Quattro Conversations with Aniruddh Kasliwal

If you are ever in South Bombay, early on a Sunday morning, swing by Horniman Circle. You might run into a red 1952 Cadillac, a blue Packard Clipper, a Buick or even a Beetle in immaculate condition. Aniruddh Kasliwal and a group of car enthusiasts religiously drive down to the Starbucks in their vintage and classic cars every Sunday for coffee and car-talk. Unlike some collectors, who insist on locking up their cars in temperature and humidity controlled garages, these guys believe the best way to enjoy their cars are to drive them. And they do so, unapologetically.

Nothing can keep Aniruddh away from his Sunday ritual and so our cup of coffee is scheduled for six in the morning. Rolling up in his Audi Q3, incidentally the first to be delivered in Mumbai (being active and well-known in car circles has its benefits), he looked chirpier than most do at noon. His brother says it’s the excitement of driving one of the beauties from his garage that gets him out of bed before dawn even on the weekends – now that’s a petrol head if there ever was one.

During the week Aniruddh runs Anoushka Gourmet and the compound of his office in the Andheri East suburb of Mumbai looks like any other office premise. But walk round to the back and you are greeted by a collection of 15 vintage cars — most in running condition and an Audi S4 that is his other weekend passion. His eyes got a little brighter and his smile a little wider as we walked into the shed where the cars were parked.

Now the general perception is that vintage cars are an expensive hobby. But Aniruddh believes otherwise. “If you treat it like art, and you want to keep it in your porch, it is expensive.” But he doesn’t treat his cars like art. He treats his cars, like cars and makes them do what they were designed to do. Run. “Running them is practical”, he says, shrugging nonchalantly. There is less wear and tear if the gears and cogs are kept moving. And when he says he runs them, he doesn’t mean starting them up and driving them in circles for a few minutes. Oh, he runs them more than most people run their modern day cars. Apart from the 80km Sunday coffee run (which he is itching to set off for!), he takes his cars out for some properly long drives. “They behave very differently in the cities and very differently on highways”. He says that you feel the nuances of each car the more you drive it, and it is these nuances that make you want to drive the car more and more. “How many kilometres have I done? Well, our small group clocks around 4000 to 5000 kilometres, over a ten day drive every year”, he says in his usual matter-of-fact manner. The last drive he did was with the Clipper all the way to Rajasthan and back. He says the roads to Pune, Nasik and even the highway
to Goa are especially enjoyable and on the anvil is another long distance drive to Kutch. You get an idea of how much he drives his cars.

My immediate question was, “What happens if something breaks?” Chuckling at my naivety, he says he doesn’t do much more than checking oil, water and fuel. “I’ve never had to put a car on a flatbed and bring it back home.” This is very different from the impression that I, and I’m sure most people, have of vintage cars. I always believed vintage cars to be a hobby that only the wealthy could indulge in, but Aniruddh explains that the biggest cost of owning one of these timeless machines is the restoration process. Once the car is upto a certain spec, it needs nothing more than routine maintenance. He says that maintaining one of his vintages costs about the same as maintaining a modern day car!

One look around his garage and you know he is a man who appreciates aesthetics. “It isn’t so much about power, or power to weight ratios, or engine displacement. It is mainly the design and aesthetics of a car that draw me to it”, he says. He seems to prefer cars with two doors or rare body styles, to their traditional four door counterparts. His 1947 Studebaker is a coupé. The Beetle he owns is a ragtop, with a sliding cloth roof. He has a couple of Buicks and even a Rolls Royce somewhere in that huge shed of his. His appreciation of good aesthetics extends to the interiors of a car as well. His 1952 Cadillac Series 62 is one of the anniversary models and was once owned by the Maharaja of Gwalior. This car has power windows, a power top and power seats. Power seats! In a car which is more than 60 years old! However his favourite car, by far, is the 1946 Packard Clipper Club Sedan, the rare two-door version of a four-door icon. He couldn’t stop talking about the car, right from what the engine is like, how great the transmission feels and how it was one of the first cars to start the trend of having the indicator on the steering column. He likes each of his cars to have an element of uniqueness, something that sets them apart from the rest. “But they have to be practical, and usable”, he reminds me.

