Classic cars: Capital’s vintage auto-museum on global map (Feature with Images)

December 30th, 2008 - 11:22 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 30 (IANS) The sprawling farmhouse in Mehrauli is just an hour’s ride from the heart of the capital. The pebbled driveway leads to a shed - which opens into another time zone and a treasure trove showcasing at least 70 years of automotive history.Welcome to Pro Bono Publico, one of the country’s few vintage and classic vehicle museums, home to more than 70 old cars, which made international news recently when one of the cars, a Cadillac Coup de Ville - series 62 - manufactured in 1952, won the prestigious Cartier ‘Travel with Style’ Concours d’Elegance award in November.

It is owned by Delhi-based automobile collector and lawyer Diljeet Titus, the general secretary of the Heritage Motoring Club of India (HMCI).

The cars in his museum include a series of vintage Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Austins, Mercedes, Jaguar, an ancient Dodge, Pacards, a vintage Studebaker, an Alpha Romeo, a Pierce Arrow and a rare Belgian Minerva.

The earliest cars date back to the 1930s when vehicles were big and had started taking aerodynamic shapes and offered less wind resistance, barring exceptions like a 1918 granny - a Woslely doctor’s coupe with seats for two and Mercedes Roadster with rumble seats.

The newer collection of classic models belongs to the sixties and the seventies with sleek space-age rocket-shaped bodies - mostly Chevrolets immortalised by chases in old Bollywood and Hollywood hits.

“I have been collecting for almost two decades now. I purchased my first batch of vintage cars - three of them - in 1989.

“Humankind has been fascinated by cars since the first working model was developed in the 19th century and has grown to become one of the largest industries in the world,” Diljeet Titus, owner of the museum told IANS.

The pride of the museum is a yellow Cadillac, which stole the post-war classic car show in Mumbai. It belonged to the erstwhile Raja of Tehri Garhwal in Uttarkhand.

“The Maharajas used to improvise their cars so suit their lifestyles and the purpose for which the vehicle would be used. The companies used to send the chasis and the engine to the kings, who hired coachbuilders to work on the vehicles,” Titus said.

A 1947 Bikaner Buick owned by the Maharaja of Bikaner and then by the Maharaja of Ayodhya is a classic example of how Maharajas indigenised their cars. One of the world’s first SUV models, the spacious car with three rows of seats was re-fitted with wood on its outer body and the roof was chopped off. Special wooden panels were added on the window rests.

“It was used as a shikar (hunting) car. The open roof ensured that the kings could hunt easy game,” Titus said.

The cars arranged in three rows - with photographs lining the wall and original spares on display - gives the museum a workshop like feel. Divided into three zones, the main yard, which houses the cars, is adjoined by a mechanic’s chamber.

Titus is working on a 1933 Type AL Minerva car of Belgian make, which was owned by the Maharaja of Mehmoodabad in Uttar Pradesh.

The 22.5-foot-long car is one of the eight surviving ones across the world and the lone in India. “Six are in the US and one with the king of Belgium. The eighth car is with me. Though I purchased it a few years ago, I decided to restore it to a point 10 now,” the owner of the museum said.

The car is being re-fitted with jamewar curtains that it sported earlier and Persian rugs and will painted a plum shade with gold stripings.

Also in the workshop is the hulk of a silver Buick, waiting to be restored. “It is one of the tallest cars in the world measuring 17 feet at the front and 22.5 feet in the rear,” Titus said.

A green Mercedes with sunshade, an Alpha Romeo and a Willy Knights - one of the three in the country - provide the rakish and eclectic touch to the collection.

“Vintage cars require care. They need large parking space and should be kept out of glaring sunshine. But these cars must be driven around to ensure that the engines remain functional,” Titus said.

The museum is a popular haunt for schoolchildren and automobile-lovers. The visitors’ book of the museum boasts of an entry by Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu, praising it and ruing the fact the actress was unable to maintain her grandmother’s vintage automobile because she could not find the right care-givers.

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