How does it feel to drive a car built 92 years ago? Incredible, if you would ask any vintage car enthusiast. It was this feeling that was palpable in the eyes of the guests at the Vintage & Classic Car Show who developed a special liking for an olive green Austin from 1926.
While car lovers from across the city and beyond who came in large numbers at Statesman House in New Delhi were left visibly spellbound at the sight of a galaxy of vintage and classic cars parked on the building’s premises, their excitement was for the Austin – the oldest car at the show – was on a different level.
In the galaxy of the pre-1970s cars and bikes (there were eight vintage models), the Austin and one other stood out because of their interesting histories.
Speaking to thestateman.com on the sidelines of the event, Awini Ambuj, the proud owner of the Austin, revealed the interesting history of the car and his family’s relationship with it.
According to the papers the car, he said, it was imported and owned by the head of the Technical College of Ranchi in undivided Bihar of the British period. It was subsequently sold to a buyer from Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu in the 1950s.
“Apparently, it was used in some Tamil movies. My father, Bhawani Shankar, was holidaying in the Nilgiris in the 1960s where he purchased this car and drove it all the way back to the north from there,” Ambuj said with a clear glint of pride in his eyes.
He said the car participated in the first and second Statesman Car Rally before it was sold to a friend of his father’s who used the Austin to transport bricks.
“The car was then sold to someone else. It was dismantled and (many) parts were stolen,” said Ambuj.
It was in the 1990s that Ambuj got possession of the car and started work on its restoration.
Ambuj said the restoration work, which went on for 20 years till 2013, succeeded “thanks to the Internet”.
“The car has parts from at least 20 other cars from across the world, including South Africa, Singapore, US, Poland, Israel, Australia and the UK,” Ambuj said, underlining his devotion to the restoration process of the car.
“The dashboard alone took me five years. The steering wheel was broken in three pieces. I got one made before I found a (appropriate) piece in England,” he added.
The car was built for the middle class consumer and had a 12hp engine. Ambuj said the design and style of the car was more popular in England.
“Only 50 cars were built with this body,” he said, adding that much of the body, including the fan, is made of aluminium, which makes the car lightweight. But a lot of them have not survived because of the aluminium.
Ambuj said the car, which can turn into a four-seater, can do very high mileages. “If you keep putting petrol, it won’t die. It is not very fast but very reliable,” he said.
A major reason behind the reliability of the car is its engine. Ambuj said the engine was designed in 1919 and was produced well into the 1930s. Such was its reputation as a reliable engine that it ended life as a London taxi.
The car also retains the ‘hand’ indicator used in some pre-1950s cars and has a body style suited mainly for England. The car’s window can be folded and placed between the door and a mechanical cover that can be unlocked by turning a screw.
Ambuj said the first time the refurbished 1926 Austin became part of the vintage car rally was in the 50th edition.
While the Austin has a rich history of its own, the other car, also owned by Ambuj, has a historical connect.
The 1930 model Studebaker, which was on display at the show, once took Mahatma Gandhi to a meeting organised by Ambuj’s great grandfather Rai Bahadur Amba Prasad, who owned it.
“There was a gathering organised by my great grandfather and that car went to pick up Mahatma Gandhi,” Ambuj said.
Ambuj, who was one of the two owners who had three cars at the event, said it was not necessary to have a lot of money to own and maintain a vintage car.
“Even if you don’t have a lot of money you can still go for a basic car like an Austin 7 and maintain it,” he said, adding the initial reconstruction would will cost money.
He, however, cautioned that maintaining the cars is easy as long as the owner is doing most of it himself or herself.
“If you don’t know how to maintain and what to do, you’ll be taken for a ride. That is certain,” he said.
According to Ambuj, maintaining a vintage car is easy because the machines belong to a generation of very old technology with hardly any electronic parts.
Commenting on the cars of our times, Ambuj said today’s cars are built for comfort and therefore will always be any day better than the vintage cars.
Comparing the Austin to a modern car, Ambuj said while the 1926 beauty produces about 20hp on a 1.8 litre engine as against 200hp on the same capacity of engine in an average car today.
And yet, vintage cars are special.
“Old cars have a charm. A vintage car is like an antique in which you can roam around,” Ambuj said.