Vintage Vehicle Voyeurism: The Poor Motorhead’s Pastime

One of my pastimes is to look for vintage vehicles for sale on the net. Now, almost all of these are beyond my purchasing power, but, surfing through these and looking for a “deal” makes me vicariously live the dream of owning the vintage treasures someday down the line. Sometimes, some stuff pop up which leave me flabbergasted. Now I know a picture does not tell the workings of a car, and I guess I am judging the book by its cover when I look at online ads, but in any case, it is a hobby that helps me get to know the beautiful beasts of the pasts, like, this MG YT Roadster convertible of 1948.

What a beauty!
What a beauty!

Perfectly restored to the last t, this looks like a dream vehicle. Someone wants to sell it and the online ad asks for a mere forty lakhs, and I wish I had that kind of chump change lying around so that I could snap this up! Or how about a fully restored Dodge Kingsway from 1958? Chrysler Corporation’s “built-for-cheap” export cars, the sellers are asking for a cool 15 lakhs for this one! Oh well, this car has come a long way from being “unbranded” export cars for cheaper markets to vintage collectibles. I used to think that the Kingsway had a much “rounder” aspect, but since a lot of the production in later years (especially in late 50s) was done in the foreign markets and people were free to customise these cars, the one I stumbled across looks a bit like it phagocytosed parts of a Plymouth, but I am no judge. Anyhow, this looks beautiful, to say the least!

Blue Screen of Desire!
Blue Screen of Desire!

My love for the Hindustan Motors products are no secret, and I have longed for a Contessa ever since, well, forever, and these beauties keep cropping up all over the web verse. And sometimes, in price ranges that I can actually handle! But, I know better – because it is not buying the Contessa that is difficult. It is maintaining it that’ll pauperise me! Yet, I cannot help but salivate at the prospect of owning a beautiful, running-condition, Landmaster, when it is being handed out for two and a half lakhs!

The predecessor of the Ambassador
The predecessor of the Ambassador

With the proliferation of online selling portals, it has become even easier for vintage vehicle voyeurs like me to gape at these beauties from the comfort of my home. People post free ads here, and sometimes, these look like really great deals! How else would financially restricted people like me have the ability to access royal vintages like this Chevrolet Fleetmaster!

The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings

This truly majestic being looks like it belongs to the 4-door station wagon version produced in 1948. The Fleetmaster is a Chevrolet classic deluxe car which was produced only in three years during the war 1946-1949. It built up on the pre-war model of Chevrolet Special Deluxe and was offered in 2-door and 4-door versions. There were minor model alterations in each of the three years it was produced, but nothing changed majorly, to be honest, as far as looks or mechanics were considered. All considered, this is a beauty of a car. Another car that has always captured my imagination is the Fiat 500. There were talks of restoring the production of this classic beauty. A lot may disagree when I call this a beauty, but, truth be told, in 1937, when Fiat threw this small car out into the market, it was the only car with an aerodynamic “nose down” design! And there are people here who would sell off their “Topolino” Fiat500 for as little as seven lakhs! It doesn’t look in the best of conditions though, and might need some preening and cleaning, but, isn’t this a beauty?

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The Fiat500 came in multiple models as it was relentlessly produced from 1937-1955 and sold over a whopping 500,000 units. It was fuel efficient (16.6 kmpl), gave a top speed of 85 kmph and was a cute, small car that looked good all around! This particular model looks like one from the 1950s, the Fiat500C genre. And then, of course, there is a slew of old Mercedes Benz cars that are priced anything between two to six lakhs, and makes me itch to reach for the chequebook. Some of them, dilapidated and in need of restoration, others old and temperamental, but still in running conditions, and some, in regular use. One cannot but admire the Benz, before it fell for the age-craze of nose-diving looks. Come on. Even if I had the money, I would go for one of these any day, ahead of today’s sheep-herded designer Mercs.

