Small-scale automobile museum owner and vintage car connoisseur launches classic automobile and restoration outfit
In the calm of the lockdown, Rajesh Ambal and his wife Ramya Lakshminarayan brought rare vintage cars back to life
Rajesh Ambal is restoring a 1939 Chevrolet Master Deluxe, one of the first taxis in South India. His collection includes a 1933 Fiat Bellila that belonged to the Nizam of Hyderabad and is often used in film shoots. Also a 1933 Vauxhall Westminster which has a bar unit and a small seating arrangement for a bartender to serve passengers, and a 1947 Buick. These beauties are in its garages in Palakkad and Pollachi.
Its latest addition is a barn find, a 1961 pillarless Impala that once belonged to India’s Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs, the late KPS Menon. The restoration kept him and his wife, Ramya Lakshminarayan, busy during lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. And they enjoyed the process so much that this year Rajesh and Ramya launched RR Vintage & Classic Automobiles: Collection and Restoration, an outfit that brings back to life unused, rare vintage cars. Currently they have 25 cars in their collection and 35 cars from different parts of the country being restored.
They also have a miniature car museum with over 1000 cars at their home in Palakkad. Opened three years ago, the museum houses scale models in sizes 1: 8 to 1:64, pewter toys and realistic models of cars, motorcycles and trucks. The mobile screen, where each model is an exact replica of the original with the steering moving with the wheels, the bonnet opening with the battery, the replica of the engine, the doors opening to show the seats , opening the trunk to reveal the spare tire and the luggage space to have shock absorbers too, participates in many car exhibitions. As the Vice President of the Historic Car Association of India, Rajesh is committed to promoting the heritage of vintage cars of India.
It was a childhood fascination that led to this collection and a passion for restoring vintage cars. Last year, just before the pandemic, in February 2020, Rajesh completed the restoration of a 1952 Studebaker Bulletnose. The car won the award for hand-selected rare and historic cars at the 21 Gun Salute International Vintage Car Rally & Concours d’Elegance held at the Karma Lakelands golf course in Gurugram. Locked in a garage in Hyderabad for years, its restoration took over a year and a half.
Ramya’s involvement began after her marriage to Rajesh in 1995. One of her fondest memories is receiving a big bag of miniature cars from her stepmother when she arrived as a wife. A year later, when Rajesh began to seriously restore cars, she too felt the excitement build up in her.
“The first car was as good as junk. We were appalled at his condition, but slowly he was put into place. Rajesh has an eye for detail and examines every curve, paint line, pearls on the door, shape of the taillights, license plates, dashboard finish … ”says Ramya, adding that it has been a job. love for 25 years. She now knows each vintage car model, its value and can also identify cars in old movies.
Rajesh and Ramya both have fond memories of a 1988 Contessa model, which Rajesh owned when he was 18. “It had been sold. Later, when Rajesh began the restoration work, this was one of his discoveries. It has regained its former glory and is one of our most precious possessions, ”she said. Rajesh’s penchant for exploring the old markets, in every town they visit, helps them collect coins for restoration. “He knows what to choose from the garbage,” says Ramya.
After turning their passion into a business, they expanded their network to connect with vintage car enthusiasts around the world. Many royal families are now their clients. “The restoration can take a period of three to six months or even longer, depending on the condition of the car, and can cost between one and five lakh,” says Ramya. Some of the cars they are currently working on are Austin, Vauxhall Impala, and Mercedes Benz.
After they restore a car, the first thing Rajesh and Ramya do is travel to Udhagamandalam to present the vehicle at the Vintage and Classic Car Show, which takes place every year during the Flower Show in May. It is organized by the Nilgiris Vintage and Classic Cars Association (NIVICCA). “Driving is fun and takes a whole day as we stop frequently to check the various parameters of the car. Some have small gas tanks and need to be refueled. Driving attracts passers-by, because a vintage car always attracts crowds, ”says Ramya. Every Sunday, the couple take their two daughters for a ride in one of the cars in their stable.