Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city, as the Mercedes-Maybach S560 with an 8888 number plate turns into a fort-like bungalow in Godawari, the gates open to admit the modern beauty into the company of over two dozen vintage wheels parked in gleaming array in the front yard. A fleet of antique prized possessions vie for attention with the luxurious Maybach as it disgorges its only passenger –Raj Bahadur Shah, Managing Director of the Jawalakhel Group of Industries. People who witness this scene regularly from the neighborhood know that Raj Bahadur Shah, 46, has returned home to his wonderland of vintage and classic cars. Personification of honesty, integrity and inspiring leadership, Raj Shah is a jolly business tycoon who lives his live to the fullest. Shah, who also happens to be the Vice-President of CNI, says, “My companies are led by our Group Executive Director, Mr. Sashin Joshi, who is one of the most respected professionals in Nepal. Actually, he is the best; no one comes close to him. Not just a professional but is also highly ethical and thus was a perfect fit for our company. Someone I also continuosuly learn from. With JGI, a lot of good things and difficult things are happening. First of all, we crossed a million cases for Golden Oak from Himalayan Distillery which is a significant achievement, not just for my company but for the country as a whole to have a million-case brand. Secondly, our Budweiser from the brewery is also picking up and now that finally the fear of COVID has come down, it’s a relief for us. However, it would be too early to say this as we never know what’s next. I have plans to bring a bunch of premium products once the market is back in full swing.” Always held in high esteem, scoring both in terms of people’s perception of his ethical practices and management of his businesses, Shah claims to be very proud of his heritage. “My family has always had strong women. Before I came, my mother used to run our company. We strongly encourage women empowerment and also do have a factory with 100% women. I am hoping my girls will take over my business and continue the legacy,” says Shah. Blessed with three daughters, he loves spending time with his family. “Every time I had a daughter, my business would double. I have three daughters who are like three Laxmis of my family. I have learnt a lot from the other associations I’m in, and I have organized my companies to run professionally employing the best people in the country. Family members don’t have to be involved and I can spend more time with my kids. We relax; take our cars on drives to the top of Godawari every week and enjoy the beautiful weather.
His Vintage collection:
1928 Ford Model A Standard Phaeton 35-A German cars
• 1956 Mercedes 190sl w121
• 1957 Mercedes 190 sedan W121.010 Engine m121 14
• 1958 Mercedes 219 w105 Pontón
• 1964 Mercedes 190D w110 series 1
• 1966 Mercedes 230 w110.011 Kombi
• 1967 Mercedes 220s W111
• 1970 Mercedes 280S w108
• 1973 Mercedes 220D w115
• 1982 Mercedes 230s w123
• 1982 Mercedes S280 W126
• 1991 Mercedes 300 G Wagon W460
• 1976 Volkswagon T2 Bus
• 1979 VolkswagonWestfalia T2c Cream Camper
• 1928 Ford Model A Standard Phaeton 35-A
• 1932 Ford Standard Fordor B160
• 1933 Ford Model B
• 1943 Ford Prefect E93A
• 1957 Cadillac Series 62
• 1960 Chrysler New Yorker, 6800cc
• 1965 Chevrolet Impala
• 1966 Ford Mustang coupe
British and other Cars:
• 1950 Singer AB Roadster
• 1953 Austin 36 A40 Somerset
• 1955 Austin Princess DM4 Vanden Plas
• 1964 Volvo 122s Amazon
• 1972 Daimler DS420 Vanden Plas
He is also a big dreamer who likes to add that extra-flair to whatever he does. “I used to say instead of building another factory that would only give me tension, I would build a nice house that only gives me pleasure,” he playfully adds, referring to his luxurious bungalow. This vintage car aficionado owns 26 classic cars and a dozen modern ones. The classic collection includes rare ones like 190SL, Pontons and other American cars. He has cars which were carried to Nepal. The other classic car owners wouldn’t sell it even for a crore despite its original price being around 5-6 lakhs. The collection includes a Cadillac which Queen Elizabeth sat in; big cars like 1960 Chrysler New Yorker, 6800cc and the Daimler, the fun car Ford Mustang and many more. “Not every old car is a classic but certain rare models are. Each country has its own criteria to give the ‘classic’ tag to any car. I’ll say any car older than 40 years should be considered a classic. The cars made before 1985 are classic. Till this time, the beauty of mechanics could be showcased in the cars. It’s not just the timing, but also the type. For example, globally, every old Mercedes is considered a classic. In Nepal, we have quite a few, including the cars that were carried in; the palace cars, Rana’s cars and also those which were sold by the diplomats here,” explains Shah. Shah bought his Maybach in 2019 . He says for the price he is driving his Maybach; he could drive a Rolls-Royce in any country.
