Vintage Collector’s Royal Keepsakes

Updated: May 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
He has the largest collection of vintage cars in India, and his garage is full of classic road beauties of bygone eras. Pranlal Bhogilal begins his day admiring the Rolls Royces, Daimlers, Mercedes Benzes, Bentleys and much more, and ends it reminiscing about the times when royalty drove in them.

Mr Bhogilal’s collection starts from cars belonging to the beginning of the last century, such as the 1906 Mors from France. Another 1906 beauty is a Minerva from Belgium.

“I like cars that are aesthetic. They have to be classic,” says the soft-spoken Mr Bhogilal. The Queen Mother of England, who died recently, also finds a mention in Mr Bhogilal’s collection. A Daimler Royale 1947, which belonged to her husband, King George VI, stands regally in Mr Bhogilal’s garage, shining black. “It was the Maharaja of Mysore from whom I purchased it,” he says.

Then there is a rare Hispano Suiza, a French car, which Mr Bhogilal got from the Maharaja of Alwar. “It’s a very special car,” he says proudly. “It is like a travelling drawing room and was used for hunting as well.” The speciality of the car is that its roof can be partially or completely removed to render it an open car. It has jewel compartments, ample leg space, spring loaded gun racks for big game shoots, etc. There are bulletproof glasses in dark as well as light shades. “Oh, it is a marvel. Incidentally, the marque ceased to be in production after World War II,” reminisces Mr Bhogilal.

Mr Bhogilal’s collection began with his family tradition of not selling cars they owned. “We just kept our cars. Our family gave away cars that were unused or very old to relatives and friends if they took a fancy to it, but never ever sold them. “We had a Packard that was requisitioned by the British during World War II. At that time, car production was stopped due to the war. The Viceroy then was Linlithgow and the governor of Bombay wanted the Packard. We hid it in one of our mills and brought it out with much fanfare in Bilimora (Baroda state, which was not part of British India) when India became independent. That was a proud moment,” he recalls, laughing. The car is now to be found in the museum in Ahmedabad.

The pre-Independence time being an era of pomp and pageantry for the erstwhile maharajas and maharanis, a number of custom made cars were delivered into the country. After Independence, the maharajahs could not afford to keep these huge, opulent machines, which had then become a monstrous proposition for them and they began selling them off. A number of Bentleys, Packards, Cadillacs, Buicks and Rolls Royces were just given off. The royals’ loss was the Bhogilals’ gain.

“We received calls from royalty all over India, asking us whether we would like to buy their cars,” says Mr Bhogilal. “Our fame as collectors and also the fact that we took excellent care of the cars drew them to us. Recently, when the daughter of the erstwhile maharaja of Travancore visited me, she saw her family car in my compound and recalled how she had travelled in it to see her spouse years ago. Everyone has memories attached to these cars.”

Some cars in the collection have been received gratis, for the owners felt safe leaving them behind with Mr Bhogilal. A Triumph Herald 1964 was bequeathed to Mr Bhogilal by a spinster who was dying of cancer, for she believed only he would take great care of her Prima Donna, as she called it. “My soul will not be at peace unless my beloved car is parked on marble floors between Rolls Royces,” she told him. And that’s how it is still parked in Mr Bhogilal’s garage!

A Parsi friend donated a Packard to the collection. “He came to my house and said the Packard was for me. I was pleasantly surprised. He had obviously taken great care and it looked new when he gave it to me.” All these cars glint in the big garage below Mr Bhogilal’s house and stand testimony to an era that was genteel and lavish.

The maintenance of these vintage treasures requires a large staff, most of which have been working in the Bhogilal family for years. “Many amongst them are second and third generation staff. They have been trained in taking care of the cars. I firmly believe cars should not be washed every day. A certain routine has to followed where dusting is concerned or it can cause abrasions on the paint and take away the shine,” says Mr Bhogilal.

The cars are taken out on the road by rotation. “Otherwise, many would remain unused,” explains Mr Bhogilal. “My staff tells me which car needs a drive and I take that car out. I drive my cars and it enables me to assess their condition.”

Do they break down “Of course, they do. They are not meant to be driven in the polluted and pot hole ridden roads of today. But I like to take them out.” What does he do when a car breaks down “Oh, I almost always get a lift from a passing car, but I have no qualms about travelling in a taxi or even an autorickshaw for that matter. When one gets off a vintage car, any other vehicle, a four-wheeler or a three-wheeler, is all the same,” he quips.

Mr Bhogilal points to the cars in his garage and describes them lovingly. When asked about the Maruti Esteem parked in a corner, he grimaces. “Just look at it,” he says. “How unbecoming it is amidst these beauties. But one is forced to have it. I have heard of people talking about the experience of driving a Merc and such high priced cars. This is mere hogwash. All these cars are stereotypes and have no individuality. The fact that one has paid a certain amount of money to acquire them provokes this snobbish value,” he says disdainfully. “Now look at this Merc here and the Bentley nestling close to it. Just look at the sleek lines of both. They have a personality. They tell you so much about the owners who wanted them custom built in that manner. Can any of the cars of today tell you a story” he asks.

Mr Bhogilal’s cars have participated in many vintage car rallies. “We never compete for a prize in order to encourage other participants,” he says, some of the regality of his cars rubbing on to him. Besides his vintage cars, Mr Bhogilal has a large collection of miniatures and crystals of cars. They are to be seen on table tops, sideboards, shelves and even his paper weights.