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Old 6th August 2009, 18:14   #1
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Default A lightning quick restoration - '48 Chevy Fleetmaster

This thread documents the story of a lightning quick restoration that I was involved with.

Devika Rani was probably India’s first Bollywood superstar. She starred in several blockbuster movies in the twenties and thirties. She was the great-grand-niece of Rabindanath Tagore. Married to the noted film maker, Himanshu Rai, both founded the ‘Bombay Talkies’ studio. After her husband passed away in 1940, Devika Rani fought for control over her Studio, but after it began to fade, she married the Russian artist Svetoslav Roerich and settled down in the outskirts of Bangalore, at Tataguni estate, a forested glen. Among her many honours, she was the first recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award.

When the Roerichs settled down in Bangalore, they acquired a 1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster, which they used regularly to shuttle between their estate and a city residence. The car ferried their famous friends, which included Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The Russian premier Alexei Kosygin is also said to have used the car.
Following the death of the Roerichs in the early nineties, the Tataguni estate was embroiled in disputes over the ownership of the property, with several parties claiming that they had purchased parts of it. These disputes are still in various courts.
In 2003, the Russian Department of Culture contacted the State government of Karnataka to begin preparations for the celebration of Svetoslav Roerich’s centenary, which was due on 17 October, 2004. The then Ambassador of Russia visited the State and inspected the premises of the estate. Special permissions were taken from courts to undertake restoration of the estate, pending resolution of the ownership disputes. The Ambassador was an old friend of the Roerichs; he had had a long association with India and was posted here several decades back as a young officer. He distinctly remembered an old car in the estate and sought to know whether it could be traced. The police was alerted –and discovered the car right under their nose – it was languishing on a busy public road outside a police station – it had also been involved in a criminal dispute over ownership. The Ambassador went to see the car and was shocked speechless by its condition. He mentioned the shocking condition of the car at a wrap up meeting with the Chief Minister and said that he would dearly love for it to be saved, as part of the restorations preceding the centenary celebration.
It was then that I was called in. I work for the government and my interest in old cars was treated with amused tolerance. In the government, hobbies are generally treated as eccentricities! Imagine my surprise when I was called in to attend the meeting and asked if I could help restoring the car! I inspected it, and my heart sank. Fifteen years in the rain had not done the car any good. Yet, I reckoned that I could get it in shape in a year’s time and agreed to take up the job. An application was made by the government to the court to release the car on an indemnity bond. But it was a full year later, that we had an order in our hands to authorize us to remove the car for restoration. We started work on August 17 2004. The deadline was October 17 2004. This thread is to document both the process as also to display photographs of the restoration. I hope this will be of interest to team-BHPians.
For starters, here is a photo of the car, before restoration started. And pictures of Devika Rani, painted by her husband and of a young Svetoslav.
I’ll keep uploading photos every day.
Attached Thumbnails
A lightning quick restoration - '48 Chevy Fleetmaster-zzj_picture-3.jpg  

A lightning quick restoration - '48 Chevy Fleetmaster-zzj_picture-1.jpg  

A lightning quick restoration - '48 Chevy Fleetmaster-zzj_picture-2.jpg  

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Old 6th August 2009, 20:06   #2
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Quite touching! Please let us know the later events with pictures. Incidentally, Devika rani also lived in Matunga, Mumbai to pursue her film career.Raj Kapoor was a child then and the Kapoor patriarch Prithviraj lived just next door to the actress.It is told that Raj Kapoor used to quietly enter Devika Rani's house , open their refrigator and munch good eatables from inside the fridge and move back discreetly.
The Fleetmaster's pitiable condition and its resurrection are news-worthy.
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Old 6th August 2009, 20:19   #3
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Wow this has the makings of a blockbuster Thread, Romance, intrigue, mystery et all. Please continue we await with bated breath.
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Old 6th August 2009, 22:22   #4
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Wow!! Another restoration story.
I wonder how the whole process was managed within 2 months! Great job tonrag and welcome to the forum.
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Old 6th August 2009, 22:26   #5
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Wow! What a start to a great thread! I'm addicted to this thread already!! Please continue soon!
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Old 6th August 2009, 22:54   #6
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Five star thread ! tonrag, we're waiting for more !!
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Old 6th August 2009, 23:08   #7
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lovely thread. an old time charm. did not know that mr Kapoor did that hehehe
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Old 7th August 2009, 00:15   #8
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Every vintage/classic automobile has a story to say, some are heart pounding & some glorious. Whatever the story may be, if it falls in to the right hands, then it will shape up to a nicety. This poor car has a glorious history and a terrible past. Now let us hope that it turns out to be a head turner, I am eager to see how it progresses and hope to applaud the outcome.

Welcome on board TONRAG and thanks for bringing up such an interesting post. I wish the fleet master all the best the world could have offered. Hope this picture (found on the net) matches the final outcome.

BTW BUDDY...A PROMISE IS A PROMISE....0015 Hrs & STILL WAITING FOR THE UPDATES.
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Last edited by chanu : 7th August 2009 at 00:25. Reason: humor intended
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Old 7th August 2009, 01:07   #9
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Congrats on getting a chance to restore such a prominent and important car!

Ironically, it took a foreign dignitary to rouse the local authorities from their slumber to pump life back into this long-forgotten car!

I really hope it turned out well and that atleast now this car would enjoy the attention it lost!

Awaiting for pics. too!
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Old 7th August 2009, 01:21   #10
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Hi Tonrag,

This is a nice project but think about the situation.
As pictured, the car is not very bad. You can see the case number scribbled on the window. And the rear mudguard damage look like rough towing, probably by the cops when taking the car in.
Inspite of the chief ministers intervention, the order to release the car to you took one year. What will happen when the car is ready? Who will own it? Who is spending on the restoration?
At my end we are just working on a similar car, but a 2 door coupe. First I suggest that you get onto the engine and see if parts are needed there. And order a full set of rubbers from Steele in America.
Good luck. If you need some help just PM me.
Cheers harit
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Old 7th August 2009, 18:08   #11
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Harit Sir, this is an Aug-Oct '04 incident.
So by now, the car should be 5 years down it's post-restoration life, breathing air, sipping fuel and hopefully in the hands of a genuine caretaker.
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Old 7th August 2009, 18:53   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tonrag View Post
This thread documents the story of a lightning quick restoration that I was involved with.
Good to have you here tonrag. Great thing you did, bringing back to life a
car with a terrific history !

Last edited by Technocrat : 7th August 2009 at 18:54. Reason: fixed quotes
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Old 7th August 2009, 19:03   #13
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The whole thing sounds like a dream and its possible in India?? Amazing. I am hooked.
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Old 7th August 2009, 19:17   #14
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Eagerly awating more updates;
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Old 7th August 2009, 19:31   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by harit View Post
At my end we are just working on a similar car, but a 2 door coupe. First I suggest that you get onto the engine and see if parts are needed there. And order a full set of rubbers from Steele in America.
Good luck. If you need some help just PM me.
Cheers harit
harit would like to hear more details about the coupe. Was it from Pune? I mean the first owner. If thats true, did the coupe have a canvas hood and was metallic steel grey in colour, originally? If all the answers are YES then the car belonged to my near relatives in Pune. I have totally forgotten its registration number.
I am sure there are chances, because there may have been only a very few Fleetmaster coupes in India. Do post the pictures.
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