End of the road? Green tribunal’s ruling puts brakes on vintage cars
The National Green Tribunal’s order banning all cars that are more than 15 years-old made no exception for vintage and classic cars. It also prohibited any government authority from issuing fitness certificates to these vehicles without the court’s specific order.Updated: Jul 10, 2017 12:42 IST
Pramod Bhasin’s four vintage and classic cars have remained parked at his petrol pump on Pusa Road for the past eight months. It’s a blistering summer afternoon and there is not much traffic on the roads. Bhasin wants to take out one of his favourite vintage beauties -- a 1934 Chevrolet Master -- on a test drive to see if it is in fine fettle. A thick layer of dust covers the curvy car. “This is what happens when you cannot get to drive your car for months,” says Bhasin, one of the city’s well-known vintage car connoisseurs and a judge at The Statesman Vintage & Classic Car rally. As Bhasin moves the key, the engine revs up. His eyes lights up as he pushes the gear lever and the car starts moving smoothly.
“I used to drive it on weekends but the NGT’s ban on more than 15-year-old petrol cars has ensured that it remains in the parking. The ban has already done a lot of damage to the fledgling vintage car movement in the city,” rues Bhasin.
Ashok Gupta, a Delhi businessman, shares a similar view: “Until a few years back, I had five vintage cars, but sold all of them except one after the ban. What is the point of keeping a vintage car if you cannot drive it for pleasure even once in a while,” asks Gupta.
For the uninitiated, the National Green Tribunal’s order banning all cars that are more than 15 years-old made no exception for vintage and classic cars. It also prohibited any government authority from issuing fitness certificates to these vehicles without the court’s specific order. Any car manufactured between 1920 and 1939 is known as vintage car and those between 1940 and 1979 as classic cars.
“These cars are an integral part of our motoring history and heritage, and mark important milestones in the growth and evolution of vehicular transport. They need to be preserved,” says Dr Ravi Prakash, who heads the Federation of Historic Vehicles of India (FHVI).
The federation, which has about 15 clubs and three museums across the country as members, was formed recently to make a united representation to government bodies regarding their demands – a separate registration, tax and emission norms for vintage vehicles in the country.
As of now, in Delhi and NCR, one requires permission of the green court to drive these vehicles. The Delhi-based Heritage Motoring Club of India (HMCI), which has 290 vintage and classic car collectors as members across the country, including 185 in Delhi, filed an application in NGT in Feb 2015 to grant an exception to vehicles of historical value.
The club feels the decision on their plea, which is pending, will have a far-reaching effect on the fate of vintage cars in the city and historic car movement across the country.
“We have made several representations to the central government to create a provision for separate registration of vintage cars and to exempt them from fitness certificate for their limited non-transport use,” says Dajeet Titus, general secretary, HMCI. The club’s growing membership -- it has jumped from 90 to 185 in a decade -- also points to how historic car movement has picked up pace in the past few years.
“We get about 15 new members every year in the age group of 30-45. Earlier we mostly had older members,” says Titus, a well-known lawyer and car collector himself. He has a museum of his own in Mehrauli —The Titus Museum-- with about 56 vintage cars, among them a rare 1933 Minerva and 1930 Stutz (M series).
He is one of the few collectors in the country who also participates in prestigious vintage car events such as The Pebble Beach Concours in the US. He says vintage cars are protected under The Antiquity Act 1972, which protects all items of historic value. “That the government has recognized the historic value of vintage cars is also evident from the fact that their export is banned and import has been allowed,” says Titus.
Delhi/NCR has some of the biggest vintage car collectors, including women, who together own 1,200 such vehicles. Madan Mohan, the organiser of 21 Gun Salute International Vintage Car Rally & Concours Show, for example, is known to own more than 300 vintage and classic cars. No wonder the city has been at the heart of the historic car movement in the country. Mumbai and Pune have an estimated 600 and about 300 vintage cars, respectively. “A lot of Delhi collectors also import vintage cars,” says Titus.
Tarun Thakral, another passionate car collector and founder of Heritage Transport Museum, the country’s biggest transport museum near Gurgaon, says the city with its large pool of vintage car and events has a huge tourism potential, which needs to be promoted, not discouraged. “Our museum attracted 1.2 lakh visitors from India and abroad last year. Vintage cars are the passion projects of their owners and they are very well maintained. Car connoisseurs should be allowed to use them on weekends,” says Thakral.
“Connoisseurs spend lifetime scouring, collecting and restoring vintage cars. It takes anything between two and 15 years to restore a vintage car. All these efforts at collection and preservation will be worthless if a person is not allowed to drive them even occasionally,” says Gyan Sharma, one of the city’s well- known car restorers.
Talking about the quality of restored vintage cars, RN Seth, chief Judge at Statesman Vintage and Classic Car Rally, says a restored car is judged on several factors, including its cosmetics, mechanical, standards of maintenance and authenticity of restoration. “A restored car has to be as close to the original as possible in all aspects, including colour and upholstery,” says Seth, 90, the grand old man of the city’s vintage car movement, who has been associated with The Statesman Vintage and Classic Car Rally since its beginning in 1964.
So what fascinates him so much about these cars of yesteryears? “Unlike contemporary cars all of which look the same, vintage cars were design marvels, so different from each other,” says Seth, who has also written Driving Across the Borders, a memoir of his passion for collecting and restoring cars.
No wonder then these vintage car lovers believe the ageless queens of the road should be given ‘dignity they deserve’.