Romancing the car

Romancing the car

Recently some of our neighbourhood kids and I were competing to identify brands of cars passing outside our complex. I felt it was a rather easy exercise as there are just around a dozen brands today in India.

In the early 50’s there were a plethora of international makes of cars on Indian roads. You had the MG, Studebaker, Humber, Morris, Austin, Vauxhall, Desoto, Plymouth, Dodge, Skoda (yes, the same brand that is ubiquitous on our roads now), Citroen, and so on. Sadly, several of those brands have bit the dust since then.

When I was a kid, every Sunday my father would open the bonnet of his Hindustan 14 (the Indian version of the Morris Oxford) and check the levels of distilled water in the battery; the oil dipstick and radiator water. For any long distance drives, he would carry a spare fan belt and radiator hosepipe in the boot for emergencies. Invariably, on hill roads the fuel pump would get heated and he would wrap a damp cloth round it to cool it down. Today, with our advanced technology cars, I am not sure how many of us even know where the bonnet lever is.

By the time I reached college we were stuck with the Padminis and Ambassadors. However, thanks to our bollywood films, there was always a longing to own a post office red Chevrolet Impala convertible. This craze lasted till the time I went to work in Hyderabad and saw a whole fleet of them being rented out for the baraatat weddings.

My first car was a two-door Standard Herald, because that was the only one available within my affordability index. People who are familiar with the Herald would remember that this car had a peculiar technical issue. The rear axle nut would loosen every now and then and fall off. Once while my wife and young son were driving up the Safdarjang flyover in Delhi, the inevitable happened. It was a harrowing experience sliding backwards down the slope without control.

Further, the left door handle wouldn’t work from inside so I would need to get out from my driver side and open the passenger door from the outside and release my wife. For several months, my neighbours thought I was a very chivalrous guy till they learnt about the real reason. I managed to sell the car to my neighbour who worked in a Public Sector undertaking. Apparently as per government rules an employee would be entitled to a tax-free conveyance allowance whether the car was operational or not.

Recently I sold one of my cars through a popular online site. Most of the pre-owned cars advertised, used uninteresting and matter-of-fact language. Gone are the days when classified ads for cars carried such terms as “single-owner-driven by doctor” or “army officer owned,” thereby proclaiming that cars were well maintained.

The present day cars are trouble free (in spite of all the global recalls) so there is nothing adventurous to write about. But then again, when you drive a Lamborghini…

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