It is another ordinary day at the Queen's Necklace—warm and windy—and everyone is waiting for the sun to set and the city to get cooler. Instead, the temperature rises a few notches within minutes as a red-hot coloured Buick 1947 convertible drives up at the NCPA end of Mumbai's Marine Drive.
Sitting in the passenger seat is the owner of the beauty, Nitin Dossa, dressed in a dapper white shirt and formal trousers; his carefully groomed graying hair a prominent sign of a well-lived life. His patient face breaks into a quiet, infrequent smile when he takes in the attention that the Buick gets.
"The adulation makes the effort of buying vintage cars worth it," says Dossa, 58, as he begins to talk of the time when the passion for vintage cars really kicked in. He always loved cars, he says, even before he turned 18 and could legally drive. The story goes that back in the '60s, he used to ogle at an Austin 7 1928 that used to be driven by an Anglo-Indian lady. Soon after, on his 18th birthday, his grand uncle gifted him the same car.
"That was in 1969 and the passion turned to ardour at that very time," says Dossa. He began buying vintage cars that, in those days, were being sold off as scrap metal. Of course, they came cheap, he admits, without disclosing the price. But the real trouble was the restoration. "I bought the Buick convertible 15 years ago but it was lying in a shed for five years. We began restoration work once we started finding different body parts of the car," he says.
Dossa prides himself on owning some of the most exclusive vintage cars in the world. The Bentley 1947 convertible that was made for the Maharaja of Mysore is one of them. The car was awarded the "Best Restoration Prize—India" at an international vintage car event last year. Others include the illustrious Chrysler 1952 Convertible that used to be driven by the Governor of Madras, the Avon SS (1933) six cylinder, and the Hudson 1935. The Hudson is the only one of its kind in the world, although it has been undergoing restoration for the last five years now.
So where does one buy a vintage car? "Now, sale of vintage cars is facilitated by Western India Automobile Association (WIAA) and the India-wide vintage car body, Vintage and Classic Car Club of India (VCCCI). But then again, the best ones are those that you chance upon," says Dossa. He recalls how he acquired the Hudson some eight years ago. "A 75-year-old Parsi lady from the Petit family wrote me a letter enquiring if I was interested in buying the car. My wife stowed away the letter and I chanced upon it only a year later. I immediately got in touch with the Parsi lady and she admonished me for such a delayed response, but later that very day we closed the deal on the Hudson," Dossa reminisces with pride on the chance find.
The real problem, though, with owning these cars is not buying them or the time, effort and cost of maintenance that you invest in them, but where to drive and park them. "Mumbai's roads are legendary for potholes, so much so that even I refrain from driving these cars. I let the cars be driven only when a vintage car rally is being held. And don't even talk about the parking issues!" It's common knowledge that due to the dearth of parking spaces, most of Dossa's vintage cars are parked in various parts of the city and state.
Since buying his first vintage car, Dossa is now a proud owner of 49 such vintage beauties. It's no wonder, then, the enthusiasm that he brings to his honorary chairmanship at WIAA and its vintage car rallies is legendary. "In February 2011, WIAA will be celebrating the 90th year of vintage car rallies by hosting an international rally from New Delhi to Mumbai," he says. That Dossa takes his WIAA job very seriously is obvious from the fact that despite his post being an honorary one, he makes it to the WIAA office regularly. As an active Vice President of the Federation of Indian Automobile Associations, he routinely sits in board meetings for discussions on cars, both vintageand modern.
But what makes one really want to applaud Dossa is his passion for acquiring and restoring these beauties, which remains undiminished. His last buy was a Pontiac 1952, three months ago, and he delightedly promises that there will be many more!