City of Nawabs flaunts its vintage four-wheeled beauties
TUESDAY, 27 MARCH 2012
Antique jeeps dating from British India and post-WW II era add a classic edge to driving on Bhopal's roads, reports Sandal Saxena
Although the craze for vintage jeeps hit the State capital ages ago, these jeeps can be counted on fingertips and they still catch the attention when they hit Bhopal's streets.
Antique vehicles command a higher value according to the rarity that usually results in some reason behind the lack of numbers in production or the vehicle manufacture. Antique automobiles and early to middle-era classic cars do not have the safety features that are standard of modern cars.
Comedian and avid car collector Jay Leno stated, "Any car can be a collector's car, if you collect it."
Bhopal has some of the world's oldest and finest jeeps. And these rare vehicles are not just showpieces in courtyards but they actually ply on roads. They cost high on maintenance and run low on fuel, but still they are one of the city's main attractions for outsiders.
Like all royals, the Nawabs of Bhopal were also fond of these classic automobiles. Fascinated by these posh little pieces of work on four wheels, they were keen to add them to their legendary automobile collection.
They fancied jeeps like the Austin Champ, Kaiser Jeeps and many other classic and military jeeps. The last Nawab of Bhopal, Hamidullah Khan, had got an Austin Champ, now kept at the Noor-us-Sabah Palace Hotel here. He had also got a large number of Ford (1942 model) jeeps.
If Bhopal's youth have a craze for bikes, the family-oriented man has an identical craze for jeeps. With models like the historic Austin Champ, Ford, Willys, Kaiser, Dodge and Mahindra models the collection of jeeps in Bhopal exceed well over 5,000 vehicles and most of them are in running condition. But the maximum number of jeeps Bhopal has is Willys 1952 model. Some of the Ford models are 70 years old, but they are so well maintained that they move like sedans. Austin Champ is known for its design, Kaiser is air-conditioned and Dodge is nicknamed Super Jeep as it is much bigger than the rest.
Those who cannot afford or get one, opt for a closer version or alternative vehicles for trying to maintain the same decorum the older heritage jeeps have, and go for newer models of jeep like the Maruti gypsy or Mahindra Classic or Commander.
These left-hand drive marvels in modified green started ruling the roads of the city of lakes soon after World War II. They were mostly bought from retired military personnel from the era of British rule over India.
Jeep modification expert Sharik Basir told The Pioneer that the jeeps that are brought to his garage for modification are mostly 30 to 60 years old. At an average, it takes two to three months for one vehicle to get modified and to get it back on the road.
He said, "Ford models, Willys model 1952, Land Rovers, Kaiser and Mahindra jeeps are the models which are brought to me for modification and maintenance. It gives us the feeling of utmost satisfaction and pride to modify these timeless marvels. Most of the vintage jeeps that ply on the city's roads are Ford model 42/52 and Willys model 52 although some older Dodge and Land Rovers can also be seen some times but the rarest are the Dodges and Kaisers."
Like Sharik Basir, there are many other jeep modification experts in the city among whom some also collect these fine and operational artefacts. As Bhopal has become a favourite haunt for many of Bollywood's prominent producers and directors in the recent past, many of the movies also featured these vintage vehicles which are supplied to them by the owners and collectors of heritage jeeps.
The expertise of these jeep mechanics is such that jeeps from other States are also brought to them for maintenance and modification. "I have modified unlimited number of jeeps. The jeeps on which I worked were from Jaipur, Kota, Mumbai, Pune and Chennai," says Mohammed Zamir, a jeep mechanic in Bhopal.
Although these vintage vehicles are almost a burden on the pockets of their owners but the owners do not regret that at all. On the contrary, the owners enjoy driving these jeeps and seek pride in the ownership of such marvellous jewels. Though both Ford and Willys give only around seven kilometres to a litre, the owners do not regret it.
Most of these jeeps run on diesel, but because of their excellent quality and proper maintenance by the owners they tend to pollute less. In fact, some of these jeeps are so well maintained that even today they outrun most small and mid-sized cars. Their only drawback is their low mileage on fuels, but this hurdle does not stop the jeep lovers to get their hands on them at any chance they get.
The jeeps, most of which are post WW II era, are made in America, except the Land Rover. There are even a few Toyota jeeps along with the Kaiser air-conditioned jeeps model 1956 and the Dodge model 1942 which is also referred to as the 'Super Jeep.
Many of these jeeps which are now 'vintaged' used to run on battlefields during World War II and when they became obsolete having been replaced by armoured cavalry like tanks and light armoured vehicles, they became the fad of the common folk.
Most of these jeeps have built in modifications like a gun stand, water can stand, foot starter and even a net at the back. Because jeeps were used in hunting, most of them have a net carrier behind. So, for those wondering about the presence of nets and the gun stand in the vehicles should have their answer. The residents of Bhopal who have farmhouses on the outskirts prefer jeeps as they helped in carrying foodgrains and enabled long drives and picnics.
It may be the legacy or the power of these fancy set of wheels, but they still charm the people. Although, these vintage jeeps are so few in number that they can literally be counted on fingertips we should not forget their historic contribution that gave the militaries freedom to move both on and off road.