Somewhere up there Fatima Jinnah must be smiling seeing her 1955 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible and 1965 Mercedes Benz 200 looking as good as new.
Even those who had seen them in their ruined state, and thought restoring them to be a lost cause, cannot believe their eyes.
It has been 21 months of hard work for the classic car afficianado Mohsin Ikram, founder and president of the Vintage and Classic Car Club of Pakistan and Motorheads Pakistan. He is the one who first discovered the two cars at Mohatta Palace in 1992.
At the time, the cars were not in too bad a shape as they were parked in a garage. “Even the stickers on their engines were intact,” he says. But then the Sindh government took on the renovation of Mohatta Palace (before it was turned into the current museum) and both the heritage vehicles were pulled out from the garage and left outside under the open sky.
The labourers, who had no idea of their worth, would climb on them and sit on their bonnets to eat their meals. There was also nothing stopping thieves from stealing the cars’ parts.
Word of what had happened reached Ikram when another collector of classic cars was overheard boasting about how he had broken the dashboard of one of the cars to yank out its clock and other accessories. That’s when Ikram hurried to Mohatta Palace to see for himself what was going on there. He found the vintage cars in terrible condition. Both cars were missing their wheels and rims, along with several other parts.
“With their wheels gone, I found them standing on bricks. It was a painful sight. I wrote to the then governor of Sindh to kindly look into the matter,” he says.
Restoring and relocating Fatima Jinnah’s cars was a labour of love for a classic-car lover
Realising that the cars were a national asset, there was an order from the Governor House to remove the cars from Mohatta Palace immediately and for them to be taken into possession by the Sindh Archives Department.
“Of course, I was glad that someone took notice but then the people carrying out the orders literally dragged the cars, which were without wheels, mind you, to the Sindh Archives building causing them further damage,” Ikram says.
That was when he thought of letting people know about what was happening to Fatima Jinnah’s cars. He wrote a letter for Dawn’s ‘Letters to the Editor’ section, which prompted several more letters from other readers who were as shocked as himself over the treatment meted out to the cars. The government was embarrassed. It decided to restore the cars.
But who would do it? Being a classic-cars enthusiast and having restored over a hundred of them, Ikram felt confident enough to volunteer for the job. So passionate is he about classic cars that, at first, he even offered to do the work for free. But he was not alone, as the Sindh Archives Department was also receiving offers from other people.
Things stood at a standstill for a few more years until another well-meaning citizen of Karachi filed a petition in the Sindh High Court for the handover of the cars for restoration to a capable party.
The government then offered tenders and Ikram’s offer seemed the most reliable, which got him and his team the job of consultants.
“I must thank Sharmila Farooqui for giving the initial approval for restoration of the cars after seeing my application. I would also like to thank the current Minister for Culture Syed Sardar Ali Shah for his help. And a very special thanks goes to Director of Sindh Archives Roshan Ali Kanasro, who remained extremely helpful to me throughout, till the cars were complete,” he says.
“The cars were transported to the National Museum where we started the renovation work on them,” says Ikram. It was not the cars alone which needed work. The two garages at the museum also needed electric wiring for lighting and power supply for the mechanical tools and machines to work.
That done, work on the cars started simultaneously. The body fittings, including the seats, mouldings, bumpers, lights, etc., were removed first, followed by the removing of the body panels such as fenders, doors and the bonnet. Next, they turned their attention to the body, the hull or chassis, which had to be restored first as they are like the foundations of a building.
The Cadillac was golden in colour when Ikram first saw it at Mohatta Palace. But working on it before the patchwork, he realised that was not its original colour, which happened to be a buttery cream shade. Restoring it, he gave it its original colour. The Mercedes was white originally and so it is now.
It took less than two years — 21 months precisely from August 8, 2016 to May 7, 2018 — for the work on the cars to be completed and for them to be brought to the Quaid-i-Azam House Museum, or Flagstaff House as it is known.
“The work could have been completed sooner had I taken the alternate route of getting other cars of the same models and simply taken pieces from them to replace with whatever was needed for the body in these classics,” Ikram says. “But then they wouldn’t have been Fatima Jinnah’s cars,” he smiles.
It was a proud moment for the classic-car lover to bring the cars to the Quaid-i-Azam House Museum, after restoration last week. “They arrived here on their own power. They are perfectly roadworthy,” he says.
“There had been some talk earlier, around 2006, for them to be restored and displayed at an army museum or at a park named after Miss Fatima Jinnah in F-9 Islamabad,” he shares. “But I always wanted them to be put on display here at the Quaid-i-Azam House Museum as this is where Fatima Jinnah also lived and the road on which it is built is also named Fatima Jinnah Road. Besides, these cars are a part of Karachi’s heritage. They should stay in this city,” he says.
Both the Mercedes and the Cadillac have now been put on display in a showcase-like glass garage at Flagstaff House. “I had the display garage built myself. It is based on the Quaid-i-Azam House Museum architecture,” says Ikram. “I made sure that the stone used for it, too, was the same as that used in the construction of the house,” he adds.
On being asked if the cars wouldn’t gather dust and be driven to ruin again just the way they did at Mohatta Palace, Ikram smiles and shakes his head. “I will make sure it doesn’t happen again. I will be in charge of their maintenance for as long as I live and, after me, I have taken care that others will look after them.”
The writer is a member of staff. She tweets @HasanShazia
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, May 13th, 2018