Which is where his love for Audi comes in. As our conversation progresses to his modern ones, I ask him what it is about Audis that appeals to him the most. “They come in a   perfect package”, he said . He believes it ticks all the right boxes when it comes to comfort, price and after sales service. Being a sucker for good design, he began talking about the ergonomics of the car. “Everything is within arms reach, I don’t have to run all around the car figuring out where what is”, he chuckles. He calls the Audi S4 “the most brilliant stroke of an artist’s impression”. And here I was thinking about the supercharged V6 and 328bhp. Aniruddh talks about how smoothly the lines flow from the front lip to the rear spoiler, how there’s just that right bit of extra muscle and sporty details to differentiate it from the regular A4 while not making it too ostentatious. But just because he appreciates design, doesn’t mean he ignores what is under the hood. He knows how potent that engine is and uses the S4 to get his regular adrenaline rush. And this S4 is also the first S4 to be delivered in Mumbai.

The Audi Q3, meanwhile, is his daily driver. He has done nearly 70,000 kilometres in it and it has never troubled him. He is convinced that it is one of the most practical cars in the country today. “Even though it is Audi’s smallest SUV in India, it feels voluminous on the inside.” This, he feels, is due to the well thought out interiors that blend design and aesthetics to give a great sense of comfort.

If you are wondering what Aniruddh does, he started Anoushka Gourmet six years ago. Apart from cars, Aniruddh is extremely passionate about food. “The food scene in India is hotter than a frying pan”, he chuckles.  Anoushka Gourmet sells ready-made gravies and marinades and targets large institutions that find labour expensive and are looking for cost-effective alternatives. He realises the F&B space is quickly evolving and is keen on being a big player in it. On the business side he says that when starting something new, getting investment in India is much harder than it is abroad. But the market is getting better and investors are welcoming entrepreneurs more willingly now.

Being petrol heads, the conversation soon steers back to cars though. I ask him what his first memory of a car was. “A Logonda V12 Rapide”, he replies unblinking. When prodded, he recalls being taken to the vintage car show at the Royal Western India Turf Club when he was five or six years old and how that began his love affair with cars. “The shows have stopped, but the car still exists”, he tells me with a wry smile. That is when I find out he’s judged a few vintage car shows himself. Now I’ve never been to one, and I was curious about the criteria on which a car is judged. “The Indian parameters are very different from the international ones”, he says. As judges, they look at the quality of workmanship put into the restoration and whether the owner did it, or whether it was commissioned to a restoration shop. Then they look at how many indigenous parts available in India were used, but keeping in tune with what came with the original car. The cars have a basic spec check, and as long as everything is followed in the spec chart, they’re fine.

The sunlight streaming into his big garage is our sign to finish off our coffee and let Aniruddh hit the road. But I have one last question on how to get started in the vintage car world. “Start with something simple, instead of going for something expensive”, comes the prudent reply. And with a quick handshake, he wishes me the best and … hands me the key to the S4!

“Come and join us for cars and coffee”, says Aniruddh as  my jaw hits the ground. “Cars are meant to be driven, especially beauties such as these”, he reassures me. Normally I’d be wary of putting pedal to metal in somebody else’s pride and joy but early on a Sunday, roads in Mumbai are relatively empty and there’s a supercharged V6 hulking under the hood of that very handsome Audi. Of course I say yes and my eyes pop at the fury the S4 is capable of unleashing, stick it in Dynamic mode and the exhaust note hardens and the car takes on a proper sportscar vibe. Yet it remains comfortable and usable over Mumbai’s roads and you never have to grit your teeth. I restrain myself from excess but despite that I get to South Mumbai so quickly that I have the time to howl up and down the Marine Drive before Aniruddh arrives and introduces me to the wonderful world of coffee and cars.

Now I know what to do whenever I find myself in Mumbai on a weekend.

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