Time Machines

      

Story : Shahwar Hussain


 

Diljeet Titus’ passion for historical cars has taken the shape of a museum that will enthrall generations of car freaks, as Shahwar Hussain found to his utter amazement one Sunday morning.

The large number of people who are interested in vintage and classic cars and bikes will surprise you, but unfortunately, very few have any kind of access to these oldies other than at annual rallies. The people who own these precious motors are generally touchy and obsessive about their collection, and rightly so. It takes tremendous effort, both in terms of physical labour and finances, to restore a vintage car to its former glory. An enthusiast can drool over a vintage car for hours, soaking in the smooth flowing lines, the woodwork, the rich interiors and the intricate and sometimes weird engine.

Now these enthusiasts can feast their eyes all day on these metal sculptures and they have Diljeet Titus to thank for that. Titus has single handedly built the first museum dedicated to vintage and classic cars in India. It is known as Pro Bono Publico, the Titus & Co. Museum for Vintage and Classic cars.

The pillarless structure built over an area of 6,000 sq. ft. houses 21 priceless cars, all under one roof. I am sure all car collectors secretly dream of building a structure where all their cars can be displayed but for most, that is exactly what it remains…a dream. Diljeet Titus has the dedication, passion and perseverance to pursue his dream and it is no mean feat that he has managed to set up a museum all by himself. The museum will surely go a long way in preserving the fast dwindling motoring heritage of our country.

Most cars in the museum come from the Land of Plenty. Buicks, Dodges, Chevrolets, Cadillacs and Jeeps take up a lion’s share of the space. There is also a sprinkling of European cars. But the make of the car hardly matters.

 

The car that undoubtedly takes centre stage is the Belgian Minerva Type AL. The massive car hits the visitors full in the face. Made in 1927, Minerva Type AL is a priceless gem and only nine of them survive in the world. This one is the only such car you will ever get to see in the whole of Asia. The original owner, Raja Mohammed Amir Ahmed Khan of Mahmudabad in Uttar Pradesh must have been a man of good taste for this is only one of two Type ALs that were ever built by the company with Variable Convertibility. The mechanically inclined will find this car rather interesting because of its sleeve valve engine and other unique features.

Another car that occupies pride of place in the museum is the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. This four-door sedan has been done up in bright red, typical of Chevy. The paint job is complemented by a bucketful of gleaming chrome. The upholstery, done up in matching red leather, as well as the whole interior in general has a high degree of finish. Given a choice, I am sure many enthusiasts would like to own this Chevrolet instead of the new ones. There are two other

Chevrolets in the museum, both Impalas. While the 1960 Impala is pretty well known in India, the 1962 Impala SS is the only hard top two-door SS in India.

 

The museum is home to two very special Cadillacs. The 1952 Cadillac Coupe de Ville – also known as Series 62 – was the company’s Golden Anniversary model and sported a golden logo. The Coupe de Ville started a new trend that had through-the-bumper dual exhaust pipes. This model also incorporated new features that included dual range hydramatic drive, power steering and self-winding clock. You can call the other Cadillac, ‘Pink Cadillac’. This is the 1959 Cadillac Sedan de Ville and was previously owned by HH Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur, Rajasthan. The model typifies a late 1950s design and features the tallest tail fins ever manufactured; its graceful, fluid movement almost transforms it into a land yacht. The flamboyant design of those times reached its zenith with this car, sporting a host of distinctive designs that made Cadillac so special. In 1959, this car had automatic transmission, power steering, power windows, brakes and locking. It also had the added comfort of an air-conditioner, and a radio and cassette player.

Buicks and Dodges also have a prominent presence. There are two 1935-36 Buick Series 90 Model 90L and a 1949 Buick Super Eight, a Series 50, Model 51. The four Dodge cars include a

1937 Convertible, a very luxurious 1938 Dodge, a seven-passenger Limousine, a 1943 Dodge Weapon carrier straight out WWII and a 1947 Dodge Custom.

   

Ford also has a presence in the museum. There is a 1941 Ford Super Deluxe Stationwagon, also fondly called Woody. The other Ford is the universal favorite, a 1943 Jeep. It is surprising how many people identify with the Jeep.

The European connection in the museum includes a couple of 1947 Austin A40s, a Devon, a 1952 Hillman Minx, a 1967 Mercedes-Benz 200 and a 1969 Haflinger 700 A.P. The A40 may seem a rather simple car but it has its own importance and was hugely successful in England. The most interesting among these European cars is the Haflinger. Made in Austria, this 700cc two-stroke vehicle has a fourwheel drive and high ground clearance, and it was because of these characteristics that this vehicle, at one point of time, came to be used by as many as eighteen different armies around the world.

 

Diljeet has recently bought a 1929 Buick straight eight that is undergoing restoration, as are Ford Woody, the 1935 Buick 90L, 1949 Buick Super Eight and the 1959 Cadillac Sedan de Ville. Anybody with the slightest inclination towards these cars will find the museum a treasure trove. Other than cars, there are old posters, used pistons, gaskets, huge valves, many different types of carburettors, some so old that you won’t even know which way the butterfly opens. On display are long camshafts, headlights, fuseboxes that most people have never seen, huge tyres and wire wheels.

This is just the beginning and the Board of Directors has ambitious plans for the success and future of the museum. They have committed funds for its development and in due course of time, the museum will store an expanded collection of rare books and manuals on automobiles, vintage and classic car spare parts and memorabilia.

 

This is just the beginning and the Board of Directors has ambitious plans for the success and future of the museum. They have committed funds for its development and in due course of time, the museum will store an expanded collection of rare books and manuals on automobiles, vintage and classic car spare parts and memorabilia.Pro Bono Publico opens to public first Saturday of every month, 10 am to 5 pm, strictly by prior appointment.

A visit to the museum is an education in itself. An education that even the best of schools and colleges will never be able to impart. I certainly hope that the development of the museum won’t ‘haflinger’ and its continued success and growth will be good news to all enthusiasts.