Past perfect: A collector in love with restoring beauties of yesteryear

The man behind this heritage museum goes about in search of abandoned and battered cars and works for hours to make them look stunning and as good as new

Past perfect: A collector in love with restoring beauties of yesteryear

Syed Wajid

Can you imagine an airplane, a real one, in a bedroom, an Austin Clifton 1926 and the iconic Ford jeep 1942 used in the second World War sitting flanked by classic bikes in the drawing room?

It appears more of an exotic world rekindling the sepia memories; just one of a kind, which houses hundred years old vintage cars, bikes of the colonial times, gramophones, jukeboxes, grandfather clocks, Elliot of London antique clocks et al. This exotic small museum wafts an aesthetic sense treasured and watchfully juxtaposed for more than two and half a decades.

The man behind this heritage museum goes about in search of abandoned and battered cars and works precious hours to make them look stunning and as good as new.

Sandeep Katari way back in 1987, bought Hindustan 14 for just rupees 4,500 and toiled to bring the machine into glory and even drove that car for years. He bought a 1962 Fiat from Gujarat. His intense obsession took him almost to every corner of the country. He has an eye for detail.

The collector Katari is passionately in love with collecting rare pieces of yesteryear; this antiquity gives him an emotional high. His school-time infatuation with cars matured into an eternal and platonic love and eventually ended in a happy marriage with his rarest of rare collection. His aesthetic senses sharpened and consuming passion for driving bizarre ancient cars home gripped the guy of English literature intact.

"It's been a kind of obsession with me; I travelled far and wide across the country for long 25 years and collected a whole lot of junk of rare pieces. I have discovered a plethora of alleys and labyrinths of towns like Kolkatta, Goa and Uttar Pradesh's tiny and remote hamlets."

Sandeep Katari set off in quest of nirvana, he thought he would find in his pursuits. Scouting around cities to feed his addiction to the century old cars and bikes lying in a dilapidated condition and bringing home and restoring them gives him a real kick, Sandeep gushes.

"I work on a car for good one year to restore its beauty by breathing a new life into it without tampering much with the machine's basics. Every single vintage car has an interesting tale to recount," the collector, whose prized possession is Fiat Class Piccolo 1919 which is absolutely a rare vintage car; just two in India, speaks.

Past perfect: A collector in love with restoring beauties of yesteryear

This automobile heritage at Delhi's Jaunapur village housing the beauty of the era gone by needs a sprawling place for displaying its unending collections.

The 1890 horse drawn 12 feet long palanquin or sedan chair originally manufactured by Jarvis & Sons adds luster to the display. Besides, there is a dandy chair which was carried in for travel in the hills, a similar chair is displayed at Sir Jim Corbett museum in Chhoti Haldwani.

Katari has restored many regal classic cars that included Rolls Royce, Cadillac and Austin, mostly for clients, which keeps body and soul together. He has worked on three Rolls Royce cars from 1928, 1931 and 1930.

"Sometimes, it takes a good deal of time say two to three years to restore these beauties for the fact the components needed for restoration are rare so are the experts and engineers, there are not many skilled mechanics handling this kind of work." Katari who finds this uphill task real challenging avers.

He loves all the cars that have come to him; his 1937 Buick is extra special. That was in tatters, almost in pieces, barely recognizable as a car. It came from a client in Bihar. It took him a year-and-a-half to put it back together. Then, there was a carriage-like car, a Bow Top Wagon from 1816 that was displayed at Auto Expo 2010. It belonged to a client from Gujarat. These cars travel just a few kilometers on fuel, so it is only for shows and events.

These old cars have wooden interiors; the idiosyncratic collector personally handles the interiors and styling. His fleet of vintage vehicles includes many two-wheelers including a 1926 Harley Davidson and a 1954 Lambretta scooter; as well as a 1919 Fiat that has only three doors—the driver’s side is closed as it holds a stepney—and whose bonnet opens with a latch, just two left in India, is among his most prized possessions.

He has an opportunity to learn new things while working on such machines. More of a carriage than a car, it harks back to an era when women were not seen in public. “It was used for taking the bride to the bridegroom’s place during a wedding. The women were taken in carriages where they could look out but the people outside could not look in,” Sandeep says.

Earlier, he would go to old markets everywhere to collect automobiles and spare parts now the market comes to him.

Katari has this artistic treasure trove on his three-storeyed building, which accommodates an ocean of a bizarre and rare collection. This started as a hobby; from collecting headlights, bumpers, number plates and logos to music boxes, chairs, tables, old photographs, grandfather clocks, newspaper clippings dating back to the 1790s and even a micro-light airplane of the eighties that sits in his bedroom, has become an integral part of his life.

This flying machine named powered glider flew for sporting activities. "It stayed with a scrap dealer lying dumped with its engine ceased. I paid 35 grand for this piece of mangled metal; I spent one whole year working day and night on it to make it fly and it did. You cannot fly without the permission of aviation authorities. However, it is a good specimen of a mode of transportation," Sandeep discloses.

Over the past 25 years, Katari has collected a wide range of vintage stuff, mostly around his passion for automobiles and other mechanical items—kerosene fans, folding bikes, horse drawn carriage and India centric logos of cars is beyond belief.

Besides an old jet black Ambassador 1960 enhancing the beauty of the studio, the other extraordinary collection of vintage motorcycles comprisesMatchless 1952, 350cc, Sunbeam 1926, 500cc, Triumph 1948, 350cc and the unique Harley Davidson 1926, 350cc which distinguishes the collector; he is a way ahead of the pack.

Most of his collections came when he travelled across India looking to buy vintage cars. Katari’s collection predominantly from the Victorian era tells a fairy tale.

He shows a General Motors ad in vernacular Gujarati language published in the 1920s to woo the royalty of the state. That’s a serious piece of automotive history by far. He also picked up a small portable generator that was used to charge batteries. This generator runs on petrol and was used during the First World War.

These pieces are way beyond an MRP. “You can’t fix a price to them. These have mostly been impetuous purchases without any premeditated business act,” he explains.

The cash-strapped collector demands that the government should help him with a space where this massive collection of rare art can be displayed and educate people particularly the youngsters about knowing the history and other aspects pertaining to the rich heritage thereof. Indian government or Delhi government should help him get a window on exhibiting the rich heritage of the country.

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