“It’s unique and it’s India’s closest comparison to the most famous event in the world the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance..”
by Nigel Matthews
India’s finest exhibition of vintage automobiles and motorcycles is the Cartier “Travel with Style” Concours d’Elegance.
This year it took place at the historical Jaipur Polo Club in New Delhi, located within the racecourse. Cartier has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with India and in particular the Maharajas dating back to 1911. They would entrust Cartier to design and set their precious stones into magnificent pieces of jewelry.
The opulence and elegance of India’s long-standing automotive legacy has returned to India thanks to the vision and hard work of the event creator and director, Mark Shand, a British travel writer and conservationist. Sadly, he died in 2014 and he was dearly missed at this year’s event.
The other person responsible for the event is the renowned Indian automotive historian and expert, His Highness Rana Manvendra Singh of Barwani, who hand-picks some of the rarest restored and preserved vintage automobiles from across India.
The Cartier Concours, which began in 2008, has generated great excitement amongst Indian collectors. More owners are now taking an interest in maintaining and restoring their cars to the high standards required for such an international event. Having visited a restoration shop in Kolkata, I have to mention that the quality of workmanship. Given the equipment that they have, it is amazing and absolutely first class. It is obviously driven by a great deal of passion and pride.
India has a very rich motoring heritage dating back to 1897, when a resident of Calcutta, imported the first car into India which was a De Dion-Bouton. The following year there were four cars in Bombay. Jamshedji Tata an Indian pioneer industrialist, who founded the Tata Group, which has grown into India’s largest conglomerate company, owned one of them. Ratan Tata, who is the great grandson of the company founder and Chairman Emeritus of Tata & Son, was at the Concours and enjoying a personal inspection of the cars on display as we performed our judging duties. Tata purchased Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford in 2008 for $2.6 billion. I’m sure Mr. Tata enjoyed viewing the 1951 Jaguar MKV, it’s a pity there weren’t any old Series I Land Rovers present.
The Maharajas possessed an incredible purchasing power and only bought the finest products, particularly when it came to cars. A quarter of the Rolls-Royce production between 1912 and 1947 went to India.
Having lost a number of significantly important cars, the Indian Government put measures into place to protect their automotive heritage by eliminating the export of cars from India. It is also extremely difficult to import a vehicle manufactured after Jan 1, 1950 into the country without being subjected to as much as 181 per cent duty.
Manvendra was very successful in persuading some of the diffident owners to display their automobiles, in some cases, vehicles that have not been publicly viewed before.
To summarize the event, it is unique and it is India’s closest comparison to the most famous event in the world the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It is a comparatively young event, which focuses on India’s automotive heritage, unlike Pebble Beach. Vehicles are not shipped to India from all over the world because only vehicles from within India can enter. I hope that it remains that way because this is what makes it so special, celebrating the distinctiveness of India’s post-Independence automotive heritage. It gives people a chance to see some magnificent cars from the esteemed stables of Indian royal patrons and noted private collectors, who can be seen walking around the Polo field as others participate in the catered and afternoon high tea.
*Nigel Matthews is the global director of client services for Hagerty Insurance Agency, LLC – Hagerty is the world’s largest specialist provider of collector car insurance and provides many resources that support the classic car lifestyle. Contact him at nmatthews [at] hagerty [dot] com or visit hagerty.ca