Asked about his favorite car, he goes on to explain, “The cars in my garage are like food. How can one say he/ she only likes pizza? If you only ate pizza, you would be sick of it. You need to keep trying different things. Each car in my garage has its own purpose and its own beauty. Just because a car isn’t expensive, doesn’t mean it’s not nice. Every car has its own sentimental value. I have a baby Austin (1953 Austin 36 A40 Somerset) which is not really valuable but that same car is on a cartoon show, "Wallace and Gromit" that my daughter watches. So, she loves that car.” For him, this is not an investment but a pure act of sentiment and passion. “Yes, it can be an investment but I am not doing it for the money. If I was doing it for money, I would buy land,” he says. In the modern collection, he had a Mercedes E-class 280 which he bought after he came back. He later sold that and got a BMW 7 series which was the only one of the time. After that, he also had a Range Rover which he sold off. Now, he has a Maybach which is a dream car for him. He adds, “I remember, we were doing really well and I told my dad if I reach this financial target, I’m going to buy myself a dream car. I wanted to buy a sports car but the roads and the traffic here just changed my mind. I feel the only cars that make sense here are the Marutis and the Mahindras (laughs).”He also has two electric cars. One is the old Reva from Mahindra and the other one is Kona from Hyundai. He is eyeing Tesla’s model S and Mercedes’ electric cars. Along with this, he also loves bikes and finds them more fun. He has a decent collection of bikes parked in his garage including the 2015 Harley Davidson Softail Break Out 1700cc FXSB). The others include: 1963 BSA C15 250cc, 1964 BMW Boxer R50/2 ECE, 1964 Honda CL72 150cc, 2002 Royal Enfield 500cc, 2014 Polaris 570cc ATV (2 piece), 2014 Polaris 90cc (2 piece), 2019 Honda CRF 110cc, 2021 Honda CRF 300cc and 2022 Segway Ninebot Go-carts (4) Shah’s first personal car was a Toyota Corona which was gifted to him by his parents to go to school at Lincoln after he had just turned 18. Before that, he used to ride a Honda XL but his parents thought it would be dangerous to ride two-wheelers in the town after which they got him a golden colored Corona. Love for cars runs in his family. His grandfather liked cars; his mother was an American and was very much into cars. “All my uncles were mechanics themselves. I consider myself fortunate to have the access capacity to afford the cars. Since I was a kid, I used to sit on my mother’s lap while she drove. My family has had cars like Studebaker, Mustang v8 fastback, Ford Fairlane, Volkswagen in the collection and most of them used to be bought from the American Embassy back then. I have grown up loving cars. My mother used to drive herself.” His fascination also took flight while he was in the US for his studies which is a paradise for nice cars. He credits his passion for rescuing cars to his brother-in-law Grishma Lal Shrestha who he mentions is even more crazy about cars and was the one who really got me into collecting.” He has now acquired the cars in his collection which used to be the talk of the town during his school days. He considers buying vintage cars as being more like rescuing them. More than 80% of the cars have been scrapped and taken to India and other foreign countries because there is no law protecting them. Because of the lack of knowledge and laws, people either threw the cars as scrap or just sold it off cheaply to tourists. The nicest cars in the country are no longer here. He could not let a fine vehicle to be scrapped and towed away to a junkyard. Most of his cars are either from the Rana regime, royal era or from before the 1980s. The 1943 Ford Prefect E93A was one of the first cars he got which he happily shares was bought at just Rs.1 lakh. He says, “The reason why the classics are more valuable in Nepal is because the law of our nation says that antique/ vintage or any second-hand cars cannot be imported. Now, even if the government changes the law, I am glad that I got the original ones and my grandchildren would identify them as their granddad’s possessions. The amount of money that I had invested in these cars is not equal to what I would get abroad. I will get the same car in America for 15,000 dollars but I would not sell it here even for 1.5 crore.” Most of the people gave their cars to him because they couldn’t take care of them and those beauties were treated like scrap. They knew that the cars would be kept in far better condition by Shah.
