Vintage cars – old and gold

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Classic and vintage machines, be they two or four-wheeled have always had a special place in the hearts of people. Stylish and technologically advanced when first introduced, they are a time capsule of style and mechanics of their age. Be it the small Fiat 500 people carrier of post-war Italy, or the majestic Rolls Royces of the 1930s, cars are a symbol of human aspirations to travel, to be free, to explore.

Like other parts of the world, the Indian subcontinent was quick to acquire the early machines manufactured in Europe and America. Soon, Nawabs and Maharajas were in the forefront of the race to buy the most expensive, the biggest, the most extravagant vehicles. This led to some automotive design houses offering bespoke machines to cater to the whims of the rich and famous, a practice that continues till this day.

At Partition, many of these cars were mothballed, and have only recently resurfaced. An increasing number can now seen on display at vintage car shows, and some at select places in public buildings and hotel lobbies, their imposing presence sparking an interest in a new generation of Pakistanis eager to own similar machines. The small gene pool of classic cars and motorcycles in private ownership infrequently change hands, and are not enough to supply the pent-up demand of the enthusiasts out there.

Before delving into the arcane rules of vehicle import, let us look at the ‘nuts and bolts’ of this hobby. It employs a large number of mechanics, electricians, painters, panel beaters, and upholstery experts, all busy maintaining, rebuilding and restoring the cars. It’s a giant wheel that turns, providing thousands wages, and also ensures that skills, specific to these cars of yesteryear, are passed on from generation to generation. Modern cars are built to be disposable, with a service life of up to 20 years. Their plastic parts and fixtures are designed to be replaced at regular intervals. Not so the vintage classics.

Triple chroming old bumpers, refinishing walnut burl dashboards and door cappings, restitching leather covered seats, all require an expertise, gained over years of ‘shagirdi’. When the cars disappear, the skills die with them.

The current situation with regards to import of older cars is outdated and largely irrelevant. Up till 2006, there was no bar on the import of old cars. It was then that a bureaucratic oversight, fuelled by an appeal from local car manufacturers to ban competition posed by import of 1-5-year-old cars from Japan, that led to the blanket ban on cars older than 3 years. With one stroke of the pen, the import of older classic cars (vehicles 30 years and older) was been stopped. Classic cars pose no danger to manufacture of new cars in the country. They never have and they never will. They are in a different market segment entirely but the ruling, in spite of numerous appeals by classic cars clubs and individuals, has yet to be amended. We live in hope.

The classic cars and motorcycles hobby is a healthy one, sustained by private finance alone. It provides tremendous satisfaction to owners, the public at large, and in turn provides many jobs for both the older mechanics and a whole new crop of youngsters willing and able to learn old skills. If the level of restoration is upgraded, we can foresee an influx of classic cars coming in from neighbouring countries for repairs and rebuilds. This will provide the country with valuable foreign exchange, and beam a positive image of our specialist skills to the world. Old truly is gold in respect of the cars and motorcycles of yesteryear, a part of our heritage that is protected and cherished by enthusiasts nationwide. A legacy to view with pride.