As if the view of Octopussy Island nearby was not spectacular enough, the Oberoi Concours d’Elegance in Udaipur, India, aims to position itself as Asia’s most exclusive vintage car event. Its inaugural edition immerses attendees in an unparalleled world that makes one forget events like those in Pebble Beach or Lake Como.

The first attempt must be spot-on, as a second chance is rare. The organisers of the Oberoi Concours d’Elegance were more aware of this than ever. After years of planning, a classic car event was held in Udaipur, the Indian city of lakes, unlike any before. Nearly 100 of the country’s most expensive vintage cars, along with 30 historic motorcycles and many of the world’s most renowned car collectors, celebrated a vintage car event at Udaipur’s legendary Oberoi Hotel, a gathering unmatched globally.

The view of the dark blue Pichola Lake, surrounded by numerous palaces, is a surreal scene. Even before parts of the 1982 James Bond film Octopussy were shot in the palaces of Shiv Niwas, Taj Lake Palace, and especially the Octopussy Island Jag Mandir, better known as Lake Garden Palace, the three man-made lakes around the city of Udaipur, with its 670,000 inhabitants, were among Rajasthan’s most coveted destinations. The best view of the cinematic women’s island, once conquered by James Bond alias Roger Moore and its ruler Octopussy (Maud Adams), is from the hilly gardens of the opposite Oberoi Hotel. However, the surrounding panorama struggled this weekend against nearly 100 automotive classics, ranging from the 1939 BMW 328 to the 1933 Fiat Balilla, the 1952 Ansaldo Tipo F, and the 1937 Rolls-Royce All Weather Tourer.

More spectacular than ever, beauties like the 1935 red Delahaye 135 MS Roadster by Maharaj Duleep Singhji of Jodhpur or the 1937 Mercedes 540 K Cabriolet B in a unique blue-red paint from the Pranlal Bhogilal Collection in Mumbai were presented in the warm sunlight. This collection, India’s first official vehicle collection established in the late 1940s following independence, has grown to more than 100 notable classics worldwide. The automotive history of the subcontinent itself is unique. “Between 1955 and 1984, there were only three car manufacturers in India,” reflects curator Manvendra Singh Barwani, “Hindustan Motors, Premier Automobile, and Standard Motor Company. While many from this generation remember their first drives in one of these brands, nostalgia for cars from this era primarily comes from films.”

Some of these dream cars made a stylish stop at the Concours d’Elegance, where the Oberoi Hotel Group celebrated its 90th anniversary more than fittingly. The individual classes themselves could hardly have been more impressive, and vehicle classes like the cars of the Maharajas of Mysore or the mobilisation of the Indian masses are otherwise unseen in the Western world. Particularly, the late Maharaja Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar of Mysore, an enthusiastic collector, had countless unique models made, usually with specially crafted bodies. He often had six identical models of special designs made, making the term “doing the Mysore six” a popular phrase in India. A model like the 1949 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith Drophead Coupe in Carnation Red with red-grey interior is magnificent. This open tourer was used, among others, to chauffeur the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales during their visits to India.

Just a few metres away on the shores of the Pichola Lake, the contrast to models like the 1932 Austin Seven Tourer, the charismatic 1946 Hindustan 10, or a 1956 Fiat 1100 103 could not be starker. These vehicles represent the learning curve of Indian mobility beyond bicycles and motorcycles before the Maruti 800 Hatchback, known as Suzuki Alto, brought the face of modern India to the roads in 1983, and before the Tata Nano caused a global stir in 2015 as the world’s first affordable car. The first staging of such a classic event in the now most populous country in the world was a true spectacle in its combination of vehicles, Indian lifestyle, and the unique locality in Udaipur. It seems that alongside the most prestigious classic events in Pebble Beach and Lake Como, there will soon be a third event in the classic calendar playing in the first league. Namaste Oberoi!

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