. An extraordinary machine.
PEAK WIDOW AWARD
1937 DAIMLER 24EL LIMOUSINE OF RAVI PITTIE
Following the British royals, Daimlers were the wheels of choice for Indian royalty too, as their ceremonial cars. What makes this straight-six Daimler special is that a princess of the royal family of Kolhapur, who used it as her state car, specified it to be painted white inside out: body colour, engine block, steering wheel and even the chassis. Why the all-white specification? Reportedly to reflect her widowhood.
THOSE WERE THE DAYS AWARD
1956 DODGE SUBURBAN CUSTOM STATIONWAGON OF ABDUL HAMEED GHANI
This car was one of the contenders in the Indian Heritage class – a category for cars that were assembled or manufactured in India post-Independence, up to 1965. Dodge was one of the Chrysler brands that were assembled by Premier Automobiles, the others being Plymouth and DeSoto. This superbly maintained Dodge estate car from an erstwhile princely state in Madhya Pradesh has weathered well, without losing any of its original parts and components.up for quick refills, while it barks via an exhaust pipe that runs along its side. An extraordinary machine.
HANDS-DOWN WINNER AWARD
1935 ROLLS-ROYCE PHANTOM II CONTINENTAL STREAMLINE COUPE OF AMIR JETHA
India is globally acknowledged to be big on vintage Rolls-Royces, and among them, this one is rather special. Ordered for – but never delivered to – the Maharaja of Jodhpur, this majestic Roller wears a highly flamboyant body built by Gurney Nutting. This car was literally the pin-up model of last year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and picked up two trophies too. Its rarity, value and special status do not stop its owner from using it as a regular utility mobile on Mumbai’s roads.