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Truly remarkable and rare: The 101 Automotive Jewels of India

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[Editor’s Note: Gautam Sen, who wrote the award-winning biography of Marcello Gandini last year, is back with another book, this one in collaboration with Makarand Baokar to lavishly photograph and present “The 101 Automotive Jewels of India,” a sort of follow-up to the 2011 book, “The Maharajas and Their Magnificent Motor Cars.” This time, rather than focus on the cars of royalty, Sen and Baokar considered the magnificent cars and, in a few cases, the oddities that non-royal Indians owned. We’re including four of those cars here, along with a selection from Sen’s preface to the book.]

The idea was to gather in one book, as many as possible of the very unusual, the best preserved and the most representative vehicles that survive in India today. Vehicles that encapsulate the very essence of the history of the automobile in this country and its impact on contemporary culture and civilisation. We believe that it is important to preserve not just the historic vehicles, but also related artefacts and records by researching and cataloguing the most authentic examples of our automotive past, so that they are available for future generations.

But before some of you enthusiasts get too excited – by what may have been left out – may we clarify that the cars in this book are not an all-inclusive list of the ‘most’ remarkable automobiles in India, but is a carefully considered selection of ones that stood out as some of the more interesting, or historically relevant, as well as the most beguiling and the most fascinating. And of course those that were accessible, and in a reasonable condition.

Despite the fact that a significant number of India’s most important and historic vehicles have made their way abroad, there still remain some truly remarkable and rare automobiles, as well as several milestone cars that deserve to be featured. No less deserving and important, is the action of recording their histories, as well as encouraging the preservation of the ones that can be preserved. The book also, in a certain way, recounts the story of the automobile, as well as of the associated people – the fascinating personalities and the interesting anecdotes that go with these cars.

Following FIVA’s definition of every vehicle that is more than 30 years old being a historic vehicle, automobiles such as Hindustan Contessas, Premier 118NEs, Standard 2000s, even early Maruti 800s were under consideration. Thus the choice of historic vehicles in India today runs to not just thousands, but tens of thousands of automobiles of all shapes, sizes and colours. Yet there exists a ‘caste system’ that discriminates against the commoner India-made automobiles. This attitude needs to change, as do several other attitudes and obsessions.

We cannot be thankful enough for the immense assistance and cooperation from most of the collectors and enthusiasts we approached. Several of the cars in the book have remained in the same family since new, and the documentation available for most of them is very impressive. Some of the collectors who have acquired their vehicles more recently have made considerable efforts at retracing the histories of their respective cars, and that is commendable indeed.

1930 Stutz Model M 4 Passenger Speedster
Founded in Indianapolis in 1911 as the Ideal Motor Car Company by Harry C. Stutz, a car badged Ideal was entered for that year’s Indianapolis 500. The Ideal finished the race a creditable eleventh. The following year, the company was renamed Stutz Motor Company, and with it began the production and marketing of cars with the Stutz brand. The first model was the Bearcat, a high performance roadster, equipped with one of the first multi-valve engines. To continue production activities, Harry Stutz tried in vain to find investors. Eventually, in 1919, Stutz was forced to sell the company he had founded. The new owners, in 1923, hired Frederick Ewan Moskowics, an engineer who had worked at Daimler, Marmon and Franklin. In 1927, a Stutz set a world record, reaching an average speed of 109.5 km/h in a test that lasted 24 hours. The following year another Stutz, powered by a 4.9-litre engine, finished second at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

A year later, in 1929, while doing the rounds of the Olympia Motor Show in London, 43-year-old Captain His Highness Maharaol Sir Ranjitsinhji of Baria (a small princely state in Gujarat) was very impressed with a LeBaron-bodied Stutz Series M 4 Passenger Speedster on display, and promptly ordered one. A right hooker, fitted with a dual cowl windshield, the original colour of the car was a deep red, with black fenders. But the car was repainted silver before it arrived in India, in 1930. The interior was in maroon leather with matching carpets.

The Maharaol, incidentally, was very fond of sports cars and had several exciting bolides in his royal mews. A favourite of the prince, the Stutz was used on special state occasions only, and was never sold when he was alive. After he passed away (in 1948) his grandson, who had inherited the Stutz, as well as a SS 100 Jaguar and a Mercedes-Benz 320, put all three up for sale. An enthusiast, Abdulla Haji Burra Dadi, had the money to buy just one and he chose the Stutz over the others.

