I was under the impression that my generation has seen a big part of the evolution of motoring, since we were driven around in Ambys and Fiats as children, moving up to Marutis and Hyundais during our teenage years, and eventually getting familiar with so much choice in modern-day Indian motoring. But boy, was I wrong.
That's because the 5th edition of the 21 Gun Salute International Vintage Car Rally taught me a lot about classic cars. But mainly that I didn't know the first thing about these vehicles in India prior to my birth. Of course, we grew up reading the beautifully illustrated Tintin comic series, where classic cars played a big role in the stories, so names like Buick, Cadillac, Studebaker and a few others had left some sort of impression.
But there's a whole old world out there, and this grand event organised by Madan Mohan, or Madanji as was lovingly addressed by most who knew him, witnessed a gathering of some truly spectacular automobiles from all over the country, with a few international participants as well. We bring you all the action with plenty of pictures for you to click through from this exciting event that took place in Delhi and Gurgaon last weekend, so read on.
I landed in the morning in Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi, and was welcomed by some good weather and a cheery, talkative cabbie who drove me to meet with other members of the media for lunch at the 21 Gun Salute restaurant in Gurgaon. This was to be an event like no other I've experienced-I knew that the moment I set eyes on this gorgeous 1920s vintage Dodge that stood proud next to the entrance of the well-known vintage-themed eatery.
Post a delicious tandoori lunch, we were driven to the venue of the vintage car show in Leisure Valley, Gurgaon, where the first of the cars were arriving. This Buick reached the scene in a flatbed truck, and was an impressive preview to the unfoldings of the next day.
It was fitting that this vintage car event was set to begin amidst the grandeur of the Red Fort monument in Delhi, moving up to the car show in Gurgaon. I was glad to have made it there early, because the parking lot outside the Red Fort entrance was beginning to look very interesting indeed. This light and dark blue-hued 1927 Whippet Overland was the first that caught my eye.
The Whippet was beautifully simple, but with some gorgeous details like this solid manufacturer-titled radiator cap...
...and beautifully handcrafted wooden spokes for its large wheels. Note the "Whippet" lettering on the hubcap too!
A 1935 Ford V8 was begging to get its snapshot taken, and I gladly obliged because its silver paint job was absolutely stunning in the clear, early morning light. This Ford belonged to the event organiser, Madan Mohan, and was a testament to his love for vintage autos.
Getting its shine on for the drive was this flawless dark brown 1940 Buick Series 40 Special, one of the many cars from the American manufacturer represented at the rally. The Special was known in its heyday for relatively good fuel consumption and a spacious cabin.
As more and more cars began rolling into the car park, so did trigger-happy photographers and enthusiasts, to grab some digital memories of the beautiful machinery that so rarely comes out and smiles for the cameras.
This ‘hood rocket' belonged to an extremely popular car in the 1950s, and one that is still hugely popular among collectors in the United States. We'll tell you which one in the next slide, but why don't you fathom a guess?
And that's the car those hood rockets belong to, the famous 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air sedan, with possibly one of the world's most recognisable bodywork. Bel Airs in the US often become hot rods with big-block V8 engines, that you must have come across at some point in your life, but this was a pristine original example.
Big, bad Cadillacs too, get beautiful styling details, like this 1954 convertible with the exhaust outlets integrated into the grand chrome rear bumper ends. You'll see this car in all its splendour on the road a little later in the story, so do read on.
If you ask me, this was one of the picks of the show—a stunningly restored 1913 Stoewer, owned by PK Chawdhury, who incidentally also owned the previous 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.
We later found out that these beautiful windscreen-mounted lamps actually ran on kerosene, just like the one you and I have at thome. Note the two horn options: a regular air horn similar to what auto rickshaws used to have until recently, and a fully working mechanical horn behind the lamp. Amazingly, most horns of these various vintage cars were restored to working order, and added to charm of the two days-they were nothing like our current ear drum-busting standard fitments on cars today, but were pleasantly polite-sounding, making people almost glad to get out of an approaching car's way...
Soon, however, it was time for the sneak photo op to end, as the cars began lining up to leave for the Red Fort show. All polished and gleaming in the sunlight, these gorgeous cars made for a wonderful sight for my now-slightly-bored-of-modern-cars eyes...
The sheer beauty of this flowing Bentley coupe design was staggering, and this was easily one of my picks of the show. Cars don't get much prettier than this, that's for sure.
The cars made their way up to the world-famous Red Fort facade, which provided a stunning backdrop to the priceless machinery. This location saw impressive public footfall, though it was unfortunate to see several people not respectful of the value of these rare automobiles, with everyone from mothers-in-law to toddlers managing to clamber into the seats when security wasn't paying attention...
But you can't blame the public when security themselves were taking more selfies than Paris Hilton, not to mention rubbing their grubby paws on the expensive bodywork. So constables and famous Bentley hood ornaments were all part and parcel of the vintage auto show.
