Osian's auction of a collection of automobile memorabilia from the pricely state of Bhavnagar

Bob Rupani  /
14 Nov 2018 19:23:26 IST

On 26 October 2018, a set of 20 water colours of veteran and vintage cars and horse carriages from the early part of the 20th century, a collection that used to belong to the erstwhile princely family of Bhavnagar, in Gujarat, as well as a fascinating set of posters, photographs and artefacts related to the automobile, was auctioned by Osian's Connoisseurs of Art Pvt Ltd, at its headquarters in Mumbai's Nariman Point, marking India's first Automobilia auction, and acting as a "dress rehearsal" to the main inaugural event planned for early 2019: to auction historic vehicles in India for the very first time, in a live format.

With the intention of whetting the appetite of aficionados, the Automobilia auction was preceded by a preview of the items along with a very interesting panel discussion on "How do the youth of today envisage the future of Historic Vehicles in a world of autonomous vehicles and car sharing?" Panelists included prominent historic vehicle enthusiasts such as Behram Ardeshir and Cyrus Dhabar from Mumbai, Prithvi Nath Tagore from Kolkata and well known product designer Reboni Saha, from Goa. Moderating the discussion was former rallyist Divya Miglani.

The panel discussion was followed by a tête-à-tête between actor and motorsport enthusiast Kunal Kapoor and Gautam Sen on "Traditions & Future for Racing and Rallying in India," which had many in the audience participating with considerable enthusiasm. To compliment this symposium, eight historic vehicles – ranging from a very rare Indian-assembled 1948 Singer roadster to a flamboyant 1959 Dodge Custom Royale coupe – were on display on the parking lot facing Osian's office.

To ensure good attendance, Osian's chairman Neville Tuli decided to combine his traditional art auction (of Indian modern and contemporary art) with that of Automobilia, with the first 67 lots representing a wide spectrum of recent Indian art – from Jamini Roy to Sudhir Patwardhan, with sales passing the Rs 10 crores target with artists such as M F Husain, S H Raza, Ganesh Pyne, Nasreen Mohammadi, F N Souza, Chittaprosad, Ramkumar, among others, fulfilling financial expectations – followed by another set of 82 lots of Automobilia, namely, old black-and-white photos of cars and motorcycles, with Indian as well as international provenance, original posters of automobile-related films such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Love Bug, Bullitt and Victoria No. 203, amongst many others, several rare tin toys, as well as that astounding collection of unsigned water colours of cars from before 1930 and horse carriages, from the Bhavnagar palaces. Amongst them were two illustrations of very early Rolls-Royces, from the initial formative years before the 40/50HP Silver Ghosts were introduced, a fascinating Napier on a very long wheelbase, with four rows of seats, a beautiful illustration of a 1928 supercharged Bentley, as well as a 1930 Mercedes-Benz tourer that topped out Rs 95,000.

Though the concept of the auctioning of cars and motorcycles has yet to catch the fancy of the many collectors of such vehicles in India, Neville Tuli of Osian's Connoisseurs of Art believes that "the time is right to introduce India to the exciting world of automotive auctions." The historic vehicle movement and market in the US and Europe has already developed into a several billion dollars business, as much as it has become a crossroad for culture, human heritage, sports and pleasure. During the year 2017, as many as 24 historic Ferraris were sold for a value each of over $10 million (Rs 74 crores), whilst some 200-odd historic vehicles went under the hammer for over a million dollars (Rs 7.4 crores) each.

"We believe that India has the potential to become one of the more important Asian countries in the automotive auction sphere and the movement of Historical Vehicles integrating itself into India's cultural and scientific heritage," stresses Neville Tuli, as Osian's get ready for India's first ever live automotive auction action in early 2019.

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