Abdulla Haji Burra Dadi enjoyed using the Stutz for a few years. But when the brakes started fading and replacement tyres were no longer available in India, the car was put on blocks. After Burra Dadi passed away (in 2001), the children sold the car to one of India’s most prominent collectors, lawyer Diljeet Titus (see page 270). When Titus acquired the car, the Stutz had covered just 10,360 miles (16,672 kilometres). Restored, the car was a prize winner at the second edition of the Cartier Concours d’Elegance in New Delhi, in 2011.

Engine: 5277cc I8 Power: 113bhp Wheelbase: 3.42m Weight: 2230kg Max Speed: NA

1934 Graham Blue Streak Model 8-67 Series Sedan
One of the very first automobile assembly plants set up in India was that for the assembly of cars made by American carmaker Graham-Paige, in 1928. Founded just a year earlier, in 1927, by brothers Joseph and Robert Graham and their Canadian partner Ray Austin, by the taking over of Paige-Detroit Motor Company, Graham-Paige went international rapidly. Of the several assembly facilities that Graham-Paige set up across the globe, one was in Calcutta, when wealthy Barrister Sushil Chandra Chaudhury decided to invest in a car assembly facility.

Chaudhury’s nephew Anil Kumar Mitra had studied automobile engineering in the US, and then worked with Ford, before signing up with fledgling carmaker Graham-Paige and heading back home to Calcutta to set up the assembly facilities at 2 Rowland Road, where the Chaudhurys already had a tyre service centre, International Tyre & Motor Company. Initially, Graham-Paige was very successful, selling very well as taxis because of the car’s rather compact turning circle, but the investment was considerable and, within two years, International Tyre & Motor was bankrupted. Also, the supply of kits may have been affected by the Great Depression.

Several Graham-Paiges from then survive in India. Rarer are the cars that the company made after 1930, when the brand name was shortened to just Graham. Amongst them, the model Blue Streak, introduced in 1932, was the carmaker’s most exciting. In fact, several historians believe that the design of the Graham Blue Streak was the “single most influential design in automotive history.” Interestingly enough, it was the new inline eight-cylinder engine of the car that was called “Blue Streak”, but the press and public alike began referring to the car itself as the Blue Streak.

Innovations included the skirted fenders, a feature that almost every American carmaker copied from 1933 onwards. The radiator cap disappeared under the hood, which ended at the base of the windshield. The car’s design was the work of Amos Northup, head of the design department of the coachbuilder Murray Corporation. The use of a banjo-type frame had the chassis passing over and below the rear axle, thereby allowing for a wider body, as well as lowering the overall height of the car.

Yet, despite the sensational styling and chassis innovations, sales of Grahams (most of which were the Blue Streaks) was a modest 12,967 cars in 1932. In January 1933, the second-series Blue Streak was launched, and the car on these pages is one of them, from 1934, a Model 8-67, which is a rarity, not just in India, but even in the US, as not many of the ’34 8-67s were sold, given that for a bare $95 more it was possible to buy a 8-69 with a supercharger and 135 horsepower, instead of the 8-67’s non-blown 95 horses. Bill McCall, who has been researching and compiling the serial numbers of all Blue Streaks surviving since the last 40 years, believes that only six complete Model 8-67 Graham sedans are known to exist: “One is not restored, two have been modernized (street rods) and three restored to original, which includes this one in India.” Another rarity from Dr Ravi Prakash’s extensive collection, the Graham had spent most of its life in Delhi, with the jeweler family, Zaveri, before it was restored by Marespand Dadachanji, near Mumbai.

Engine: 4021cc I8 Power: 95bhp Wheelbase: 3.12m Weight: 1680kg Max Speed: 125km/h

1937 Rolls-Royce 25/30HP
Rolls-Royce replaced the 20/25HP with the 25/30HP in 1936. The many improvements included an increase in the dis- placement of the engine, from 3669cc to 4257cc, by increasing the bore (once again) to 88.9mm from the 20/25’s 82.6mm, whilst the stroke remained at 114.3mm. The compression ratio was also increased (to 6:1), and the carburetor changed to a Stromberg. Whilst the wheelbase remained at 3.35 metre, the traditional ladder frame chassis was suspended by semi-elliptic leaf springs and hydraulic shock absorbers on all four corners, and power-assisted braking was on all four wheels, a technology borrowed from Hispano-Suiza. Though Rolls-Royce did not publish maximum power, the 25/30 was calculated at about 115bhp, and the max speed – depending on body styles of course – was estimated at about 128 km/h or so.

In a production run that lasted barely two-odd years, 1,201 25/30HP were produced by Rolls-Royce. Of these just 20-odd seemed to have found their way to India, estimates marque expert André Blaize. Of the ones that are extant in India, there are three with an identical body: of a flowing four-door all-weather tourer style by coachbuilder J. Gurney Nutting. Arguably one of the prettiest body styles ever on a Rolls-Royce, this particular shape seems to have caught the fancy of several Indian Rolls-Royce clients during the second half of the 1930s.

