Rolling out the beauties

Rolling out the beauties

Vintage pride

Rolling out the beauties

The Standard Herald was not just the first family car of Subramanyam and his wife Krishnakumari Subramanyam, but it was also the first car that their son, S Rajesh, drove. There was something about the vehicle that left a lasting impression on Rajesh, who didn’t seem to take to modern vehicles as easily as he did to the vintage and classic ones.

Dr Rajesh recalls that he was still in his teens when he drove the car. He says “I found that the humane side of old cars was missing in the modern vehicles. My first pursuit was to repurchase the good old Standard Herald and thus began the exciting journey of collecting rare vintage and classic vehicles,” explains Dr Rajesh, who is now the principal of B M English High School.  

Every car that is owned by Rajesh has an interesting piece of history to it. The Standard Companion is a small estate car made by Standard Motors and has the same 948CC Herald engine. “Chennai central station was filled with these cars in the early 80s as they were used as taxis,” says Rajesh. He also owns the Fiat Elegant, which is the second version in India.

“The first one does not have the light in the centre. It has an interesting tape meter to show the speed. This was mostly made in Italy and imported,” he adds. Then comes the Austin Cambridge which is a British car. “It can be considered as the elder brother of the Ambassador, which was called the Cowley in England. Ours is a 1969 LHD, originally owned by the high commissioner to Kuwait,” he says.  Rajesh also has a C J Jeep which was originally built by Willys America during the World War II. “The jeep is a 1969 model with a four-cylinder petrol engine and a four-wheel drive. I bought it during a Home Guards auction,” adds Rajesh.

Among his collection of bikes is the 1970 Rajdoot Ranger which has been with the family all through. “It was my father’s first bike; he bought it from Agro India for a pricey sum of Rs 7,000. He used to ride it to college in the 70s. It is still in perfect condition and has a simple reliable engine which does not even require a battery to run,” says Rajesh. The 1971 Jawa 250 performs best when driven in hilly terrains.

Rajesh has handpicked each one of these cars in his stable and has worked on restoring them with the help of his friend Varghese and his 16-year-old son Aditya, who occasionally lends a helping hand. He finds the job of restoring these vehicles a thoroughly refreshing experience. “The idea is not only to enjoy the job of restoration but complete it on time. Hunting for spares is another interesting experience. Whenever I go visit Mumbai, Chennai or Delhi, I spend more time in the junkyards hunting for spares than going sightseeing and this irks my wife,” laughs Rajesh. 

  The members of the Rajesh family say that they always enjoy a drive in these majestic vehicles. They have travelled by the Standard Herald to Nandi Hills. “She puffed, purred and consumed gallons of water. I’ve taken the jeep to Ooty and she effortlessly made up her way to the  Kalhatty Ghat. When our son was just three years old, my wife and I took him and went to Ooty in a Bullet 500. He sat in between us or on the tank and really enjoyed his ride,” says Rajesh.

The family has driven the Fiat Elegant to Calicut and Rajesh says driving through the forests at night was a memorable experience.  Saying that it was a trip that he can’t forget, Rajesh recalls “With great difficulty I had procured the hub caps with the original fiat logo before leaving.  While driving through the forests of Sultan Bathery in the dead of the night, we could see a lot of elephants harmlessly standing along the road. There the car hit a pothole and two hub caps flew off. I had to decide between risking my life and getting off the car to search for the hub caps and moving one. I chose the latter.”

Rajesh’s wife Girija, who runs the school with Rajesh, tries her hand at driving these old beauties on a highway when the roads are empty. But he says that within the city limits, she prefers driving the modern cars. The family hasn’t ruled out the possibility of adding to their collection. “I will soon be getting a Standard 20 (12-seater van) from my friend Gladwin in Ooty.  However, today it is difficult to come across vintage vehicles, and even if they are available, they are over priced. I am not looking at buying the restored ready-to-use vehicles but the ones that require restoration,” shares Rajesh.

(Rajesh can be reached on drsrajesh@yahoo.com)


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