A free curbside car show with cars that you have never seen before is a good thing to find, so I was very pleased to find this trio of classics presented in front of a hotel in the business district of Mumbai, India during a trip there in early November. They were three very different cars in style and market position, brought together to class up an already classy hotel. None of them have been profiled up to now on this website, so they are worth a look into the history of each model as well as the individual car.
The first car in line is the one that will be the most familiar to Americans and to classic car enthusiasts all over the world: a 1932 Ford Model B. The Model B was the four cylinder base model linemate to the milestone Model 18 that introduced the Ford flathead V-8, produced from 1932 to 1934. Powered by a 50 horsepower 200 cubic inch four that was an evolutionary improvement of the Model A engine, the Model B shared the chassis and bodies of the Model 18. Ford offered each in no fewer than 17 variations of body style and trim level, including two door and four door sedans and convertibles, two door coupes and roadsters, and woody station wagons, in Standard and Deluxe series.
The familiar face of the 1932 Model B has the same styling by Edsel Ford and Eugene Gregorie that helped to make the “Deuce” V-8s into hot rod icons, recognized worldwide. This example, restored rather than hot rodded, appears to have itself covered a considerable part of the world. It bears badges of the Australian Automobile Association and the Malaysia & Singapore Vintage Car Register, indicating that it had previous owners in Australia and Southeast Asia before arriving in India.
Appropriate for a car owned in Australia, Singapore and India, all countries with driving on the left side of the road, this Model B has right hand drive.
Visible behind the Ford is a bustleback trunk that indicates the presence of something from the high end of the car market across the pond, and the car to which the trunk belongs does not disappoint.
A 1951 Bentley Mark VI Drophead Coupe (convertible to Yanks) is a lofty classic by any standard. With a 4.25 liter (1946-50) or 4.5 liter (1951-52) F-head inline six producing undisclosed but “adequate” horsepower in the Rolls-Royce/Bentley tradition, and independent front suspension introduced in the Bentley Mark V in 1939, the 1946-52 Mark VI came with a standard steel saloon (sedan) body – a first for Rolls-Royce and Bentley – or as a bare chassis for coachbuilt custom bodywork. (The full story of the standard steel saloon Bentley Mark VI has been told here by Don Andreina.) Out of a total of 5,208 produced, 1,012 were as bare chassis. Most would have been bodied as enclosed sedans or coupes, making this Drophead Coupe a rare car when new and even rarer now.
The sign accompanying the display misidentifies the car as a “1947 Bentley Mark II Continental,” but a Bentley Mark II Continental did not actually exist, except as a fictional James Bond car in Ian Fleming’s novel Thunderball.
With India following the U.K. practice of allowing a license plate number to stay with a car for its entire life through multiple owners, interesting historical details of this Bentley are not difficult to find. According to conversations among classic car fans in India, it began as one of many Rolls-Royces and Bentleys of the Maharajah of Mysore, who ruled a kingdom in southern India whose ruling dynasty lasted from 1399 to 1947. The last Maharajah merged his state into the federation of India in 1947 but continued as governor of the region until his death in 1974. Being as wealthy as a maharajah, the former Maharajah accumulated luxury cars from many of the great marques of Europe, ordering so many from Rolls-Royce that “Doing a Mysore” became Rolls-Royce management’s term for his practice of ordering their cars in batches of seven.
RJD 101 apparently has changed colors as well as owners over the years. After the Maharajah of Mysore was finished with it, it went to a new owner in Bharatpur in Rajasthan, then to its current owner in Mumbai. Its owners, royal or not, have probably always been people for whom a complete repaint in a new color scheme is no big deal, and labor being cheap in India no doubt helps.
A Maharajah’s car when new, this Bentley deserves to be considered classic car royalty now. Badges on the front bumper indicate current or past owner membership in The Royal Automobile Club, the Western India Automobile Association, the Automobile Association of Eastern India, and the Bentley Drivers Club.
Hiding in the back behind the Bentley is a roadster that is the smallest and the most unusual of the three cars: a Standard Avon Special. Avon is an unfamiliar name to me (and most Americans) in automobiles, other than as a British brand of car and motorcycle tires, but a little research revealed the story behind it. Avon was a coachbuilder founded in 1919 which during the 1930s did most of its work on chassis from the Standard Motor Company, known in the United States mostly as the maker of Triumph sports cars after it acquired Triumph in 1945. During the early 1930s Standard provided engines and chassis to coachbuilders to make into sports roadsters that Standard, with its emphasis on low cost mass production, was unwilling to make in the low volumes of the sports car market of the era. The most famous product of this arrangement was Jaguar, which began as the name of a sports car using Standard mechanicals made by Swallow Coachbuilding. Avon made the Standard Avon Special from 1929 into the 1930s, initially under contract to Jensen and then independently.
Standard Avon Specials combined graceful bodywork by Avon with the engine and chassis of either the four cylinder Standard Nine or the six cylinder Standard Sixteen. Avon offered both open roadster and closed coupe bodies. At least four Standard Avon Specials are known to survive in India, including this one, registration number BMY 9381.
Like the Bentley next to it, this Avon has been through multiple owners and colors over the years. In the 1970s, it was with an owner in Mumbai who lived not far from the Gateway of India, and off-white in color. It then went to another owner in Mumbai, then to Delhi, and finally to its current owner in Mumbai.
This small gathering of three cars was a free education in three very different classics from the U.S. and U.K., each a highly desirable classic in its own way, and in some of the dynamics of the classic car world in India. I hope that you have enjoyed it as much as I did.