Vintage vroom!

KARACHI

Looking at them, you’d think that they are the well-preserved vintage cars of some lucky owner. Gleaming like jewels, the two cars, a lemon-yellow 1955 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible and a cream-coloured 1965 Mercedes Benz 200, are on view for the public at the Quaid-i-Azam House Museum in Karachi. But the well-preserved angle, or the lack of it, is where this story begins. These antique cars once belonged to Miss Fatima Jinnah, the beloved sister of the founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and subsequently fell into a state of rusting downfall until they were rescued by a car lover.

The joyous culmination of a 20-year dream by Mohsin Ikram, a car enthusiast from Karachi, a city which is also the final resting place of the visionary siblings, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Fatima Jinnah, the two vintage vehicles now form a part of Pakistan’s national treasure.

It was no easy task to bring the cars back to their pristine glory but Ikram was not a man to let go of his dream easily.

“I have been struggling for the last 20 years to bring our national heritage to life. As a car lover, it pained me to see these beautiful cars, the heirlooms of the Jinnah family, going to waste,” Mohsin Ikram told Gulf News.

Having been interested in exotic cars since his teenage days, Ikram’s finest moment of delight was when he learnt of the two cars.

“How could I let [the opportunity] go?” Ikram, 53, founder and president of the Vintage and Classic Car Club of Pakistan (VCCCP) and Motorheads Pakistan, said.

Left out in the open

He first discovered the cars in Karachi’s iconic Mohatta Palace museum back in 1993 after which he had been urging the government to support efforts to restore them.

“I have been writing letters to the culture and heritage department of every ruling party in the last 21 years offering my services to renovate the cars but there was no response.”

His prayers were finally answered when some concerned citizens filed a petition in the Sindh High Court for the restoration of the two cars.

“When I first saw the cars in 1993, they were still in satisfactory condition, with even the stickers on the engines intact. In 1997, during the renovation of the Mohatta Palace, workers apathetically shifted the cars from the garage and left them outside in the open air from where most of the parts were stolen,” Ikram said.

And when finally Ikram got the restoration contract from the Culture Department of the Government of Sindh in 2016, the condition of the cars devastated him.

They looked so ruined that he had no clue where to begin.

“No local car restorer would dare touch them because of the degree of damage. Years of dust, rain, sun and saline breezes from the sea had rendered the cars brittle as twigs.”

Steely resolve

But in his heartbreak lay coiled a steely resolve. “I was certain that I can bring these cars back to their former prestige,” said Ikram.

With a team of 10 people working under his supervision, the restoration process, despite the cars’ condition, took less than two years, from August 2016 to May 7, 2018.

The two cars were stripped down to their frames.

“We rebuilt each and every part from scratch,” Ikram said. “We managed to restore the intact parts and the missing ones were purchased from the US,” he said.

Talking about the colour of the cars, he said, “The Cadillac was a shade of light yellow whereas the Mercedes was off-white and my team has worked hard to restore the original shade to a near-exact match.”

The results are overwhelming, Ikram says.

“They look exactly like how I imagined them all these years and now that they are on display, everyone can see how beautiful my dream was,” said Ikram, expressing gratitude to the Sindh Culture Department.

Will the cars ever be auctioned?

“You cannot put a price tag on these cars. They are priceless,” Ikram said.