I know many of these cars are shinier on the outside and probably need a thorough checking up before buying, but in this age of the interwebs, surfing for the perfect, vintage ride has become a sport in itself for car lovers like me, who have the desire, but not the wallet strength to actually sit and twiddle the steering wheels of one of these beauties. And until that happens, well, here is to more motor madness and vintage vehicle voyeurism!

The King (of Indian Roads) is Dead… Long Live the King

These days the newspapers are awash with so many happening and eye-catching articles, that it would not be too hard to miss this one: Hindustan Motors, the makers of the iconic Indian car, the Ambassador, is closing shop. Plummeting sales, steady refusal to move with the times and redesign the engine and looks, and a myopic leadership entangled in bureaucratic inertia, and a generation that has grown disillusioned of the bulky “family vehicle”, in addition to a plethora of other reasons has brought the so-called “King of Indian Roads” to a grinding halt.

The white Amby, with the blaring “hooter” and spinning red-light atop it has long been a cherished achievement reserved for the patricians and aristocrats. However, the signs were starting to show. Once the pride of the bureaucrat, the ride for the Indian Prime Minister and the workforce under the title, it was silently displaced by a BMW several years ago. Aside from the streets of West Bengal, the car was becoming a rarity. In all my months in Delhi, I hardly ever chanced upon an Amby that was not on a bureaucratic mission.

The White Car Fetish
The White Car Fetish

There will be no lamentations as very few people of our generation even consider this bulky juggernaut a worthy vehicle. In an age where hatchbacks were taking over, Hindustan Motors failed to refurbish the face of their company. The newspaper reports say that not only were there design and marketing issues, apparently, this once-iconic company was being managed in a really shoddy manner. Towards the end, they were producing only five cars a day with a factory strength of almost 2600 in their employment. An unsustainable venture by any estimates.

I have enjoyed riding this spacious car since I was a kid. Not only do we have one in our family, there used to be several when I was growing up, which were used for multiple purposes. And of course, anyone who has ever had a bone-rattling ride on the Kolkata cabs knows what it feels like to ride one of these vehicles!

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That’s Me: Traditional Dress, Traditional Car

If you are wondering why the demise of what has become an unfit-for-the-age car has caused me such heartache, let me just say that this is not just the end of the road for the car. It is the end of the road for a wonderful bit of history. Established in 1942, the Hindustan Motors company was a powerful, indigenous automobile maker. Second in age to only Toyota, as far as I know (I may be wrong), the company bore a proud heritage of being the makers of automobiles from a pre-independence era. The Ambassador was a spin-off from the Morris Oxford III, and replaced its predecessor, the Morris Oxford II, also known as the Hindustan Landmaster.

Hindustan Landmaster car
Hindustan Landmaster (1957); Credits Deepak AB on Flickr

What is striking is that from the very first generation, the so called Mark 1, the Ambassador has really not undergone too many changes. While I have been a huge fan of the round headlights, and a design that you could identify from a mile off, the lack of commitment to bringing the car up to the required standards was what killed it in the end. Honestly speaking, it is a huge car, with an unparalleled boot space, leg space and the power to stand its ground on the harsh Indian roads. But it needed to upgrade with the times. Maybe not get those super-ugly, “eye-shaped” lights, but it needed to show that there was a future to owning or buying the car. The company failed in providing purchasers with that faith.

Now, most of these cars will act as the rickety taxis in Kolkata till they are eaten away by the sands of time. I shall keep longing for the Amby of old, the one with the steel, round horn, the sofa-like seats, the miles of leg space, the roar of the huge engine when kicked into life, and most of all, the manual transmission gear attached to the side of the steering wheel. It is an extremely impractical car to own now, but somehow, I have always had a thing for the Hindustan Motors products. But still, if I ever manage to wrangle it, my HM car of choice, would be a juiced up Contessa Classic with an Isuzu under the hood, and not the lumbering, loyal, and ever-ignored, yet, much-beloved old Ambassador.

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