Seventy-year-old Manujendra Shah of the erstwhile princely state of Tehri-Garhwal recently sold his iconic 1947 Buick with a heavy heart. "It was like parting with my own child," the passionate vintage car aficionado said. He earlier counted an impressive fleet of Cadillac cars, among his envious collection but unable to maintain these "fabulous machines", he shed his "family's jewels". "By 1990s, I had about 10 vintage cars at my garage in our family mansion in Delhi, but now just about four are left, including a 1951 Cadillac, which is a two-door convertible and a red Triumph Herald, a two-door coupe. "I had restored and nurtured them, because they need love and care, just the way a child does. Selling the Buick, and other old cars was too painful an experience. I still see some of them in car rallies, but it breaks my heart to be recalled that they are not mine anymore," he told PTI. While Shah, whose cars have participated in major vintage car events in the country, takes consolation in the fact that his vehicles have ended up with collectors, many owners have sold them for scrap, finding their upkeep "unfeasible". Madan Mohan, organiser of '21 Gun Salute International Vintage Car Rally & Concours Show' held annually in Delhi and Greater Noida, says these cars need to be driven regularly to be kept in shape, otherwise they will rust out. "Vintage car owners and collectors take great care in maintaining these vehicles, which are automobile treasures of the country, our heritage. And, if authorities do not allow them to plied on the streets, they will either turn into junk, lying in the garage, or worse be sold for scrap as many of them have already been," he rued. "Just keeping them as showpieces in rallies or putting them in museum, would amount to depriving the posterity of a priceless heritage of our country. And, even for rallies, we have to take permission from court," Mohan said. The National Green Tribunal in a November 26, 2014 order had banned from Delhi roads cars which were over 15 years old, thus disqualifying vintage cars from participating in any rally. Mohan, founder trustee of the 21 Gun Salute Heritage and Cultural Trust, which hosts the rally, had to file a plea in the NGT to get an exemption for holding the event this year and its previous two editions. Nearly 75 spectacular vintage and classic cars from India, including 'Maharaja' cars; 15 cars and 25 bikes, sourced from finest collectors from around the world, were put on display during the event held this February. The 21 Gun Salute Rally and The Statesman Vintage Car Rally are two of the most sought-after events in Delhi among car connoisseurs in particular and people in general. Diljeet Titus, a die-hard vintage car collector and secretary of the Heritage Motoring Club Of India (HMCI), says, in the state of California in the US and in London, people can ply vintage cars anytime. "They are considered as country's heritage and places like the US and the UK have strong emission control norms, but they have made an exception. A blanket ban is not wise, and these vehicles are also part of our automobile heritage, and of the story of India, shouldn't we be having policies to protect them rather than endanger them," he said. HMCI has filled a plea in the NGT, seeking exemption for plying of vintage cars on the streets "on weekends and national and public holidays". "We are hopeful of a positive verdict. These (vintage) cars are not ordinary cars, and hence, deserve to be treated differently," Titus said, adding, "We would be robbing the next generation of experiencing this great heritage if they are made to just lie idle in garages." Vintage cars have always triggered nostalgia among people, be it rallies or period films, and Mohan says, only ceremonial rallies are not enough, the youth need to drive these "glass and chrome beauties" to "feel the magic". "If their father's or grandfather's car lie idle in a garage, how will the joy be cascaded to the next generation.
One needs to be behind the wheels, touch the metal and feel the upholstery to know their true worth. "Collecting these cars is not about money, its about passion. And, if these cars don't ply then they would just rot away or be sold to scrap by owners," Madan said. Tarun Thakral, Founder and Managing Trustee of the Heritage Transport Museum in Gurgaon, which transports visitors to another era, says restoring vintage cars is a "labour of love". "I was in Rajasthan once to buy something, when I saw a rusted old car. It turned out to be a 1932 Chevrolet and I bought it, and I got it restored in Delhi. The feeling of seeing its beauty come back was indescribable. It was like breathing life into someone," he told PTI. These car experts argue that vintage cars cannot be plied during summers in India anyway, and in winters only for a few months they can be taken out for a spin. "Vintage car owners keep their cars maintained. What pollution can these cars cause anyway, I don't understand the worry," Mohan of 21 Gun Salute Rally said, adding, "These cars should be treated as heritage buildings and not as ordinary house of brick and mortar." "The engines need to be revved up, they need to be run a few kilometres to keep their machines fit. Besides, they are also pleasant to look at and add aesthetic value to our environment. No one ever gets offended by seeing a vintage car, it only brings smile on people's faces," Thakral said.