Mr. Madan Mohan's 1933 Chevrolet Master Eagle was a sight to behold, and the striking gold paint made for a breathtaking vision in the morning sun. It's easy to see how passionate a collector and enthusiast Madanji is, with exemplary attention to detail in keeping the car as original-spec as possible.
A beautifully-restored BMW motorcycle landed up in the morning for the festivities too, with the owner proudly explaining to an adoring audience that practically every part was original, right down to the last bolt and washer! I'd believe that, the suspension was working beautifully and the bike didn't miss a beat.
This was one of the Mercs participating in the rally, a glorious Mercedes-Benz 180 from the 1950s. Note: This is not an Ambassador!
My novice classic car recognition tried and tried to identify this white vintage racer, but without success. Maybe you can help in the comments section?
There was even a beautiful red example of a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible from the early-1970s at the event, a car that was possibly the company's most beautiful product at the time.
Grand don't get much grander than this late-80s Daimler DS420 Limousine, that's for sure. This stunner is now a popular wedding car in Europe, and it was amazing to see one in such good condition in Delhi.
Here's an olive green Pontiac Silver Streak sedan from the late 1940s in all its shiny glory-feast your eyes on the flawless restoration of the bodywork and chrome details.
The 21 Gun Salute Vintage Car rally was not restricted to cars, but saw cruise liners participating too... This is a 1960 Buick Invicta Convertible that got official rally selfie status, with several visitors posing against its football-field-length backdrop.
Small, fast sports cars have always found a special place in the automotive industry. Things weren't so different back then too, with pretty roadsters like this 1940s MG TC too appearing to wow the crowd.
European cars have always managed to exude class, and this 1929 Mercedes Nurburg owned by Mr. Vivek was a prime example. The car actually has quite a bit of interesting history to it, as it was Mercedes-Benz's first eight-cylinder passenger car and was believed to be the longest-running Merc from the 1920s and 1930s. This 4.6-litre automobile from the famous German carmaker was capable of an impressive 100 km/h top speed.
Here's Nitin Dossa's priceless 1933 Hudson 7-seater Open Tourer, which went on to win top honours at the Concours show. With good reason—it's the only one of its kind. In the world.
One of the most amazing sets of wheels had only three, and was given the honour of leading both drives, from Delhi to Gurgaon, and the Gurgaon mini-rally as well. Called the Mercedes-Benz Motorwagen, this three-wheeled replica machine was unfortunately nicknamed by several vistors to the show as a ‘cycle-car'. The Motorwagen was made by MB way back in 1886, and is considered to be the very first automobile in the world.
Moving on several decades to a pleasant surprise, a classic Ford Mustang! This car too, got a lot of attention, perhaps it was one of the more recognisable cars to the general public. Still, it was in top condition, with no easily visible modifications to the stock body.
Here's something that you can be sure you won't see on today's automobiles, a beautifully crafted wooden license plate that harks back to the old days. For some, the details are everything, and it's easy to see why. Check out the craftsmanship of the tail lamp too!
A vintage BSA was one of the motorcycles that participated in the 21 Gun Salute rally, complete with whitewall tyres and chrome restored to its original glory. Sometimes you can just stand back and smile-this was one of those moments.
Good ol' Lambrettas looked like this too! This was a 150 D Series example that still had all the flair of its glory days. You could stare and stare at all the beautiful details and the originality of the design without tiring one bit. Wish our present-day bike manufacturers could be so inspired...
For some, it was all a little too much...
This was a rare sighting indeed. A two-tone Triumph 1500 had a lovely exhaust note from that performance muffler—not a car in the most original condition, but still a bright addition to the 200-odd cars of the event.
‘American flamboyance' was almost the theme for the rally, and another very long and wide low-riding convertible with its red-themed exterior and interior got plenty of oohs and aahs. We'll reveal what car this was a few slides down, but try guessing?
11 o'clock saw the announcement of the start of the drive from the Red Fort to Leisure Valley in Gurgaon. It was great to see the event supporting a charity as well, and thrilled handicapped and spastic children were given rides in the vintage cars.
Nitin Dossa seen here (the gentleman in the grey blazer) at the start of the drive. There was plenty of excitement in the air now, with members of the media and visitors alike huddling at the start to get the perfect flag-off shot.
In the picture is the 1886 Mercedes-Benz Motorwagen that had the honour of leading the rally out of the Red Fort premises.
The cars were on public roads now, and their contrasting profiles to everyday traffic were sights for sore eyes. Here's a majestic Rolls Royce rolling past us.
A massive 1930s Mercedes-Benz soon followed, with the iconic three-pointed star hood ornament making sure that no mistakes were made regarding identification of the brand. The white paint job, large whitewall tyres and oodles of chrome all made for a truly regal road presence.
