The bidding started at a very reasonable Rs 25,000. A gentleman in the audience raised his paddle and the amount went up to Rs 30,000. Then someone on the phone bid for Rs 32,000. The gentleman in the hall raised the ante up to Rs 34,000. The bidder on the phone went a notch higher. The man in the audience wasn\’t giving up. But then neither was the bidder at the other end of the phone. Soon the amount accelerated up to Rs 45,000, then Rs 50,000, then Rs 60,000. But neither were throwing in the towel \– instead, the hands kept going up with their respective paddles. It was Rs 75,000 in a flash, then Rs 80,000, then 85k, 90k\… would it get to a lakh?Finally, the man in the hall hesitated, and then relented, and the gentleman on the phone had the painting \– amidst the excited applause of the audience \– for a tidy sum of Rs 95,000, some three times its estimated value. And with that, the Indian enthusiasts had their first direct taste of the excitement of automotive auctions, a multi-billion-dollar \“business\” which has contributed to the increase in value and perception of the historic vehicle movement. The item that we have been referring to wasn\’t a vehicle, but a painting, a modest water colour of a 1930 Mercedes-Benz, from pre-War times, one of a set of 20 similar 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.
This collection of 20 water colours, as well as a fascinating set of posters, photographs and artefacts related to the automobile, was auctioned on 26 October last, 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 rallyist Divya Miglani.
The panel discussion was followed by a t\ête-\à-t\ête 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 complement 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-crore mark with artists such as M F Husain, S H Raza, Ganesh Pyne, Nasreen Mohammadi, F N Souza, Chittaprosad and 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, among 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 the 1930 Mercedes-Benz tourer that topped out Rs 95,000.
In fact, this phone bidder who had finally \“won\” the bidding contest for the Mercedes-Benz painting, cornered most of the Bhavnagar paintings, indicating a serious desire to build an automobilia collection, as well as reflecting the newfound momentum for the historic vehicle movement in India, showcased with the formation of a true federation of clubs across the country\: the Federation of Historic Vehicles of India (FHVI). Although the concept of auctioning 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 and its related heritage.\” The historic vehicle movement and market in the US and Europe has already developed into a bsiness worth several billion dollars, as much as it has become a crossroad for culture, human heritage, sports and pleasure. Thus, as stock markets and property prices have bombed, art and historic vehicles have been the safer investment alternatives, as values have soared since the 2008 crash. During 2017, as many as 24 historic Ferraris were sold for a value each of over $10 million (Rs 74 crore), while some 200-odd historic vehicles went under the hammer for over a million dollars (Rs 7.4 crore) each\\!
The four biggest automotive auction houses in the world \– the Anglo-Canadian RM Sotheby\’s, the UK-based Bonhams, the American auctioneer Gooding \& Co, and the French auction house Artcurial \– posted combined sales of $904 million (Rs 6,690 crore) in 2017. Another billion dollars or so may have been realised by the lesser known auction houses. Among them, the legendary Barrett-Jackson auction boggles the mind when one considers that more than 1,700 vehicles went under the hammer over a seven-day period of buying frenzy, involving 5,200 bidders and thousands more cheering on, even if the average value of most of the cars were well under $10,000 (Rs 7.4 lakh).\“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. Words\: Gautam Sen