Criss-Crossing Hindustan In A Classic Contessa

Images: Jabir P

The four cousins Jabir P., Niyas K.P., Yoonus K.P. and Ameen K., set off in their 1998 Hindustan Contessa 2.0 DSL from Morayur in Mallapuram district, Kerala, on 8 December 2021 to create a milestone for a car that deserves greater recognition, one which already has a major achievement to its credit.

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When a Contessa meets a Contessa 

The earlier record created was by Neena and Salauddin Choudhary who set off on a record-breaking mission from New Delhi on 9 September 1989 in their Hindustan Contessa Classic (a 1.8 GL petrol). The plan was to circumnavigate the globe in record time (which they did do) in 69 days, 19 hours and 5 minutes, covering 25 countries across all the continents except Antarctica, and thereby establishing a Guinness World Record then.

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The four cousins—Ameen, Yoonus, Niyas and Jabir—at Gulmarg

The Hindustan Contessa was manufactured by Hindustan Motors between 1984 and 2002. Based on the Vauxhall FE Series, made by General Motors’ UK arm between 1972 and 1978, the Contessa was initially launched with the Ambassador’s 50bhp 1.5-litre unit. Deemed underpowered, the B Series unit was soon replaced by Isuzu powertrains: the choice was between an 88bhp 1817cc petrol and a 54bhp 1995cc diesel. The subject of our story, the Contessa featured here, is a one of the latter models.

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Jabir between a Ford and the Contessa

“My three cousins and I set off from Morayur in Mallapuram district on 8 December 2021,” explains 30-year-old Jabir, who is a chartered accountant by profession. “We travelled along the western parts of India to reach Srinagar. Traversing 10,000 kms in all through Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and we also visited Nepal.”

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A Contessa at sunset

“Overall, it was an awesome experience with the myriad weather conditions,” continued Jabir. “The topographic variations and the rural hinterlands gave us very different feelings. Many of the bystanders, which included commoners, Indian Army jawans and cops, were seeing the Contessa for the first time ever. They crowded around our car and kept asking us about our trip. Many of them also took selfies with the car. I wanted to create awareness amongst the people of the country about the power and utility of the Contessa. Many people doubted its abilities.”

Helping them traverse India were the many marque clubs and other associations such as the Fiat Classic Car Club of India (FCCCI), from Pune, as well as the Ambassador Landmaster H 14, Muscle Freaks, Padminienz Enthusiastic, Conty Club India, Vintage and Classic Cars, MatadorRiders, Pollachi Heritage Club, HM Legacy, HM Club India and the Fiat Lovers Group. Vijay Anand, a friend, was very helpful in planning their roadmap and getting in touch with all the aforementioned ‘WhatsApp clubs’.

While lamenting about the very poor traffic conditions across India, Jabir also wondered why Hindustan Motors stopped making the Contessa: “It is unfortunate that HM stopped production of the Contessa and the Ambassador, which were the most ideal for Indian conditions. Moreover, Ambassadors, Contessas, Fiats/Premier Padminis and Standard Heralds need to be preserved at any cost. The new vehicle scrapping policy to scrap 15- to 49-year-old cars will deny opportunities for future generations to know about India’s very own historic vehicles.”

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Nepal ahoy

By the time Jabir and his cousins returned on 29 December, they had covered more than 10,000 kms. The last stretch of 1400 kms was covered in a single continuous run of 29 hours.

“The main purpose was to spread an important social message: the need to preserve the few surviving older cars and bikes for posterity,” explained Jabir. “The vehicle scrapping policy is draconian and the harsh and stupid fitness norms and fee hikes will surely see the end of many of India’s historic vehicles.”

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The four pose with the Contessa just before entering Nepal

The stupidity and short-sightedness of the anti-pollution norm is obvious when one sees that even after New Delhi and the National Capital Region got rid of all private vehicles which are more than 10 years old (for diesels) and 15 years old (for petrols) since 2016, the smog problem has only gotten worse. It was bad in 2019, and even worse in 2020, and the worst ever in history was in 2021. Jabir and team have done their best by awakening the populace about the new measures meant to eliminate older automobiles. We only hope that the sentiments expressed by them spread near and wide and reach the right corridors of power.


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