One of the oldest cars in Nepal, Ford Model A dates back to 1927- 1931 and were carried to Nepal. It is also one of the significant ones in his collection. Shah has 3 Fords that were carried into Nepal.There are about three more Ford As and one more Model B in the country. Most of the old Fords he has, come from the old Ford dealership which was later scrapped. He has invested years searching the parts online to bring those classics into drivable condition; from scrap and rust to a thing of pride. He recalls how he paid a humongous amount of tax to legally take his cars out. “Coming from the liquor business, we are used to paying a lot of taxes, so we don’t mind. I’d rather be bankrupt than become a thief,” he exclaims. What type of cars would he like to add to his collection? He insists, “I am pretty much done. I have everything that’s available. Now, I would love to add anything before 1950s, preferably the Mercedes or the American brands like Chrysler and Ford. I have done so much research that I know all the cars that are available. There are 5-6 high-value classics in Nepal that are yet to be revived. I don’t want to buy them. I want others to fix it and drive. It’s more fun when there are more people with classics. There is a growing group of modern classic car owners led by Jimi Karthak that is gaining popularity. The Facebook page is Classic Cars Nepal and it has more than 8000 followers now. ” 95% of all his cars in the garage were in scrap condition and it’s like a project for him to rescue and bring them back to life. “I have heard from a source; they have Hitler’s car here in the museum but don’t have enough funds to fix it. It’s a shame to have such a beautiful car as national property but kept like scarp. I have asked them, if they ever would like to auction it, I would love to bid for it. But we are in a country, where temples like Pashupatinath are also not maintained, what can we expect for the cars. He has recently acquired the 1957 Cadillac Series 62 which was once used by the Queen of England. He says it would take him around three years to modify it and will compete with the prestige of Daimler and the New Yorker. Amongst his collection, he also has the 1964 Volvo 122s Amazon which was the first Volvo in Nepal. He discloses how the series was the first to have seat belts and was considered the safest car in the world. The series was also famous for the tough frame which could stay intact even if it crashed. Acquired from some expat, Shah shared how he had to make a legal agreement with the ex-owner which would allow him to take the car for a ride whenever he was in town and his job would be to keep paying the tax and maintain it. He also has an old G-Wagon which he funnily says is often used to pull his other classic cars, in case they get stuck anywhere on the roads. Just like the way a wheelchair is used to support a 90-year-old grandmom, COVER STORY he compares his Wagon with that wheelchair which is used to pull his old classic cars.
He has recently salvaged the 1956 Mercedes 190sl w121 which is the only piece out here in Nepal and was driven by King Mahendra. “I’ve been trying to buy this for the last 20 years. This is a beautiful car which was brought into the country by King Mahendra himself. Over the years, it was gifted to different people. It was then owned by my best friend’s family from the Everest Hotel and was with them for a long period of time. I remember sitting on it once in the early 80s. They were nice enough to give it to me and it’s been in the revival process ever since.”
