By Sonya Rehman
A well-known classic car enthusiast from Karachi, Mohsin Ikram, first came across two decaying vintage cars parked outside the city’s picturesque Mohatta Palace in 1992. The cars, once owned by Fatima Jinnah, the sister of the country’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, were gleaming beauties during their glory days, but when discovered by Ikram, they were a rusted and rotten mess minus their accessories and spare parts, all of which had been stolen over the years.
But after fighting to renovate the 1955 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible and the 1965 Mercedes Benz 200, by approaching countless government officials, bureaucrats and judges over the course of 25 years, the Government of Sindh finally commissioned Ikram and his son, Ahsan, to spearhead the project of restoring the pieces of history from scratch.
“Quitting was never an option, I had been after these vehicles for years,” Ikram, the founder of an automobile fraternity, the Vintage and Classic Car Club of Pakistan (VCCCP) states. “Since 1992 so many governments have changed that I can’t even recall all the people I had to approach for this project.”
But a daunting task lay ahead of the motorheads. After bringing the cars to their workshop, Ikram Motor Works, one of the leading vintage car facilities in the country, the duo, along with their team first got to work by stripping down the vehicles’ bodies. “There were a lot of parts that were missing or had been stolen, so we had to import them from the US and Germany,” says Ikram, who mentions that the first few months of the project were solely spent on “denting the vehicles and getting the patchwork done.”
“Once that was completed, we treated the vehicle for rust using the best apoxy primers. When all the rust had been removed, the next step was paintwork using top of the line materials. Simultaneously, mechanical, electrical and upholstery work was being done on the cars,” Ikram explains, “After the vehicles were painted, we started my favourite part of the entire restoration process: the fitting work. It’s when you have to ‘dress up’ the vehicle with new, shiny parts. As a lot of hard work had been put into refurbishing all the original parts, this bit was especially fun and yet, extremely difficult.”
For Ahsan, renewing the original parts was a bit of a tricky process. “A lot of time and effort have been put into it as we didn’t want the vehicles to rust again, and also because we wanted to use the original parts; not copies made in China.”
Having restored over a hundred vehicles owned by kings and maharajas, including a 1929 Packard (owned by the Maharaja of Patiala), 1912 and 1916 Merryweather fire engines, the Quaid-e-Azam’s Rolls Royce Silver Wraith, a 1947 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet (once owned by the last King of Afghanistan), and countless others, Ahsan reveals that the most thrilling part of their recent project was test driving Fatima Jinnah’s cars in Karachi.
Currently on display at the Quaid-e-Azam House Museum in the city, Ikram discloses that the duo will be keeping a close eye on the restored vehicles.
“We will be maintaining and driving them from time to time to make sure nothing ever happens to them again. They are our country’s heritage on wheels and it’s our job to preserve them for the younger generations to come.”
For the future, both father and son dream about opening up Pakistan’s first, one-of-a-kind museum for vintage and classic cars, in addition to persuading the government to allow for the import of classic cars into the country.
“It’s a tragedy that one cannot import vintage and classic vehicles,” states Ahsan, “Because of the law there are only a limited number of cars in the country that are sold for exorbitant prices. It’s nearly impossible for a young Pakistani to purchase a vintage or classic car here. Our country has yet to tap into this mammoth industry.”