Of them the most important client – to Rolls-Royce – was, in all probability, the Darbhanga family from Bihar. Reputedly the wealthiest of all the zamindaris, the landed gentries who served the British Empire as feudal lords, the Darbhanga zamindari was made up of 4,495 villages. Maharaja Kameshwar Singh Bahadur, who ‘ruled’ Darbhanga from 1929 till India’s independence in 1947, was an avowed car enthusiast: over the years he acquired scores of cars that eventually grew to a collection of some 90-odd, of which more than 30 were Rolls-Royces alone; the car on these pages (chassis # GRO48) is one from that lot.

With just 15km of paved roads within the Darbhanga estates, most of the cars had very little mileage on them, and that seems to be so with this car too, when it became a part of the highly selective collection of the Delhi-based Jaiswal family, in 1981. In the late 1990s, this car received an immaculate restoration at Sargeants of Goudhurst, in the UK, when it was repainted a beige, from the earlier shade of maroon.

Engine: 4257cc I6 Power: Sufficient… (115bhp) Wheelbase: 3.35 m Chassis weight: 1330kg Max Speed: 128km/h

1948 Bristol 400
When WW II came to an end and as orders for planes dried up, the Bristol Aeroplane Company – which till then had specialized in aircrafts and armaments – realized that it needed to diversify into other areas. Thus the decision was taken to move into the automotive arena. In anticipation of this decision, the Bristol engineers had already developed two prototypes before the end of WW II, with the second – the type 2EX – planned for production by 1946. But the project was called off when Bristol took over the specialist British sports car manufacturer, Frazer Nash, in 1945.

The British importers for BMW, Frazer Nash were selling the German cars badged as Frazer Nash-BMW since 1934. Immediately after the end of WW II, Frazer Nash acquired the design rights for several BMW models including those of the 326, the 327 and the 328, as part of war reparations. With Frazer Nash becoming a part of the group, Bristol abandoned its in-house project, and decided instead to focus on adapting the BMW designs. Initially, Bristol considered developing a biggish grand tourer, to be badged Frazer Nash-Bristol, while Frazer Nash was to sell a sports car derived from it, under its own brand name. In April 1947, however, Bristol sold off Frazer Nash, and decided to carry on with the development of the Bristol 400 on its own.

Resting on a ladder-frame chassis, with front wheels independently sprung, the rear a rigid axle located by torsion bars and shocks, the 400 was powered by the same 2.0-litres straight-six as that of the late 1930s BMW 328’s. The design of the body was by Dudley Hobbs, a long-time Bristol Aeroplane Company employee, who went on to design almost all of the brand’s subsequent models, up to the ‘82 Britannia. Hobbs was clearly influenced by the body designed by Peter Schimanowski for the BMW 327, in 1938. With most of the body in steel over a wooden frame, the doors, bonnet and boot lid, though, were in lightweight aluminum.

Launched in the spring of 1947, the 400 had its first update in time for the Geneva motor show of March 1948, and the cars that were made from then on are referred to as the Series 2. Externally, the second of the first series differed by the design of the front bumpers, as well as the spare wheel set into the trunk lid, to increase luggage space. By the time the 400 was replaced by the 401, in 1950, less than 500 of them had been manufactured. An estimated 60-odd survive across the world today.

The car on these pages is the only one in India. And if you see the photo of the car before its restoration, the word survive takes on a whole new meaning. Yet Mumbai-based enthusiast Amit Sapre had the courage to ‘pick-up’ the car and then convince the Engineer brothers, Kaizad and Nekzad, of Niki Garages, to take on the challenge of recreating this car in a record eight months flat, in time for the 2017 edition of the Cartier concours d’elegance, where it won the resurrection trophy.

Apparently acquired new by Badridas Daga in the UK, in May 1948, the car was subsequently shipped to Calcutta, where the Daga family where the Daga family used the car, before selling it off to the last Maharaja of Indore, Yashwantrao Holkar. The next owner Dara Pundole seemed to have brought the car to Bombay, where it changed hands several times,from Soli Captain to Zavareh Wadia, who, in turn, sold it to another person, before the car reached the hands of Fateh Ali. Sapre acquired the wreck in 2012, but work started on the car in May 2016.
As a footnote, may we add that the current owner of Bristol Cars is an Indian-born, but UK-based entrepreneur, Kamal Siddiqi, who also owns the Frazer Nash brand…!

Engine: 1971cc I6 Power: 80bhp Overall length: 4.65m Weight: 1130kg Max Speed: 150km/h

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