Worth their weight in gold
It was a "beauty pageant" with a difference this past Sunday, when vintage and classic cars and bikes went around the city, taking its residents on a journey down the years.
JALOPIES ARE classic metaphors for obsolescence; but, thanks to man's preservative instinct, they are sometimes imparted a value that is timeless and beyond measure. Such privileged jalopies "creaked" around the city in a "road-show" this past Sunday, under the auspices of the Vintage and Classic Vehicles Foundation of India (VCVF).
Even road-hogs who derive their identity from the dubious ability to drive recklessly, thereby making it difficult for other road-users to pass, allow these "metallic dotards" easy passage (not in condescension, but in reverence). Pedestrians stand in their tracks, bowled over by the "beauty pageant" on the road. (These cars were earlier flagged off by the Joint Commissioner of Police, Traffic, G. Uma Ganapathy Sastry, at the St. George's Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School.) The cars wend their way back to the school grounds, in a metallic clamour, to make themselves available for the public gaze.
Though these cars soak up a lot of money in terms of maintenance, they are worth their weight in gold. At least, that is how their owners see them. P.S. Srinivasan, a retired civil engineer, owns six Morris Minors. You can see a twinkle in his eyes when he talks about them.
"India is yet to be bitten by the `vintage car' bug. Vintage car rallies are poorly attended. As a stark contrast, every vintage car rally in England witnesses participation from a minimum of 20,000 vintage cars. I attended the Morris Minor Owners Club meet at Birmingham, England, in 1998 (the club was celebrating its 50th anniversary); there were 86,000 cars. I realised to my dismay that all the other cars were better maintained than mine. People in the West give vintage cars the pride of place," says Srinivasan.
He is so taken up with Morris Minor that he has written a paean to it; the Morris Minor is personified and it gives an account of its own history. At one place, it says: "Though I am 55 years old, I am a `minor' still; I may live for another 50 years and more, and I will still be a `minor'."
Dr. Gautam Babu owns a Dodge 1955 of the rare Kingsway Custom make. He bought it just two months back; it was a tin lizzie that cried for great attention. "We worked overtime to restore the car to roadworthiness. It surely must be a record of sorts as we put the car on the road in just one month's time," says Dr. Gautam. The car gives a mileage of just 5 km per litre. But then, the value of these cars is measured by a different yardstick.
Vintage car owners have a fetish for original spares. They do not spare any expense and effort to get them. Dr. Gautam has some good news for Dodge owners. "Singhvi Motors on G.P. Road is in a position to provide spares for Dodge." P.S. Srinivasan is all praise for the Morris Minor Owners Club. "They say our vehicles will be on the road for 100 years and more; and we will provide spares for them forever."
Col. Chandrasekhar is another Morris Minor owner. He says Chennai roads have had the privileged presence of Morris Minors since the 1950s. "There were many of them then; they were called baby taxis," he recalls.
Mohana Krishnan is another vintage enthusiast who runs a "car care centre" called Hammer & Spanner, on Kilpauk Garden Road. Among his specialisations is helping dilapidated vintage cars on to their wheels. He has restored over 20 Morris Minors, thereby earning the sobriquet "Morris" Mohan.
Well, the car rally is not just about Morris Minors... . there are Riley, Austin-12, Baby Austin-7, Ford military jeep, Volkswagen Karman Ghia, Volkswagen Beetle, Triumph, MG Sports, Chevrolet and a range of other interesting "old-timers". There are over 50 cars on display. Surveying the scene further, one claps eyes on a few classic and vintage motorbikes. Raja Thilagam owns a BSA (1942) bike. A 500 c.c. bike, it has been in the proud possession of his family since 1953. Earlier, the vehicle was being used in the Army. "It was lying in a state of disrepair for 20 years, before I decided to reclaim it for the road." The mobike gives a mileage of 18 km. "I do not use it regularly," says Raja.
The owners are also from backgrounds that are interestingly eclectic. Capt. C. Kirthan Kumar, is an airline pilot; and probably, for that reason, has a penchant for fast cars. He owns a roadster that is designed for speed. It is a two-seater Triumph TR-3 (1959). His father had bought it from a mechanic in Perambur seven years back. Around the same time they sold an identical Triumph, which had figured in a commercial for Denim. He bitterly regrets the decision.
On the `why' of such rallies, Ram Viswanathan, honorary secretary, VCVF, says that such rallies are meant to be an educative experience for youngsters. They (youngsters) should make maintenance of vintage cars, a hobby.
Mani Nagappa, chairman, VCVF, drives home the "absurdity" of levying road tax on vintage vehicles. His contention is that these cars seldom make use of the city roads. They prefer to "stay at home", most of the time.
"There would not be more than 500 vintage cars in Chennai. Every week, only one or two people take their (vintage) cars out," he says.
"All other State Governments have waived road tax for vintage vehicles," Col. Chandrasekhar adds.
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