Starting That Collection Off With A Fiat Super Select
Images: Deepanjan Sarkar
Once upon a time on a street named after his forefather, there lived a boy named Prithvi Nath Tagore—PNT as his friends fondly and conveniently called him. Hailing from one of the oldest and most illustrious families of the city, PNT had a special fondness for all things old. And then there was his fondness for cars. The older, the better.
Frustratingly for him, his love for old cars remained unrequited until as recently as 2018 when he received news of an old Fiat—a 1963 Super Select, lying unused in a garage in south Calcutta.
A visual inspection revealed that although the car was intact, it wasn’t exactly in immaculate condition. In fact, it would need a full restoration job. The engine and rear axle needed rebuilding, the prop shaft needed to be balanced and even the footrests on the floor panels were missing. All of this, given PNT’s OCD for perfection, could mean an eternity between acquisition for the princely sum of Rs 70,000, and end of restoration.
Thankfully, growing impatience to drive around in his own classic car for events organised by the Classic Drivers of Calcutta—a trust dedicated to the revival of the vintage and classic car movement in Kolkata, of which PNT is a founder member—meant that for once he was pliable enough to consider part restoration which would at least allow the car to get into running condition.
The said seventy grand paid, the car was put on a flat bed and transported to the workshop of ace restorer, the late Rahul ‘Bampu’ Sircar. Once work started however, the old desire for perfection reared up yet again. Prithvi was convinced that this could not be just another Fiat about town. It simply wouldn’t do. A restoration meant that it would have to be brought to life as it would have been back in the summer of ‘63.
Somehow, he knew that he would have to go the whole hog for Bella, what he fondly calls his car. Ten months of hard labour with Sircar’s team working at it and nearly ten times the acquisition cost later, the immaculately restored Bella debuted at the 2019 Statesman Vintage and Classic Car Rally.
It’s a testimony to Sircar’s restoration and PNT’s dogged tenacity that the car won the award for the Best Maintained Car of the Rally. That it should be declared Runner Up to the Best Restored Car of the Rally the following year was further vindication of PNT’s efforts and belief that a simple part restoration wouldn’t do.
As it often happens with historic vehicles, getting the resources for an acquisition and restoration was easier than the task at hand. With little access to stockists with original spares for the car, bits and bobs had to come from wherever they were available.
So, while the Carello wipers and delight lights in the cabin were imported from distant Italy, whitewall inserts were brought in from Turkey. The mechanical bits came from closer to home (places like Bombay, Poona and Madras) while the upholstery was done in Calcutta itself.
The strange mix of origins of the spares is revealing, because it appears that while availability of mechanical spares is not a problem in the country, cosmetic bits are virtually impossible to source domestically. That aside, PNT was at an advantage with his choice of wheels.
To start with, the Fiat Super Select was reasonably affordable to acquire at less than Rs 100,000. They aren’t particularly rare either with examples coming up for sale or auction every now and then. It’s a simple car with simple mechanics, which meant once the necessary spares were sourced, fixing the car, and getting it back to running condition was not a difficult and complex job.
In fact, had it not been PNT’s insistence that Bella be restored to perfect authenticity, a regular restoration of the car would have been a far less expensive affair than it turned out to be. Once ready and running, it was also nimble and easy to drive—not something that we can say of all period cars.
Driving out of the centuries old house of the Tagores, I wonder if PNT hasn’t chosen one of the most perfect cars to start off a classic car collection. I mean, the Fiat Super Select does tick all the right boxes, don’t you think?
Sign in or become a deRivaz & Ives member to join the conversation.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.