HIGH­WAY MASALA

A TRIP TO NEW DELHI

New Zealand Classic Car - - EDITORIAL - Words and pho­tos: James Ni­cholls

If you have not been to In­dia be­fore, you’ll prob­a­bly not be pre­pared for the ex­pe­ri­ences you will en­counter; in fact, even if you have been be­fore, but, like me, have not been to the cap­i­tal, New Delhi, you’ll still be still in for a very big shock to the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem.

Delhi and mo­tor cars are neatly summed up in Pri­vate Delhi, the 2017 novel writ­ten by Ash­win Sanghi in col­lab­o­ra­tion with James Pat­ter­son: “He liked to drive fast. Or at least as fast as he dared, lean­ing on the horn like a lo­cal and wind­ing his way through lines of buses, scoot­ers, cy­clists, and au­torick­shaws, past glass-fronted build­ings and an­cient tem­ples, bro­k­endown hous­ing and lux­ury ho­tels with glove-wear­ing staff at the gates. Delhi was a vi­brant, colour­ful mix of cul­tures old and new. A gen­uine melt­ing pot.”

Im­por­tant event

And it was into this melt­ing pot that I ar­rived for the 21 Gun Salute In­ter­na­tional Vin­tage Car Rally and Con­cours Show. For me, this was — like ar­riv­ing in Delhi — a new ad­ven­ture, but 2017 was, in fact, the seventh edi­tion of an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant event not only for this part of the world but also on the in­ter­na­tional mo­tor­ing cal­en­dar.

This year, the judg­ing team was led by chief judge Chris Kramer from Ger­many, and in­cluded such lu­mi­nar­ies as Gor­don Mur­ray of Mclaren For­mula 1 (F1) road-car fame; Retro­mo­bile founder

François Mel­cion; Jeremy Jack­son Syt­ner, founder of Wind­sor Cas­tle Con­cours of Elegance; Rolls-royce ex­pert par ex­cel­lence Paul Wood; his­toric racer James Wood; Adolfo Orsi; and Qui­rina Louw­man, who is of­ten seen be­hind the wheel of her fa­ther’s XKD 606, the 1957-win­ning Le Mans D-type. Ob­vi­ously, there’d need to be some pretty good cars on show to sat­isfy the panel.

We weren’t dis­ap­pointed by the ve­hi­cles gath­ered un­der the shadow of In­dia Gate, the Lu­tyens-de­signed war me­mo­rial con­structed be­tween 1921 and 1931. The won­der­ful dis­play in­cluded the Ma­hara­jah of Jodh­pur’s 1939 Lagonda V12 Rapide, along with his 1935 Rolls-royce Phan­tom II Con­ti­nen­tal; a cou­ple of lovely Sil­ver Ghosts; a 1939 De­la­haye road­ster by Figoni et Falaschi; and a 1928 Ford Model A wed­ding car with brass body, rich in­te­rior, and lou­vred win­dows, so that the bride can see out but no one can see in.

Truly, there was a huge va­ri­ety of cars on dis­play, many of which had been de­liv­ered to In­dia when new, among them the Best in Show win­ner — an amaz­ing 1933 Min­erva Type AL, a sev­en­pas­sen­ger limo orig­i­nally the prop­erty of Mo­ham­mad Amir Ah­mad Khan, the Raja Sahib of Mah­mud­abad. One of just 33 ALS ever built, this was the grand­est, most lux­u­ri­ous, and most ex­pen­sive of any to leave the Bel­gian car­rossier.

Prove­nance and his­tory

All the cars seemed to have amaz­ing sto­ries to tell, but none more so than the 1914 Benz 8/20 PS Run­about. This car, which was in one of the classes that I was lucky enough to be judg­ing, has been in the same fam­ily since new and re­cently un­der­went a painstak­ing restoration to re­turn it to its orig­i­nal glory, just as it was when Lord and Lady Willing­don — the gover­nor gen­eral and viceroy of In­dia and his wife — climbed aboard when they vis­ited Madura early in its life. The prove­nance and his­tory of this in­cred­i­ble Benz is fully doc­u­mented by its orig­i­nal bill of sale and a host of other in­ter­est­ing pa­per­work from across the decades.

Pos­si­bly, though, the two cars that said ‘In­dia’ to me the most were the Fiat 1100D (‘D’ for ‘De­light’) made un­der li­cence here and, of course, the 1960 Hin­dus­tan Am­bas­sador, man­u­fac­tured for some 50 years but now lit­tle seen on the streets of the cap­i­tal of this fast-grow­ing eco­nomic mir­a­cle.

Af­ter two days of polishing and preen­ing, it was back out into the real world, and time for these Ed­war­dian, vin­tage, and clas­sic ve­hi­cles to leave the sanc­tu­ary of the show­ground. Our jour­ney plunged us head­long into the chaos and con­fu­sion of daily Delhi traf­fic, our des­ti­na­tion the white ele­phant that is the F1 Buddh In­ter­na­tional Cir­cuit at Greater Noida, 60km away.

It was of lit­tle mat­ter that the rare Charles Worth–bod­ied Alvis had an ac­ci­dent at the first round­about, or that the only sur­viv­ing Stutz in In­dia, once the prop­erty of Ran­jitsin­hji, broke down in the mid­dle lane of the ‘fly­way’: all the par­tic­i­pants ar­rived safely af­ter en­coun­ter­ing a va­ri­ety of ob­struc­tions, in­clud­ing an over­turned au­torick­shaw (think Jeremy Clark­son in his Re­liant Robin!).

Here, I must de­vi­ate to com­ment on the au­torick­shaw, or ‘tuk-tuk’ as it is some­times known. De­spite the fact that they run on green com­pressed nat­u­ral gas, this does lit­tle to al­le­vi­ate the city smog that one can en­counter.

Chauf­feur driven

I was the first to ar­rive at the Buddh cir­cuit, hav­ing been chauf­feured in a crack­ing lit­tle 1961 Mercedes-benz 190SL that had orig­i­nally started out life in Wales. When the rest of the con­voy fi­nally caught up, it was time for pa­rade laps and reg­u­lar­ity tri­als around one of the finest F1 tracks, but one that, for var­i­ous rea­sons, is no longer in­cluded on the F1 cal­en­dar.

It was an amaz­ing trip and an amaz­ing event, with evenings spent hob­nob­bing in black tie at the home of HH the Ma­haraja Manu­jen­dra Shah Sahib Bahudur and the Ma­ha­rani Mala Rayja Laxmi Shah of Tehri Garhwal Ut­tarak­hand, the Na­tional Rail Mu­seum, and the Aus­trian Em­bassy.

My only two real wor­ries were, whether the prize-giv­ing would con­tinue long into the dark night, and if I would make it back to the air­port for my flight home af­ter we found the road was closed, and my driver de­cided to switch off his en­gine for what could be a long wait. I need not have been con­cerned on ei­ther count — like every­thing in In­dia, some­how, it hap­pened, and I made my flight on time — mind, body, and soul in har­mony.

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