The nature of the automobile as a consumer product has changed over the years. From having been considered a luxury intended only for the elite, it is now considered as a convenience and a product to be disposable after a few years of use.
However, for the real auto buffs, iconic cars from days past, when plush leather seats and hardwood interiors were common, are indeed priceless collectibles.
In the subcontinent during the early 20th century, only the maharajas and nawabs were privileged enough to own cars. Some were passed down as family heirlooms, although unfortunately, most have either been lost with time or are in extremely derelict conditions.
Of the limited gene pool of vintage cars that survive in Pakistan, the most notable are the British-era 1919 Merryweather fire engines in Peshawar, the recently restored Fatima Jinnah Cadillac at Flag Staff House in Karachi and the two Cadillac used by the Pakistan Army Chief of Staff on display in the Army Museum in Rawalpindi.
Recently, the holy grail of luxury Mercedes automobiles, a 1970 Pullman 600 used by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as well as notable foreign dignitaries, was rescued from a questionable government auction. The car, one of 428 limousines in the world, valued at an estimated $451,787, has been restored and is now displayed at the Islamabad Monument Museum for public viewing.
Other notable vehicles in private collections across Pakistan include a 1924 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, once part of the Nawab of Bahawalpur’s stable, a very desirable Cadillac v16, the super-rare Rolls-Royce armoured car and the Crosley hunting van.
The great disappointment is that although there exists a deep passion for these automobiles (with considerable money and time invested in them by enthusiasts), a dedicated automotive museum, where all these pearls may be stringed together, is yet to be established.
A museum with a rotating display, perhaps similar to the PAF Museum in Karachi, under the care and supervision of vintage car professionals would ensure that Pakistan’s automotive heritage is preserved for posterity.
By Haris Aziz