Malavika’s Mumbaistan: Enter, The Modern Classic

And at the end of this month, the city will witness an untold story with the country’s first Modern Classic Rally 2021 at Sofitel BKC in Mumbai
Perseus Bandrawalla with his Mercedes-Benz W124, the car that kick-started his conversation with Sorabjee on the Mercedes-Benz Classic Car Rally back in 2014, which became the backbone of the modern classic movement in India.
Perseus Bandrawalla with his Mercedes-Benz W124, the car that kick-started his conversation with Sorabjee on the Mercedes-Benz Classic Car Rally back in 2014, which became the backbone of the modern classic movement in India.
Published on Oct 22, 2021 06:49 PM IST
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ByMalavika Sangghvi

Cars: how much they define who we are and the times we live in.

One of the most powerful symbols of the end of India’s Licence Raj and its voyage into liberalisation in the nineties was when the monotony of our bulbous Ambassadors and boxy Fiats began to make way for other brands on our roads. Maruti-Suzuki, to begin with, and then everything from Hondas to Hyundai’s and Toyotas. Who will believe how thrilling it was to see their many bright colours and multiple shapes dotting our landscape, and how it spoke of newer, bigger horizons in the country’s life?

In our own lives too, who can ever forget the excitement of their first car? The thrill of sitting behind its wheel and the heady fragrance of its newness and the possibilities it was offering…

Indeed, cars have captured public imagination and played such a significant part in telling the story of who we are and how we live. And at the end of this month, the city will witness one such untold story with the country’s first Modern Classic Rally 2021 at the Sofitel BKC (Bandra-Kurla Complex) in Mumbai where a convoy of Jaguar E-types, Maseratis, a BMW E30 Mercedes-Benz SLs, Ford Mustangs and a few Ferraris will be driven in stately splendour by their proud owners over the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and return to Sofitel BKC where they will be feted and festooned.

“What is unique about this rally is that unlike others held in the past, which featured vintage and classic automobiles from the 1930s and 40s, cars which had been the purview of Maharajas and a handful of collectors, this one will feature cars between 10 and 30 years and up to 50 years,” said Perseus Bandrawalla, the moving spirit behind the rally, whose Insta-handle description is ‘Columnist-Autocar & a car nut who loves anything with a motor fitted to it’ and ‘obsessed with modern classics’.

According to Bandrawalla, the uniqueness of his upcoming rally is that it will feature exactly the cars that today’s car aficionado grew up ‘lusting after’, the ones their peers were driving, which they grew up around. “This genre of cars is very special to collectors such as Gautam Singhania and Viveck Goenka because these are cars which still drive beautifully but have old world charm, combined with modern breakthroughs. “

What’s more, according to him, over the past-half-a-decade, in line with international trends, modern classics have been gaining in popularity in India. Prices of cars such as the Mercedes W123 and the Mazda Miata MX-5, among others, have shot up exponentially. And top restorers in India’s metros are now increasingly working on a number of such examples.

“The Modern Classic Rally 2021 is both a reflection of the rising awareness and prominence of these cars among the country’s car enthusiasts and a celebration of their numerous attributes,” he said, adding, “their appeal lies also in their provenance. For instance when I turned 18, and use to drive my grandpa Adi Malgham’s Porsche 944 back in 2002. It was one of the four known Porsches in Mumbai. Today, you can buy almost any sports car or supercar you fancy in India from a showroom in your city. This was not the case even 20 years ago, and only a lucky few could import and own these cars. The limited numbers in which they existed back in the day makes these cars even more special today”.

“I guess you can compare a modern classic to your first college crush. When we were in college, Jennifer Aniston was the big name who every boy had a crush on. So today, it doesn’t matter who’s on the current cover of Vogue, for a certain generation, it will always be Aniston. It’s exactly like that. When you can buy the latest Ferrari today, what you want is a Ferrari 355 from 1994. Along with this, modern classic cars are also loved by enthusiasts because they have a sweet blend of old school engineering and (almost) a modern electronic precision. That’s the only explanation I have for the enthusiastic response to them,” says Bandrawalla.

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And so, like beautiful women who are admired, coveted and adored, the upcoming Modern Classic Rally promises the presence of many such cars, which had once fired up the imagination of some of the city’s most powerful and famous. Cars which had come of age when some of the city’s movers and shakers of today, would have been coming of age themselves. Cars that they acquired and cherished loved and lost, perhaps like much else in their own lives. Cars with riveting back stories: for instance, like the Porsche 993, once owned by the son of a top industrialist fitted with the last air-cool engine that the company had produced and the only one of its kind in India.

“I used to photograph it on my way home from college,” Bandrawalla said, adding, “and gaze adoringly at it when it used to be driven to the Willingdon Club. It was subsequently sold, but what’s thrilling is that after making a dozen calls a day, my team and I have zeroed in on the new owner. And it will feature in the rally.”

Or take the case of the Dodge Viper that had once belonged to a flashy diamond merchant, according to Bandrawalla an absolutely iconic Modern Classic - it was the largest engine ever to be fitted to a modern car in the nineties. “It was the only one that had come into the country and there was this serious collector – the erstwhile Maharaja of Gondal, someone known to possess a fleet of some of the world’s best cars such as a 300SL and many American supercars, but he absolutely lusted after the Dodge Viper car. And finally, he managed to buy it from the diamond merchant and it will have a pride of place at the rally.”

Iconic cars, each with a fascinating provenance. Each with a story tucked in to its taillights, one that speaks of the city and the heady preoccupations and pursuits of its chosen few.

Like the BMW that had once been the apple of legendary art collector and ex-sheriff of Mumbai, Jehangir Nicholson’s eye. A car that Bandrawalla said he had tracked as a school boy, dreamt of and coveted, knowing he’d never be able to afford. Until one morning, Hormazd Sorabjee, editor, Autocar India, who also used to covet the car, bought it after Nicholson died and invited Bandrawalla to jointly own and care for it.

“I remember collecting the car within a few hours of the phone call and have kept it with me since,” said Bandrawalla.

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“There are lots of exciting cars coming. The ones I am looking forward to is the Lamborghini Murcielago which I first drove in 2005, the Honda NSX – a marvel of sports car engineering in its day – and American muscle in the form of the Dodge Viper, Chevy Corvette and Ford Mustangs. Also expected are iconic Porsches, Maseratis, Ferraris owned by several wealthy individuals over the years,” said Sorabjee, who is supporting the rally. “In fact the Toyota Supra we will see at the rally was the iconic one in Fast and Furious. The SL Mercs were again another Hollywood favourite and the Mini was immortalised in the Italian Job. It is certainly a day I’m looking forward to…,” he added.

So this October 31, while the world will be celebrating Halloween – a day for bonfires, donning ghoulish costumes, trick-or-treating and honouring the past – here in Mumbai, there will be another kind of honouring and remembrance: when a procession featuring Jaguar E-type, Maseratis, BMWs Mercedes-Benz SLs, Ford Mustangs’, Ferrari 348, among others will roll out of BKC, take in the wide sweep of the sea link, and along the way tell the story of who we were and what we once loved.

And who we are, and what we aspire to.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2021