Wheels of Fortune

For Bangalore-based Sulaiman Jamal a car isn’t just steel, paint, plastic, leather and rubber - it has personality and soul - and he cannot bear to see any of them corrode and die. He has made it his life’s quest to acquire vintage cars and have them restored to their original pomp and glory. It began in 1979 when he bought his first car, an Austin 14 (1939), wheeled it into a garage, and had it painstakingly restored. “Soon after I bought my first vintage car I was bitten by the bug, the love affair began and the search still continues,” he says. “Cars are either a passion or an investment. In my case I buy them because I love to restore them. The day you turn it into a business you stop enjoying it.” He houses his cars and bikes in a huge house in Whitefield, Bangalore. Unlike a lot of vintage car collectors, his purpose for acquiring the cars is to see them restored. Sulaiman has to physically inspect a car and form a ‘bond’ with it before he buys it and has changed his mind about cars in the past after he had seen them. “The car talks to you, sometimes I have given an advance on a car and then taken the money back because the car repelled me (Chevy Impala-1961). The owner obliged, so instead of the car I bought 200 clocks from the person,” claims Sulaiman. Being a sentimental man, Sulaiman believes in keeping in touch with the previous owners and allows their children and grandchildren to see the cars and even drive them. He’s not just crazy about cars. His love of restoration led him buy an old British Victorian bungalow close to his house. Once ready, the bungalow will house a lot of the antique furniture that he has sourced. He also acquires and restores bikes, furniture, musical instruments and clocks. Quite the maverick, he can play seven musical instruments, and also loves listening and talking about music. In his day job he spends time making bevel gears at his factory Bevel Gears India.

Car: Austin 14
Year: 1939 
Owner: Cheshire Homes India (King and Partridge oversaw the sale, they were solicitors to the estate of McGucken, who originally owned the house)

Story: Sulaiman moved from Coimbatore to Bangalore and started his career as a junior engineer. He bought his first car an Austin 14 (1939) for Rs 4000 in 1979. After buying the car he drove the car to 2 Stroke Motors. “They were known for their painting and body shop work. It was restored in no time and I was bitten by the bug.”

Car: Morris Oxford 
Year: 1954
Owner: Almeida

The car belonged to a certain Almeida from Mumbai, who was the father of a good friend of Sulaiman’s. During a visit to Banglaore Almeida discovered Sulaiman’s interest in classic cars and mentioned that he had a car in Bombay. On inspection Sulaiman found that the car was in great shape but was never used for years and had to be overhauled, and the rust and chrome to be redone. “Though this car is not a 'classic’ it is unique because it is a single owner with original paint and upholstery and he also had a lot of spares with original owners' manual. The car was his prized possession in Kenya where he worked as a senior Bank official. Great car for any one starting a collection,” remarks Sulaiman.

Car: Rover P3
Year: 1954
Owner: Dr Thomas

Story: The Rover P3 is again a single-owner car with all the original bells and whistles which is difficult to get, in ordinary circumstances. The owner was a Doctor in Bahrain and brought the car back with him many years ago. Sulaiman spotted the car sometime in the 90's on Brigade road, driven by a suited distinguished looking gentleman. He followed the car and introduced myself to the owner. He turned out to be Dr Thomas of the Bangalore Polyclinic in Frazer town. “Dr Thomas told me the car was not for sale but he would definitely let me know when he planned to sell it. True to his word years later he sent me a message and I acquired the car,” recalls Sulaiman.

Name: Wolseley 6/110
Year: Early 1950s 
Owner: Originally owned by the British High Commissioner of Madras, it was bought by an eminent industrialist family from Coimbatore. 

Story: The six-cylinder Wolseley was used daily by its owner, a Coimbatore industrialist. The Wolseley 6/110, because of its powerful engine, was also used by the British police. With leather upholstery, premium trims and wooden interior, this car also scores on the looks front.

Car: Chevy Belair 
Year: 1959 
Owner: Businessman from Tamil Nadu

Story: “He had driven the car for more than a decade and was reluctant to sell it initially. I promised to have his son, who is around 14 now, use it when he gets married.” When Sulaiman was bringing the car back from Coimbatore he decided to put it in a truck, but the owner insisted that all it needed was petrol and it would literally fly, and convinced him to drive it by road.

Car: Daimler DB18
Year: 1947
Owner: L Devraj from Coimbatore, who bought it from Meenakshi Mills.

Story: The Daimler DB18 Saloon was produced from 1947 through 1953 with a total of 608 being manufactured. Devraj, Sulaiman’s friend from Coimbatore, had many cars. Knowing his friend’s love for vintage cars he decided to give this away.

Car: Daimler Maharajah
Year: 1947
Owner: Original owner was the Maharajah of Mysore. Subsequently acquired by Sulaiman’s brother-in-law

Story: Sulaiman’s jewel in the crown, the Daimler Maharajah is an impressive looking car and is worthy of a king. There were very few were these made and were manufactured exclusively for Maharajahs. There is a glass divider between driver and the passengers. “The Daimler Maharajah is my most valued car, although it is difficult to drive in traffic, it’s worth the effort.”

Car: Mercedes 219 
Year: 1957
Owner: SG Mani

Story: Sulaiman’s Mercedes collection was started when SG Mani, a buddy of his from college, called to tell him that he was willing to dispose his old, priced Mercedes 219 as it was in danger of getting corroded. Mani had bought it from an old Parsi gentleman. “This is the car that I enjoy driving most as I can drive it around everyday.”

Car: Mercedes Benz 220S 
Year: 1965
Owner: Industrialist from Bangalore

Story: The acquisition of the second Mercedes happened quite serendipitously, when he met a senior industrialist at a car rally where they spoke about Sulaiman’s love for cars. He said that there was an old Merc that used to be driven by a German and might be available in his factory’s garage. “With my heart pounding I opened the garage. The car was there and all that it needed was a face-lift.” The car was restored in a record 90 days flat.

Sulaiman’s labor of love for close to three decades will come to nought if his legacy is not continued. He passes on the baton to Mushtaq Jamal, his son. “The year that I acquired my first car was also the year that Mushtaq was born,” remarks Sulaiman. Mushtaq is a chip off the old block -- tall and handsome, he shares his father’s love for cars and bikes. “I learned how to drive on the Morris Minor and to ride on the Triumph. I want to continue what Dad has started,” he muses. Must be music to Sulaiman’s ears!