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Pranlal and the art of vintage car maintenance Tuesday, July 3, 2001

By Swati Sucharita, The Times of India News Service
Ahmedabad: This gentleman drives vintage cars, according to his fancy, "depending on his moods". A tough choice, indeed, considering that he has to make his pick from the shimmering silver grey Rolls Royce's, the sleek Jaguars, the German Maybach of 1937 vintage, (which happens to be the rarest of its kind in the world today), the grand Cadillacs, the classic black 1940 Packard (which has an intriguing history of its own), Buicks and other classic coaches that adorn his collection.

And now the good news for car buffs, as Pranlal Bhogilal, founder-president of the Vintage and Classic Car Club of India, now promises a launch of his collection soon at Autoworld, the museum located in the premises of Dastaan, his sprawling farmhouse at Naroda, some 30 km off Ahmedabad.

"During the Second World War, the governor wanted to have our family car, a 1940 black Packard, for war purposes as there was no car manufactured those days," says Bhogilal, recalling how his tryst with his classic cars began. "My family, even while being the third largest land-owning family in India, was in the forefront of the freedom movement and my paternal grandmother Rani Adityabai, was known to be a formidable woman. She stuck to her guns and refused to part with the car. She would rather scrap the car than surrender it to the British!"

The car was smuggled out, wrapped in bales of cotton, to Baroda, which did not fall under the then British empire. After the war and Independence, people flocked to see this historic car. "Princely families owning rare vintage cars, and wanting to sell them off as they could no longer afford them, also came to us in due course of time, as our family's reputation of 'car collectors' came to light. In fact, we also have a Daimler which belonged to the King George IV of England," he informs.

"Exotic cars are like works of art, says Bhogilal reminiscing wistfully of the days of yore, when "it was wonderful how one could just buy the chassis and engine, and have the coach (as the car was then known as) custom-built. In these days of mass production, this would be a frightfully expensive proposition," he rues.

"It takes me at least 10 years at a time to restore these cars, some of which had been mothballed away for ages. It is not easy to maintain these cars either. We have our in-house mechanics, electricians, tin workers, upholsterers," informs the Mumbai-based Bhogilal, who is in the city to supervise the finishing touches to Autoworld.

On the advisory board of Sotheby's, Bhogilal also has a yen for the arts. "Our family collection of some 5,000 paintings and 2,000 bronze antiques is among the best in the world. Our art collection is, especially, a veritable who's who, of European masters, Hussain, Ravi Varmas," informs Bhogilal.

The fact that he has never had a corporate designation - "Our family were never CEOs or MDs, they were only owners or shareholders" - however, did not stand in the way of Bhogilal serving as the ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India) president at Delhi between 1994-95.

Coming back to his plans, Bhogilal promises visitors rides in the vintage cars, besides offering, at an entry fee, of course, all that one wanted to know about these cars in an information kiosk. "We also plan a restaurant, a souvenir shop selling Autoworld memorabilia and the fact that it has a farmhouse ambience will definitely appeal to the discerning visitor."

While he modestly accepts the fact that he has the largest collection of vintage cars in India today and probably among the largest in the world, his parting shot is, "It is not how many cars you have that matters, finally. It is what kind of cars you own."

News Source : Times Of India News Service [ Lightning News ]

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