If you have a thing for snazzy cars — whether you’re the guy behind the wheel or the one taking pictures of it on the road — chances are, you’ve heard of Dilip Chhabria. The automobile designer’s exploits include creating a prototype of the Aston Martin that James Bond drives in Die Another Day (2002) and making custom designs for the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt.
“I’m a teetotaller,” he says, even though his latest concept car is part of an initiative called ‘Unnecessarily Well Made’ by a Scotch whisky brand. It’s a gigantic machine — a big blue monster that you expect Batman to blast off in using jet propulsion. The designer himself is an antithesis of his flamboyant works — reticent, soft-spoken and camera-shy. But we’re talking about cars, and on that he can go on.
Concept cars seem to belong in a sci-fi film. Do they serve a practical purpose?
All concept cars are practical, in the sense that you won’t find cars with wheels turned upside-down. But unless the design is levitated into the future, why would you look at it? Concept cars tell auto manufacturers what the way ahead is like. There hasn’t been a new car manufacturer in 50 years. That’s because it requires a Rs 2,000-5,000 crore investment and the industry is unforgiving. Design, then, is a key factor (for success).
How long did it take to put this new car together?
I have a team (at his design company, DC Design) that’s 700 strong and has more than 30 designers. This one took three months, but a total of 60,000 man-hours. It’s a massive car, with a 4.2 litre engine and the largest wheels (28 inches) that you’ll see on a car.
India isn’t particularly known for its car technology or design. Where do we stand in the global scene?
We’re a big market, in fact bigger than leading car-making countries like Italy and the UK. And of late, Indian manufacturers have been focusing on design. The technology inside most cars in the market is the same. It’s the design that separates them.
You make custom vanity vans for actors. Who has the most interesting one?
I’ve designed for Amitabh, Shah Rukh, and several others. But working with Sanjay Dutt was interesting. He gave me a free hand and asked me to create an entire lounge in a 12 m Volvo coach. The most bizarre request was from Vivek Oberoi — he wanted a Jacuzzi in his van. We made him one with the hot tub.
What cars do you own?
I’m mostly driven around in a standard BMW 7 Series. But I own about 20 in all, including a Range Rover Evoque, a Ferrari 458, a Bentley GT, a Mini Cooper S, among others.