“Any classic lover in the world would want to get hold of this. This project has been my most expensive project; more than the value of the car, I have spent just to fix it. The amount I have spent on renovating it, I could have bought two of them in Europe. But the value for this beauty is way higher for me. Even if I sell all of my cars in the future, I will at least keep this with me. This also happens to be my longest project which is still ongoing even after three years. Because of my affiliation to Warsteiner, I got hold of one restoration engineer who specializes in Mercedes. I contacted him and made a deal to give him a free trip with his son (who spoke English) to Nepal. He stayed in Nepal for two weeks, worked on the car, opened up everything and made a list of over 4000 parts I had to buy. More than buying, the challenge was to find them. He and his son catalogued and took pictures of everything, went back to Germany and took more than three years to collect all the parts together and slowly sent it to me. I am still collecting parts from them. It was through him I restored this one and got everything including the seats from Germany. It will be ready by Dashain hopefully.”
I have given nicknames to my cars for fun. I call my 190sl “Claudia” inspired by the supermodel Claudia Schiffer since my 190sl is no less than the Supermodel in the classic car industry.
It’s also been a painful process to revive the 190SL. “The number plate is exactly the same but as for the rest, everything has been bought individually to revamp this car. I could have easily sent it to Germany and got it fixed but it’s not easy in our country. The legal process involved behind sending the car to Germany is just out of the question. Anyway, it’s the policy of our nation and as I always say our government has much bigger problems to solve than classic cars. I can’t wait to take it out. People will go crazy when they see this beauty.”
Talking about the best memories on wheels, Shah opens up, “When I was young, my mother used to drive us around. We used to drive to Darjeeling and that used to be so much fun. We used to open the windows and enjoy the views. We had to stop at Koshi bridge and spend the night there. Sometimes, we had to stay over at Muglin. Those drives are quite memorable. My kids love the convertibles. I also have the ATVs which go everywhere and are super fun. I love going on drives. When the weather is clean, I like to roll down the windows and listen to the music. It’s like meditation. I remember convincing my wife to come with me on my Harley Davidson once. Taking her out in the Harley especially because of the raucous sound it made was fun.”
He drives his Mustang out most often whenever he is in the mood to drive his vintage car. It’s the most fun and reliable and I can drive it to Delhi and back. He takes his Maybach just once or twice a month. For his daily commutes, he drives the Nissan Patrol and has also added the Toyota Majesty which he loves to take out with his family.
Shah shares, “There was a time when I was stopped on my 1928 Ford Model A Standard Phaeton 35-A and when they checked my bluebook that showed that it’s a 1928 model, they were amazed. They called their friends and even took pictures. I have been stopped on my Harley because of the sound, but later on he ended up taking a picture with it. I am very friendly with the traffic police because I know their job is difficult. I’ve never had any problems with them. Hats off to the hard work they are doing,” he adds.
“We are one of the few countries in the world that does not have a policy to protect the classic/vintage cars. Every other country protects the classic/vintage cars and there’s no tax unlike ours. My suggestion to the government is at least let these cars be driven during non-office hours, weekends and national holidays but reduce the tax. These cars are also loved by tourists and we can actually rent these out generating a good source of income."
Shah feels the automobile industry is still at its infancy in the country and owning luxury cars are sometimes a hassle here.He says, “Cars are ridiculously expensive in Nepal.A car that would cost 5-6 lakhs ends up costing 20-25 lakhs after taxes. Having to pay crores of rupees for a decent car especially in a poor country like Nepal is not fair on the people and is injustice from the government’s part.” He also talks of how it’s no more fun to drive his classics inside Ring Road during the day as they get heated in traffic and aren’t designed to move with so many stops. The bikes around come like crazy and there’s always the risk of getting scratches.
Quick Bites with Raj Shah:
Vintage car from your collection you drive often?
Sedans or SUVs?
Getting stuck with my New Yorker in front of Singha Durbar and having to push the car.
Your favorite celluloid:
Need for speed
Favorite classics of all time:
1935 Mercedes 540K Special Roadster and a 1931 Duesenburg Mode J Durham Tourer