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India’s flamboyant vintage cars took a turn in the spotlight in the western city of Udaipur over the weekend as the prestigious Concours d’Elegance car show debuted in the world’s most populous country. 

The event, featuring a 1935 Delahaye Roadster 135MS with a striking red finish and lush curves that’s considered one of the most beautiful vehicles in the nation, highlighted India’s automotive heritage, said host Arjun Oberoi, executive chairman of luxury hotel firm Oberoi Group. Members of India’s wealthy royal families and its growing ranks of billionaires gathered for the first time to flaunt their classic cars on the Concours stage, where prestigious vehicles are exhibited and judged. 

While India once dominated demand for luxury cars, with reports that one-fifth of the 20,000 Rolls-Royces produced before the Second World War were sold there, numbers subsequently plunged in the South Asian nation. It currently has fewer than 10,000 vintage cars surviving from the British Raj period, said Manvendra Singh Barwani, curator of the Concours and an automotive historian. In contrast, the UK has 1.5 million vintage and classic vehicles, according to the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs. 

It has the potential to catch up. In 2013, India allowed the import of vehicles manufactured before 1950. Since then, collectors have brought hundreds of cars into the country, despite high taxes, Barwani said.

Here are some of the most interesting cars that were showcased at India’s inaugural Concours.

1935 Delahaye Roadster 135MS

The show’s poster vehicle is one of a handful to survive and the only one in India. Once crowned the world’s fastest sports car, it was originally owned by a Frenchman who sold it when leaving the country after the Second World War. At one point it was owned by Maharaja Duleep Singh of Jodhpur, who famously received it in a swap with his brother who preferred a brand new Jeep.

1949 Cadillac Series 62 Sedanette

Styled by America’s car design pioneer Harley Earl, it sports tail fins inspired by the Lockheed P-38 fighter plane. The fins, which suggest speed and serve no practical purpose, were a signature Cadillac design until 1964. The car was imported in a dilapidated state and has been restored to its original specification, down to the paint shade and upholstery. It’s owned by Marespand A. Dadachanji, a vintage car restorer.

1946 Bentley Mark VI Saloon

The historic saloon was built for Jayachamaraja Wadiyar, the last Maharaja of Mysore, who ordered seven Bentleys for delivery in 1949. Its bright red and yellow finish earned it the moniker ‘the Rhubarb and Custard car.’ Special features include cabinets attached to the back of the front seats, with flasks and a picnic set; a hollow arm-rest fitted with a glass and silver toiletries; and an open tray for spectacles. An illuminated plaque engraved with the Mysore Royal Coat of Arms rests atop the windshield.

1930 Cord L-29 Cabriolet

Owned by Raymond Ltd.’s billionaire Chairman Gautam Singhania, the car was made by the Cord Automobile division of the Auburn Automobile Company, which folded during the Great Depression. Known for its long hood and sleek lines, it has been twice voted the Best of Show by Classic Car Club of America. Singhania, a former race car driver whose family company is the world’s largest supplier of luxury suit fabrics, got into classic cars five years ago and has at least 165 of them spread over more than a dozen floors of his private home in Mumbai.

1956 Fiat 1100 103E Saloon

The Fiat Nuova Millecento or 1100 was launched in India in 1954 by Premier Automobiles Ltd. A marvel of Italian engineering that soon became a household name, it’s considered one of India’s most iconic cars. Its rounded shape gave the car its nickname: dukkar, or pig. 

1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III Limousine

Launched in 1936, the Phantom III was the last Rolls-Royce worked on by founder Henry Royce. Just 727 were built and most were sold to royalty and aristocrats. The vehicle was delivered new in Paris to Maharani Chimnabai of Baroda, a rare woman in the world of elite vehicles, and is now owned by Asheesh Jain, a businessman in New Delhi.

1983 Maruti Suzuki 800 Hatchback

The face of modern motoring in India, the Maruti 800 was launched in 1983 and helped the company grow into the automotive giant. India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi handed the keys to the first one to Harpal Singh, an employee of Air India Ltd., on Dec. 14, 1983. While the car fell into disrepair after Singh died, Maruti subsequently bought and restored it. 

1949 Rolls-Royce Wraith

Introduced in 1946, the Silver Wraith was the first post-war model produced by Rolls-Royce. Maharaja of Mysore, the car's first owner, added a folding roof and had the interior upholstered in red and grey leather. The Duke of Edinburgh and Prince of Wales traveled in the car along with Maharaja of Bharatpur, the vehicle's second owner, on their visits to India from the UK. It now belongs to billionaire Yohan Poonawalla, the chairman of Intervalve Poonawalla Ltd., which makes industrial valves.

 

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