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The homecoming: Lal Pari, 73-year-old vintage car from Ahmedabad, reaches London

Seventy-three days after they began, Gujarati businessman Daman Thakore (50), his 75-year-old father Deval and 21-year-old daughter Devanshi have returned to a beloved family member’s place of birth. This family member just happens to be a bright red, vintage convertible – a 1950 MG YT – affectionately christened ‘Lal Pari’ or the Red Angel.

Having set off from their home in Ahmedabad, and officially flagged off from Mumbai’s Churchgate on August 15, they have travelled over 12,000 km through 12 countries, including Croatia, Italy and Turkey, finally making their way to London last week. The U.K. capital is an hour shy of Abingdon in Oxfordshire, the original home of the MG cars, a British automotive brand. The Thakores’ car is one of 900 that were made, and among only about 150-200 surviving.

In front of the Shah Mosque in Iran.
| Photo Credit:
Vinay Panjwani

The seed for this thrilling adventure was planted many decades ago. Thakore’s grandfather and father were both avid roadsters themselves. Since the age of two, Thakore has been packed into cars and taken on trips across the length and breadth of India, including to Amarnath, Kanyakumari, Arunachal Pradesh and beyond. His grandfather was a mechanic and “the first insurance surveyor for accidents in Gujarat”, and so professionally drove across the State. And his father Deval “has easily driven over 10 lakh-plus kilometres” so far.

“Road travel is in my genes,” says Thakore, who has gone with his family on road trips in over 25 countries. “Since my college days in Canada in the 90s, I’ve also been flying to different countries, hiring a car from the airport and driving around,” he adds.

The many faces of a 1950 MG YT

Lal Pari came to be a part of his family through Thakore’s childhood obsession with Commander Caractacus’ crazy car from the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. “In 1979, my parents took me to watch this movie and I was completely fascinated by the car. My mother nudged my father into getting a similar car after seeing the gleam on my face each time the car was on the screen. Quite quickly, she’d convinced him and we had a bright red MG YT. It has gone from being a weekend wagon for picnics to my swanky college ride to the car I drove on my wedding day,” he says.

“My mother, a wonderful storyteller, had this way of making the car come alive during my bedtime stories as a child, and even gave the car her name,” Thakore says. And it seems that these very stories and memories have been the fuel for this transcontinental trip.

In Cappadocia, Turkey.

In Cappadocia, Turkey.
| Photo Credit:
Vinay Panjwani

After spending a couple of years restoring the car to its original factory standard, including the upholstery, Thakore made it his daily ride a decade ago. “And since then, the car has won a host of awards at vintage car showcases around India. Having restored it, I wondered why not drive it back to its hometown,” he says, explaining the road trip. “It was the coming together of our family’s love for road travel, and the car, and the challenge of being the first to complete this journey in a classic car.”

To record their historic journey for posterity, Thakore has collaborated with photographer and filmmaker Vinay Panjwani to create “a world-class documentary film” that he hopes will come to a streaming platform soon. The family also modified a Tata Winger caravan to fit the camera equipment — named ‘Lal Pari Ki Saheli’. This accompanying car was driven by vintage car expert Mukesh Bararia, on board for his technical wisdom. It was also packed with spare parts for the car, an induction stove, and tiffin carriers and Tupperware filled with homemade Gujarati snacks and staples.

Small town charm

The drive hasn’t been at the speed of light: Lal Pari has a top speed of 60 km/h, but they mostly drove at 35 km/h, which turned out to be more fruitful than frustrating. “One of the main motivations for this trip was a desire to slow down, to enjoy the scenic views around us, to be present. It was a great feeling,” says Thakore. “This also meant we could do only 200-odd kilometres on any given day, so we had to stop at smaller towns along the way – we were never in a big city right away. And being in these towns gave us a different perspective about the countries along the route,” he says.

Over the course of their travels, the Thakore family has learnt to adhere to a simple scheme. “Everything was determined by the car. Sometimes, Lal Pari would break down, or have other problems, and so if we made plans even two days in advance, invariably, we wouldn’t make it. So, we learned to play the ball as it came to us, and we didn’t predetermine any shot,” says Thakore.

Daman Thakore fixing up ‘Lal Pari’.

Daman Thakore fixing up ‘Lal Pari’.
| Photo Credit:
Vinay Panjwani

Tensions soar when plans aren’t met. But the plan here was singular: to get to London. Along the way, they dropped in at the Swiss Transport Museum on an hour’s notice; the car’s axle broke in Croatia; they skipped driving through Austria, Germany, and most of Switzerland to participate in a vintage car racing competition in Modena, Italy; popped up in local newspapers in Turkey; and ducked into podcasting and television studios. Passersby have honked hello and they’ve interacted with numerous people who were simply excited to see the car.

“In Iran, we arrived through the city of Bandar Abbas, and upon reaching, we were surprised to learn that there was a Hindu temple from the 19th century dedicated to Lord Vishnu. And so we had to stop by,” says Thakore’s daughter Devanshi, speaking to the long relationship between India and Iran. “It seemed like most people along the route knew all the old Hindi film songs. And in Iran, we had an intimate performance of old Hindi hits with a local musician.”

Says Daman, “All along the route, people were generous. They’d run up to give us local fruits and berries, or dates and limes in Iran. And take selfies with Lal Pari. Or they would be concerned about the car and put us in touch with mechanics. It was heartwarming.”

Rested, Lal Pari will be shipped back to Mumbai by the first week of December, before being driven home to Ahmedabad, and going back to being Thakore’s daily ride. And maybe, we will see her bright red self starring on a streaming platform soon. Watch out!

The author is Bengaluru-based poet and writer.

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