The collection of vehicles, curated by D. Veerendra Heggade, includes bullock carts, WWII jeeps, and sleek period car used by Mahatma Gandhi (Studebaker President) and Kannada actor Vishnuvardhan’s Datsun

As I breezed past the bustling Srirangapatna-Mysore Road just 12 km before Mysuru, an innovative façade of a pneumatic tyre loomed into view. It heralded a welcome to Payana Car Museum, sprawled over 23 acres of land. The word ‘payana’ translates to ‘journey’ and the museum stands as a testament to the rich legacy of automobiles: it’s dedicated to ‘the art of preservation, an ode to the beauty of the past, and a bridge to the future of innovation.’

I stopped by to have a peek at the diverse ensemble of iconic vintage cars on display at the sprawling car museum. Automobile history unfolded before me as I strolled down the spacious galleries. For a novice like me, unfamiliar with the history of automobiles, it was an enlightening experience to learn the evolution of the wheel, the automobile industry and the descriptive details of each of the vehicles on display.

The museum, which was thrown open to the public in April this year, showcases a remarkable collection of gleaming vintage automobiles meticulously curated over five decades by Dharmasthala Dharmadhikari, D. Veerendra Heggade, an eminent philanthropist of Karnataka, and a Rajya Sabha member. It is an extension of the renowned ‘Manjusha Car Museum’ at Dharmasthala. From a young age, he was fascinated by the nitty gritty of a car engine and the technical developments through the ages. It is his passion and love for cars and a concern to preserve the vintage beauties from decay and save them for posterity that prompted him to start the museum collections.

Studebaker Champion used by Nobel Prize winner CV Raman. All photos: Susheela Nair

A Studebaker President used by Mahatma Gandhi

If you have a penchant for automobiles and their compelling history, this car museum is a true haven. Though not an automobile junky, I was overwhelmed to gaze at the 60-odd cars display highlighting the technological transformation in the automobile industry. Each vehicle on display offers a glimpse into the rich array of automobile history.

At the entrance to the gallery, a Standard Herald that was used by D. Veerendra Heggade during his prime days along with a poster of him alongside the car greets the visitors. The Standard Herald, which made its debut in the Royal Albert Hall, London, in 1959, cost Rs 12,500 in 1962. This was followed by the evolution of wheels and a display of the internal combustion engine and its associated parts. Then starts the display of carts followed by cars.

From humble bullock carts to the iconic jeeps of WWII fame, versatile all-purpose vehicles and sleek period cars to sturdy trucks, each exhibit has a tale to tell, a story of innovation and craftsmanship. What makes this museum remarkable is the benevolent donation of vintage car enthusiasts and auto aficionados who wanted to share their precious possessions with the general public. The museum has a royal connection in the 1949 Daimler DE 36 gifted by HH Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar, IV, the Maharaja of Mysore. It was the company’s largest and most expensive car of its time with Rolls Royce Phantom its only competitor.

I had a peek at the vehicles owned, used and donated by celebrities. Among the exhibits is also a 1929 model Studebaker President, which was used by Gandhi during his visit to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Another exhibit which grabbed my attention was the Studebaker Champion, a 1947 model car, used by the renowned Indian physicist and Nobel Prize winner Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, popularly known as CV Raman.

I found the nexus of cars with cine stars equally fascinating. As I strolled around, I found a Datsun Bluebird 1.8 GL, a medium-sized sedan from the Datsun brand of Nissan, manufactured as the sixth generation Bluebird. What makes it interesting is that it was owned by the late Vishnuvardhan, the ‘Angry Young Man’ of Kannada Cinema.

Datsun donated by Vshnuvardhan, Kannada matinee idol

Historic cars, tractors and two-wheelers

Another highlight is the 1965 model of Chevrolet Impala, an American classic and popular movie car which occupies pride of place. The car was named Impala after the graceful African antelope, which was used as the car’s logo. In 1965, Impala set an annual sales record of one million units in the US. The car, which reached a top speed of 96 mph or 154 kph, was priced $2700 in 1965. Many stars have romanced on the bonnet of most iconic Chevy models used prominently in popular movies. One cannot forget Dev Anand crooning ‘yeh dil na hota bechara’ in the Hindi blockbuster, Jewel Thief (1967).

While strolling around the museum, I found other interesting exhibits on display like historic cars, tractors and two-wheelers on display. I gaped in wonder at the vehicles like BMW, Benz, Buick, Opel, Datsun, Mazda, Ford, Citroen, Daimler, Willys Jeep, trucks, Hillman, Studebaker. I came across cars from different countries like the 1925 FIAT from Italy, 1926 Mercedes Benz from Germany, a Morris 15/6 from England and a 1967 Chevrolet Impala from USA, Austin A -40 Farina from the UK and Morris from England.

Also on display are the 1990 Toyota Corolla 1.6 GL and the 1967 Mazda Luce 1500 SS from Japan. The incredible collection also includes 2000 Daewoo Matiz and KrAZ-260 military trucks from Ukraine and the 1990 Toyota Corolla 1.6 GL and the 1967 Mazda Luce 1500 SS from Japan. The incredible collection also includes 2000 Daewoo Matiz and KrAZ-260 military trucks from Ukraine.

Chevrolet Impala, popular movie car.

Cultural artifacts of intrinsic value

It was interesting to observe Indian cars like Standard 2000, Contessa, Hindustan Landmaster, Ambassador, Maruti Zen, Fiat Palio, electric Reva, Matiz, Dolphin, etc. documenting the progress of the automobile on Indian roads. Queen Alexandra of Denmark was one among the owners of the FIAT 501. The Hindustan 14, a family sedan which debuted at the first post-war British Motor Show at Earls Court was also on display at the car museum. I also saw a Hyundai Verna and sturdy old Hyundai Sonata.

One cannot afford to miss the heritage vehicles like the iconic double-decker bus of Mumbai and the obsolete ‘kaali-peeli’ taxis. Another impressive exhibit is the steam-powered road roller. A few more cars will be added to Heggade’s magnificent collection. While returning, I mulled over all these great innovations. which created history and left an indelible mark on the development of automobiles.

After an enlightening trip to the museum, I stepped into the Manjusha Museum in the same building. Heggade’s collection reflects his passion for preserving cultural artifacts of intrinsic value. From the pinhole cameras to the digital cameras, you will find them all. It also houses an eclectic collection of pens, coins, notes, stamps, typewriters, guns, swords, lanterns, lamps, old cooking vessels, pooja utensils and printing machines. I feasted my eyes on musical instruments: an antique radio, gramophone, Mysore paintings, etc.

The museum’s open-air theatre, food court and play area promise to enhance the visitor’s experience, providing a delightful outing for families and individuals. With plans to host cultural programmes on the museum grounds, the museum will soon become a hub of community engagement and celebration.

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