It’s almost like a quiz.
Mention the name of a vintage car brand and Diljeet Titus can tell you what constituted the car’s interiors. Here’s an example. Packard. The answer is instant. “Sheepskin and broadcloth for the carpentry.” Rolls-Royce. “Oh, that’s easy. Connolly leather.”
Old is sold: (clockwise from top) M. Salim and M. Akhtar (right) trade in vintage car parts; a made-in-Delhi Rolls-Royce monogram; manuals from the 1930s to 1980s; and speedometers through the years. Photographs by Pradeep Gaur / Mint
Titus, an advocate and a car collector, is the general secretary of the Heritage Motoring Club of India (HMCI), which last month organized the 3rd National Autojumble, an all-day fair for vintage car spare parts. The pride of his collection is a 1933 Type Al Minerva. Only 33 of these cars were manufactured and eight survive. Outside of the US, the only other person to own one, apart from Titus, is the King of Belgium.
Today, it’s not the car he’s interested in, but its nuts and bolts.
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“The HMCI maintained a list, a directory of suppliers for spare parts and maintenance of vintage cars. So we decided to just get them all together in one place and exhibit their goods.” The Autojumble is in its third year and attracts around 50-60 establishments and companies. It currently takes place only in Delhi, though Titus said other cities are “a distinct possibility”. Of HMCI’s 220 members, 120 are based in Delhi.
Reborn: A fully refurbished 1949 Buick Super 8.
The event, held at the Riyasat Greens lawn on the Sultanpur Mandi road past Mehrauli, had six rows of about 10 orange tables, each with a banner announcing its occupant. These ranged from spare-parts sellers—most of whom are based in the Motor Market near Jama Masjid and import rare components of cars that are out of production—to regular antique sellers offering “period-correct” decals such as an enamel signboard for the US-based oil company Texaco or a print of a Lux poster featuring Meena Kumari. An advertisement for the 1950s Mercury Monarch (“Ride like a king!”) was on sale for Rs300. Film music from the 1940s blared from a tinny speaker.
Between two rows were auto repair manuals from the 1980s on one side and a collection of decanters shaped like Rolls-Royce grilles on the other.
“A lot of collectors come here for maintenance and buying accessories,” said Titus. “You can also talk to people who fabricate parts specially for old cars. I’ve bought some rare stuff here that I’d have difficulty finding—like a hubcap for a 1935 Buick.”
Vintage cars, like any other vehicle, need constant maintenance and upkeep. Parts for most of these models, however, are no longer made and need to be either specially imported or manufactured.
Anjum Parvez Siddique heads a fabrication unit that specializes in creating replica parts for vintage cars. At the show, Siddique put up for display bolts and dashboard lights of particular car models, a replica of the “Spirit of Ecstasy” and a large rear windscreen for a 1940s car. “We manufacture on demand,” he said. “This windscreen would cost you a $1,000 (around Rs46,100), but we can manufacture it in about 15-20 days for about Rs20,000.”
By the end of the day, Titus estimated, around 3,500 had visited the fair. Both the decanters and the windscreen had been picked up.
Four stalls down the row from Siddique was Farhan Khan, an importer and collector, answering calls on two different phones. Khan is among the few Indian importers of Whitewall tyres, a distinctive kind of tyre with a white band that was favoured in most cars until the late 1950s. “If you really want that vintage look—then you have to fit your car with a Whitewall tyre,” he said. “I keep a stock of about 50 at any point and there’s healthy demand for it from collectors across the country.”
In front of his stall was collector H.W. Bhatnagar. “I’m looking for regulator cut-outs and old ignition switches for a 1947 Packard Clipper,” he said. He bought both and also picked up a headlight switch shaped like a bulb. “This event makes it easy to buy these kind of specific parts,” he said.
Collectors, Titus said, have to fork out anything between Rs2-3 lakh (for a Ford, Hillman, DeSoto-Plymouth or a Dodge) to a few crore (for a Rolls-Royce, Bugati, Bentley, Jaguar) to get started. Most of these cars are not in prime running condition when purchased. “So the first step in restoring a vintage car is mechanical restoration—you work on the engines and the electric components. After that comes the bodywork and the chrome—and finally, the upholstery and accessories,” said Titus.
Behind the rows of tables, and past a short winding path lined with cars in varying stages of ruin, was Bahadur Singh’s car restoration workshop. His company, BS Automobiles, has been restoring vintage cars since 1977 and he works on about 20-25 cars a year. Singh was putting the finishing touches to a gleaming green 1949 Buick Super 8. The car looked brand new, complete with beige leather interiors. “I’ve been working on this for about six months, it was like that when it first came here”—and he pointed to one of the seemingly fossilized cars lining the path to his workshop.
Singh inspects every car that comes to his workshop before giving his client a list of components he has to manufacture or import and a time frame that’s usually between six months and a year. “We do everything, from fixing the clutch and suspension to fitting lights…you name it,” he said. Behind him, four people were working on the engine of a 1984 Volkswagen Jetta. He whispered conspiratorially, “That one belongs to the sports minister, M.S. Gill.”
The HMCI plans frequent vintage car drives to cities near Delhi and insists on a high level of what Titus calls “period correctness”.
“We do a lot of research to get the look and feel of the car correct, consistent with the period it was manufactured in,” he said. “Some companies, like Mercedes-Benz or General Motors, maintain superb archives online. With others, we collect operation and care manuals from the time.” The specifics are very important, especially with the upholstery and bodywork. “Everything was different then. The paint chips they used for the body were unique, the construction of the cushions was unique. All the companies had different textures, different feels,” Titus said.
The scrupulousness extends to clothing and accessories. “On the drives, people wear period-correct clothes, carry period-correct vanity cases, gramophones, even gun cases, since a lot of these cars were used by the maharajas for hunting,” said Titus.
The HMCI’s most recent drive kicked off yesterday from Delhi to Patiala and back. It is among a rush of drives planned this month before the onset of summer.
“Summer is bad for collectors,” Titus said, “That’s when the cars hibernate.”