A Bunch Of Americans And Five Motorcycles

Images: Makarand Baokar & Vrutika Doshi

For historic vehicle enthusiasts in India, the name of Ashok Shah must be more than familiar. A veteran of identifying and acquiring some of the rarer automobiles in India, Shah has been featured in magazines such as Indian Auto.

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Ashok Shah's daily drive is this Mercury Marquis from 1989

But for the best part of the last two decades Shah was less ‘visible’ as he preferred retaining a lower profile than usual.

“I was brought up in a household where there were seven cars, as my grandfather was quite an enthusiast,” recalls Lonavala-based Ashok Shah.

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In immaculate condition, the Mercury was imported by the consulate general of Oman

“As a child it was usual to play in those cars. My favourite was a Morris 25 from 1938, and when that Morris was sold, I was very disappointed. I decided that I would collect old cars when I grew up.”

A promise made and a promise kept. At one point in time, Ashok Shah had more than 25 cars and over 50 motorcycles, but since then he decided to rationalise and bring down the number to a more manageable dozen cars and five bikes.

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Formerly the car of the Maharaja of Nawanagar, this '51 Lincoln Cosmopolitan may be the only one extant from this model year in India today

The first car that Shah acquired was a Dodge Victory Six, for Rs 750, in around 1967, when he was barely 15 years old. In 1979 Shah emigrated to the US, where he drove a Saab 900 Turbo, as well as a De Lorean.

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Rounded and a bit heavy set, the '51 Cosmopolitan was a powerful car that won several long distance events

But Shah preferred returning to India in 1983. The first car purchased after his return to Mumbai was a Chevrolet Master Town Sedan, from 1934. That was in 1986.

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Righfully proud, Ashok Shah poses with his Lincoln Cosmopolitan

Since then, Ashok Shah bought, restored, and traded scores of American beauties, including a '57 Chevrolet Belair (which remains with him), a Cadillac that used to belong to M.S. Oberoi, a '56 Chrysler Windsor Nassau, a '46 Packard Clipper, a '47 Hudson (bought from the car’s first owner in Chandernagore) and a '26 Studebaker, with which Shah participated in an Australian event, the Genevieve 500.

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This rare 1956 Chrysler Windsor Nassau is one that we're eagerly awaiting restoration so that we can feature it at length

The Studebaker and the Chrysler are still with Shah, with both needing some refurbishing. The Chrysler Windsor Nassau is a rare two-door coupe featuring a powerful V8, mated to a three-speed automatic, operated via push buttons on the dash. Once this car is done up, it would be worth an in-depth feature.

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This mighty Buick from Cossimbazar is another impressive American seven-seater

The other cars in Ashok Shah’s noteworthy collection are an impressive Lincoln Cosmopolitan from 1951 and a 1989 Mercury Marquis, both of which are in a very good state.

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Both the Chevrolet Belair and the Ford Thunderbird are worth featuring when ready

The Marquis was a car imported by the Oman Consulate, which must have been sold off via the State Trading Corporation (STC) as was the practice then (circa 1990s). Shah acquired it via a dealer, and the car has been his daily driver for years.

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The delightful Auto Red Bug was an electric skateboard well ahead of its time

The Cosmopolitan—perhaps the only one in India from the 1951 vintage year—was in Mumbai, in a dilapidated state, when Shah acquired the car in the mid-1990s.

Apparently bought new by the Maharaja of Nawanagar, Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja, the Lincoln needed extensive restoration.

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This Studebaker participated in an event in Australia, the Genevieve 500

No less interesting are the other cars which are in the process of being restored and will surely be worth featuring when ready.

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This Indian from 1917-1919 is one of the oldest ones extant in India

They include a '61 Ford Thunderbird (from the Tripura princely family), a '38 Buick that belonged to one of the two Cossimbazar princely families, and the Chevrolet Belair, which was a favourite of Bollywood actress Nimmi (Nawab Banoo).

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The BMW R50

The most unusual of Ashok Shah’s cars is the Auto Red Bug, an electric skateboard-style runabout which was quite a success in the 1920s.

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A Royal Enfield T, probably from 1934-35

The one owned by Shah used to belong to the Indore princely family of Holkar, and one can imagine that the keen auto enthusiast that Yashwantrao Holkar II was, he may very well have acquired this Red Bug as a runabout for his estate.

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A rare Bismarck from the 1930s

Ashok Shah is rightfully proud of the five rare motorcycles that he has retained from a collection of 50-plus. Amongst them is a Bismarck, from the 1930s. A German machine, this too deserves a separate and detailed story which we will feature soon.

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The Norton Dominator on which Ashok Shah proudly poses

The other four include a '55 Norton, a BMW R50, an Indian from 1918 and a very rare Royal Enfield, from the 1920s. More on all of these very soon.

A blast from the past - a pic of Ashok Shah with Graeme Cocks, author and contributor to deRivaz & Ives Magazine, at the Genevieve 500 in Australia (courtesy Graeme Cocks)

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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