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Vol. XXIX No. 12, October 1-15, 2019
C.S. Ananth – A man who gives new life to vintage cars.
Post-retirement, most people opt for conventional hobbies or go spiritual to keep themselves busy. My friend Chitthoor Subramaniam Ananth (C.S. Ananth) chose an eclectic hobby – restoration of vintage cars. A hobby, nay a business, which calls for a deep understanding of automobiles and the passion to seek new knowledge to deliver on client promises. A man who had thought Automobile Engineering irrelevant and chose Chemical engineering for his degree instead, Ananth never imagined that he would one day be considered a vintage car wizard.
Born in Calicut, he studied at the Madras Christian College school before joining A.C. College of Technology. His first job was with Union Carbide India as an Engineer Management Trainee. During his stint at Carbide in Mumbai, he was selected to be a part of the Official Car Rally Team. This gave him an opportunity to learn about cars as he had to be associated with the preparation of the rally car. After Carbide and a brief stint as a businessman, he joined the Chennai-based UCAL group where he rose to become the CEO. Though his retirement plans were to travel and play golf and tennis, his son prodded him to buy two vintage cars – a Morris (1936) and a Fiat (1936). Ananth entrusted the restoration of the cars to an engineer who had a workshop. When he realized that there was hardly any progress even after waiting for 2 years, he decided to restore the cars himself, which involved a lot of research and hard work. In 2005, both the cars won first prizes in their respective categories at a show held by Madras Heritage Motoring Club, which Ananth had founded with a few others. Coincidentally, he received these prizes from his celebrity son-in-law, chess wizard Vishwanathan Anand, who was the chief guest at the function. Ananth was delighted beyond words. Thus began his tryst with vintage cars.
Ananth said, “Based on my success at restoring cars, a few friends approached me to restore their cars. One of them was A. Sivasailam, Chairman of the Amalagamations Group. Since I was entering the world of commercial restoration of cars, I was advised by my auditors to register a company. I spent three months to develop a proper business model with clear standard operating procedures (SOP). TEAM CSA was born in January 2007 and it consisted of mechanics, body beaters, painters, an electrician and an upholsterer.”
While he was trying to establish TEAM CSA, tragedy struck when he was diagnosed with cancer of the bile duct. The next two years saw him fighting the disease. He reopened his garage in 2010, located in the spacious compound of his beautiful home in Neelankarai.
Ananth continued, “I was touched by the fact that Sivasailam was waiting patiently for me to recover and do the restoration of his car – a 1947 Riley.” It won the best restored car in its category in the 2010 Madras show. There was no turning back. More cars followed and Ananth found himself working full time restoring. What he started as a hobby had become a business. In the last 12 years, he has restored 70+ cars including a Ford Model T, a Jaguar, a Plymouth and a Rolls Royce of 1935 vintage. TEAM CSA became one of the top car restorers in India.
Unlike a few fly-by-night car restorers, Ananth believes in high quality execution without making any compromises, which makes him constantly seek information to improve his knowledge on the subject. In August 2013, Ananth went to Germany to get special training from the largest restorer of cars. But, none of the materials they used in Germany were available in India. Thus began a long search for substitutes. In the year 2014, Ananth spent a few lakhs on R&D for improving TEAM CSA’s process. “With import substituted materials, our fit and finish has reached global standards,” says Ananth.
Among his many celebrity clients was the Maharaja of Udaipur who got his Triumph Car restored by Ananth. It is now in the museum at the Maharaja’s palace. He is also a consultant for the Gee Dee car museum in Coimbatore.
In 2013, cars restored by TEAM CSA won several prizes at the Chennai show. According to Ananth, the crowning glory came in 2017. He explained, “We had completed the restoration of a 1914 Benz, which is only one among the 3 such cars surviving in the world. According to Mercedes Benz, Stuttgart, this car was beyond restoration. TEAM CSA took on the challenge and restored the car to almost 100% originality. It won the first prize in its class at the 21 Gun Salute International Show in 2017 in Delhi. I was delighted when at the same show, a 1947 MG which was restored by TEAM CSA also won the first prize in its class. The foreign experts who judged this car could not find even a single non-original part in the car.”
While he gained recognition in the form of prizes for his restored cars, Ananth was frequently invited to be a judge at vintage car contests held across the world. He was the Chief Judge for international shows at Malaysia and Singapore, besides assisting judges at a prestigious show in France. He was also one of the judges at the 21 Gun Salute International Rally held in Delhi.
Recently, Ananth was invited by the international body of historic vehicles, FIVA (Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens) – a worldwide organisation dedicated to the preservation, protection and promotion of historic vehicles and related culture – to be an advisor on its legislation commission in order to address the restrictions imposed on historic vehicles by various Governments. Ananth is the first Indian to be invited to the FIVA panel. With the support of FIVA, a team led by Ananth has presented a memorandum to The Union Ministry of Transport, regarding legislation concerning historical vehicles in India. Its success has the potential to be Ananth’s single biggest contribution to the vintage car fraternity.
At 75, Ananth is not sure how long he can continue to work 8 to 10 hours a day pursuing his passion for restoring cars. But I am sure he will continue as a useful member of the local & international bodies devoted to vintage cars.