Considered as India’s leading automotive historian, Manvendra Singh, the ruler of erstwhile Barwani princely state in Madhya Pradesh, has been a judge at California’s annual Pebble Beach vintage and classic car contest for last five years. This year the event was held on August 16, and Singh, a resident of Indore, returned from California only days ago. The 63-year-old has also co-authored a book “Automobiles of the Maharajas”, which is acknowledged internationally as a benchmark of Indian research on automobiles. HT spoke to Singh about the Pebble Beach show, history of cars and other issues. Excerpts:
How many Indian cars participated in the Pebble Beach show this year?
None. One has to take special permission from the Indian government to take them abroad. Nobody wants to get into government complexities. Last Indian entry was made under “Maharaja class” four years ago.
Is the young generation interested in the vintage, princely cars?
Yes, but they are unavailable for sale. 90% of ex-royals have sold their cars, except the house of Udaipur, Jodhpur, Hyderabad, Gondal, Patiala, Wankaner. Others who have them don’t want to sell because those cars have heritage and tourism value.
How did you get into automobiles?
I was interested in automobiles from an early age which became an obsession. I blended it with work (he started India’s first vintage and classic car restoration workshop in 1978 with Kunwar T P Singh of Kachi Baroda estate near Ratlam). Then, I used to hear a lot about (Indore’s last princely ruler) Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II, a visionary who had travelled world over. The cars he designed bear Holkar hallamark which are the best vintage and classic cars in the world. The Holkar hallmark cars are world-reputed automobiles.
What were characteristics of his cars?
Yeshwant Rao (1908-1961) had an outstanding sense of design and proportion with individually designed interiors. The flow of car lines, art deco motifs on door handles made them classic. History has it that he sketched the design of cars on paper and discussed with J Gurney Nutting & Co Ltd, a reputed car designing and manufacturing firm in London, which enjoyed British royal patronage.
Most of his cars were sports cars which could speed up to 100 miles an hour. They were painted in different colours, though during 1936-1937 his cars were painted in orange and black. Out of 40 to 50 cars he had, not many survived. Many of what survived are in the US. He participated in car racing at club events in France from 1931 to 1935.
What do you have to say about modern day cars?
Today’s cars follow the design of a gun. They have aggressive looks. They are macho, brutal and all about speed. They lack elegance.
What is the status of automotive research in India?
About 90% of it is done on internet which is wrong. We need correct field research.