Mohammad Amir Ahmad Khan (1914-73) was 19 years old, on a Europe tour with his father, the then Raja of Mahmudabad, when he saw the 1933 Minerva Type AL Landaulette at a show in Paris. The future raja ended up splurging on the Belgian-make car. As a great patron of Begum Akhtar, he would later regularly send the car to bring the doyen of Hindustani classical music from Lucknow to the Mahmudabad palace, not very far from the capital city. This week, the car won the People’s Vote award in the Cars of the Art Deco Era category at the first-ever global Concours Virtual, and its current owner Diljeet Titus is eager to tell its story. This is its first international win, after two Indian wins at 21 Gun Salute international Concours show and the now-discontinued Cartier Concours d’Elegance.
Partition ended the taluqdari system and Khan’s father moved to Pakistan, but he stayed back. The family sold the Minerva in 1995 to car collector Ranjit Malik, who, after a mechanical rebuild, sold it to Titus in 2000.
Among the 33 Minerva to be ever made, Titus says, only nine survive today, in the US, Australia, Belgium, and India. And, Titus’s car, till date, has charted 10,764 miles. “The coachwork of this opulent rare variety is different, with the front roof going in and the rear collapsing,” says Titus, 54, who grew up between Delhi, Allahabad and Jabalpur. He recalls planting toy cars in the soil as a child, hoping they would grow on trees. Cars didn’t, but his law profession ensured his collection grew, which started at age 32 with his first buy, a 1948 Austin A40. His grandmother drove an Austin and grandfather a 1952 Chevrolet Sedan.
Titus sent the Minerva to Rana Manvendra Singh Barwani in Indore to restore the straight-eight cylinder engine, seven-seater limousine. The exterior now sports a Van Dyke brown inspired by Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck’s A Family Group (1634), while the scheme for three blue shades in the interiors comes from the English painter Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy (1770). These automobiles are “pieces of art and history that the collectors are protecting,” says Delhi-based Titus, general secretary, Heritage Motoring Club of India. In 2003, he opened a vintage museum in a 2.5-acre farmhouse in Mehrauli. It houses 58 cars, 14 motorcycles, two aircraft, scooters, tractors, tyres, chandeliers, gold-plated furniture, silverware, watches, and 30,000 antique books, including the British-commissioned photobook of Indian castes and tribes, The People of India (1868-75).
It is the stuck-in-time charm of his cars that makes Bollywood gravitate towards them. If Zubeidaa rode his 1938 Buick in the 2001 film, his 1947 Buick appeared in Black (2005) and 1941 Ford Woody in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001). But Titus wouldn’t take that risk with the 1933 Minerva. “It’s of exceptionally high value, can’t trust it with a movie shoot,” he says of the car that he’s readying for the 2022 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Monterey, California. The pandemic has thrown vintage-parts suppliers around the world off-kilter, says the collector, but the wheels need to keep turning.
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