There's one of the two ‘57 Chevys turning on to the highway, with the Mercedes 180 and Pontiac Silver Streak following suit. Needless to say, heads were turning like tennis spectators at this traffic light as the cars passed by.
Top down cruising in Delhi? You bet, that's a 1954 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible looking like a boss.
There's the mystery car with the red interior we showcased earlier, a Ford Galaxie Convertible. The super-long open-top American had road presence that even a bus would be jealous of, and dwarfed practically everything else on the road!
We got moving again, and caught up with the cars a little further down the road. It was like being transported back in time with all these beauties on the Delhi tarmac. And truly amazing was how most of the cars were purring along-the almost manic levels of maintenance that these cars must undergo is testament to the passion of the owners and know-how of the mechanics involved.
The law, too, got into the mood again, and a lady cop is seen here alighting the car after hitching a ride. Notice the huge diameter of the steering wheel!
Seen here is a 1947 Studebaker Commander Regal Deluxe Convertible. The car featured an L-head six-cylinder engine that produced 94 horsepower and was mated to a three-speed manual gearbox.
You probably feel very powerful when you know that you won't sink even if you run out of road and enter the liquid stuff. This was one of the ex-military vehicles on show, a purposeful-looking military-green amphibian.
Another MG TC, this time in a black and red two-tone paint scheme, driven by a confident (and glamorous) lady driver. The car, too, was a real beauty—note the leather hood straps and those tiny downward-facing wipers.
This Rolls Royce Phantom I Boat Tail Sports Tourer wasn't just a mouthful, but truly massive. By far one of the biggest cars at the event, it was first introduced in 1925 as a replacement for the Ghost, with a new 7.7-litre engine. 1928 saw the cast iron cylinder head being replaced by an aluminium unit. Back then!
We racked our heads at office to identify this fully-chromed mini-scooter, and finally succeeded. A 98cc Brockhouse Corgi this one is, which was manufactured in the UK between 1948 and 1954. Good things come in small sizes...
And here's a mint-condition Mercedes-Benz 230 owned by Uday Bahadur featuring a six-cylinder engine and immaculate bodywork. This car evoked some fond memories, since our family owned a 190 D with exactly the same body style. Going to school was never the same after we got used to being ferried in its ultra-spacious sofa-like seats.
I spotted this dark red Jaguar Mk 7 from the mid-1950s before leaving for the day. Isn't it a stunner? The car featured a 10-feet long wheelbase and removable spats for the rear wheels. Engine-wise, it had a 3.5-litre straight-six that produced 160 bhp which was capable of powering the luxury saloon up to a top speed of over 160 km/h.
No vintage car show can be complete without a Morris Minor in the works. Here's a red convertible version looking pretty as dusk set in.
The final day of the rally had arrived, with one last drive around Gurgaon scheduled to take place. There was time for more pictures before the mini-rally, and it was love at first sight the moment I laid eyes on this pristine 1933 Studebaker Commander owned by collector Vivek Goenka. I had drooled over it the previous morning, but the mid-day sun brought out the beautiful blue bodywork and gleaming chrome like a treat.
This was another unassuming beauty owned by Mohammad Ikram, a 1923 Bean Tourer with a light brown and black paint scheme. The car featured a 14 horsepower, 4-cylinder engine coupled to a three-speed sliding gear manual transmission.
Soon, attention was drawn towards the entrance of the Leisure Valley Park, since the Gurgaon drive was set to begin shortly. Cars began lining up, and it was a lovely touch to see big-hearted owners opening up their precious possessions to lucky visitors to experience a ride.
I got my turn too, in one of Madan Mohan's own vehicles. Needless to say, I was grinning from ear to ear, relishing the thought of experiencing a ride in a true vintage car for the very first time.
Our chauffeur explained to me that the controls on our ride were slightly different to today's cars. The right-most pedal operated the brakes, the centre pedal was the accelerator, and the clutch was the far-left one. More than slightly tricky to pilot one of these.
We were soon on the road, circling Gurgaon city as passers by and other road users were treated to a show of four- and two-wheeled history. Cameras were appearing everywhere, including in the hands of traffic police on one occasion!
A beautifully-maintained Willys MB Jeep passed us as we drove along the short route around the city, and was actually one of quite a few Fords and Willys participants. I had learned earlier from one owner that Ford actually manufactured the same design because of huge demand during World War II.
The 21 Gun Salute International Vintage Car Rally was a resounding success, with vintage car enthusiasts and collectors alike enthusiastically coming together and sharing their passion for these special automobiles. But there was one big miss this year, namely, the lack of information about each vehicle on display. This was echoed by most visitors to the event as there was no way for a layman to figure out the details of each car model, the year of manufacture, and so on. While there was an attempt to display placards with vehicle information on Sunday, it was too little, too late. If this is taken care of at next year's edition, the event can really shine to its full potential.