In 1979, when Dr Ravi Prakash and his friend were driving through the quaint streets of Chennai, a rather unusual car driving past caught their attention. “I asked my friend which car it was and he said that it was a 1937 Sunbeam Talbot 2 liter and that it was actually up for sale,” recalls Dr Ravi.
The car’s owner, General Mahadevan, was offering it for Rs 40,000. Though a student back then, Ravi decided to buy the car. The General took ill and the deal went cold. A few months later, Ravi got a call from the General’s wife, who said he had passed away and asked Ravi to come and collect the car. “When I went to collect it, the General’s wife handed over the keys to me and refused the money saying that the General had willed it to me,” says Dr Ravi.
This was the beginning of his journey and today, Dr Ravi, fondly known as ‘Doc’, has a grand collection of veteran, Edwardian, vintage and classic cars numbering 225, 60 motorcycles, 40-odd carriages and 50-odd cycles.
The ‘Doc’ says his passion would not have lasted this long had it not been for the constant support of his wife Sabena and two daughters — Shefali and Rupali.
Dr Ravi dotes on every single vehicle in his collection. The 1937 Sunbeam Talbot 2 liter though holds a special place in his heart as it was not only his first car but also the first one he drove.
“It was 1992 and we took the car to Hyderabad for a rally. Our children were very small and the car gave a little problem but it was a memorable drive,” he says.
Notable among Dr Ravi’s collection is a 1909 Wolseley, formerly owned by Maharaja of Cooch Beehar. “It’s a British make and I bought it from one of my closest friends,” says Ravi. The 1971 Alfa Romeo Spider convertible, of Italian make, is worth a mention too. “It originally belonged to Maharaja Manvendar Singh of Bharwani,” he says. Then there is the 1962 Jaguar Mk II, formerly owned by Maharaja of Udaipur, which is a British make. Dr Ravi says that he picked up the 1928 Rolls Royce Phantom I, body built as a carriage for ceremonial use which is also a British make, during one of the auctions in the United Kingdom.
There’s also the 1933 Graham Car, formerly owned by Maharaja of Nabha. Among his collection of bikes, the 1958 BSA Golden Flash Motorcycle 650 cc, Twin cylinder (British make) and 1938 Harley Davidson Motorcycle 750 cc and V Twin cylinder (USA make) particularly stand out.
The car and bike bug bit Dr Ravi first when he was a student in Mysuru where he joined a bunch of friends and went racing with them.
“My mother encouraged me and my father did not object. I always had a mechanical mind which led me to racing and rallying but after having done well in both, I moved from driving modern cars to old ones,” he says.
Having literally amassed so many cars, Dr Ravi doesn’t look baffled when you ask him where he plans to park them all. “It is my dream to open a museum and an auto mall on a 16-acre plot in Rajarajeswari Nagar and Global Village, with a built up area of nearly nine lakh square feet. It will house over 650 cars and bikes not only from my collection but also from that of my friends from across the world,” he says with a sense of optimism.
Ask him if he has missed out adding any of the cars to his collection and he instantly lists out a few. “Yes. I missed out on having a 1934 Mercedes 540k, 1928 Bentley 6 1/2 litre, 1933 Mercedes 630k… the list is rather exhaustive. But I am sure, I will have similar cars parked in my museum one day,” he says confidently.
How does he maintain all the cars? He laughs, “It’s just like the relationship you share with a woman. You never know what they want or like. But whatever said and done, you still give all the affection and unconditional love. My cars are similar,” he says.
Nina C George
(Dr Ravi can be reached at email@example.com)