An equivalent of life-sustaining oxygen has been infused into the vintage car movement by the National Green Tribunal, rather belatedly, easing the restrictions on old cars using public roads. While the “award” is focused on rallies, exhibition and special events, of perhaps greater significance is the cars being permitted to be run for “maintenance”, for no mechanical device (not even the latest model) can remain in top condition if not frequently exercised. The NGT’s recent order will boost the movement ~ its earlier system of giving case-by-case exemptions from the pollution-induced prohibition on the plying of old motor vehicles had created complications for the organisers of rallies etc. And owners too were unsure, with the result that they “went slow” on maintenance. The grapevine has it that some owners of moderate means sold their cars because they were uncertain about being allowed to use them. It must be pointed out that few, if any, owners sought to use their cars regularly; hence the numbers were too small to constitute a pollution problem. A thoughtless bureaucratic order had virtually derailed the preservation movement.

It is hoped that the NGT order will be perceived as recognition of the “heritage” dimension of vintage motoring, and facilitate a range of other relaxations. Ideally, the Motor Vehicles Act should be amended to include a special section covering old vehicles preserved for their antique value. Some of the most elegant cars had been custom-built for the Indian princes of yesteryear, their preservation by a subsequent “breed” of motoring enthusiasts has to be appreciated as a bid to conserve national heritage ~ never mind if the cars were produced long before the “make in India” concept acquired political traction. The new NGT order, perhaps inadvertently, could accelerate that heritage-conservation mission. And set the ball rolling for similar “recognition” by the transport authorities across the country. For the number of cities where vintage car events are conducted had dwindled after the initial ~ some would say senseless ~ blanket ban on old cars. It has taken a sustained effort by vintage owners to enlighten those whose outlook is blinkered by the rule book.

It is with genuine pride and satisfaction that The Statesman looks back on its pioneering role in the preservation of India’s wealth of motoring marvels. The first rally this newspaper organised in the Capital in 1964 attracted only a dozen entries ~ today that list crosses the three-figure mark at a host of such events. We now see avid collectors, professional restorers, and some museums too. Many of these cars might have been “exported” for their antique value (initially bought as junk) had we not actuated the spark that started passionate fires, now stoked by the NGT’s honouring heritage.