In conversation with Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia, Founder of Euro Car Parts
Bertrand Dsouza: From the time you started your career, you still have a very intimate connection with the automotive industry. Your passion, your love for cars, goes way beyond just Euro Car Parts, to having a private collection of your own. And it's a fantastic collection, from what I see. You've got several interests, you're in India as well. And a few reports where I also read about you wanting to settle down in India eventually.
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: In the future, I intend to be spending more and more time in India. I'm looking to either build a house or buy. Both options are on the table, I've been viewing properties on every trip. I think in December I hope to finalise on one property. I already have three smaller properties. But you know, I wanted something that would be equivalent to what I have here. So that's what I'm trying to finalise on now.
Bertrand Dsouza: So, let me start first with your connection with the automotive industry. You started Euro Car Parts from a small store, taking up the business that it is today. What has that journey been like for you? So, what inspired you to get into that? And how have you managed to take it forward and bring it to where it is today?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: Initially, I came to this country as a refugee. We were expelled from Uganda, there was a necessity to really survive. We had no umbrella, we had no safety net. So, we just had to get up and do something, and I very luckily stumbled upon a business at a very young age that I had a very close connection to. So ever since I was a little kid, I was just fascinated by cars and anything that was on wheels. Whether they were even tanks or fire engines, I just had a real love and passion. And at a very young age, I was known amongst my friends to be able to tell you what car it is from the sound. So, you know, they would say, 'Sukhpal, come on, what was that that went by,' or make me turn away and I would be able to say well, that was a BMW, that was a Ferrari, that was something that was my passion. And to be able to get involved in that, it never felt like work. It was like, you know, it was participating in your hobby.
Bertrand Dsouza: So, Euro Car Parts, can you tell us a little bit about that journey, I mean starting that business, a small store that you had when you started off?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: Ever since the age of 13 onwards, in the mornings before school and in the evenings and at weekends, that's where I got the taste for it. Buying and selling and to encourage people to buy. So those are the fundamentals, and then this opportunity came of a proper business, which was for very little money, and that also we had to borrow for. And we just took that business over as a small shop and we gave great service, got people what they wanted, it just grew and grew from there.
Bertrand Dsouza: From there to your collection of cars, let me come straight to that because that's one of the topics of our conversation. Looking at the collection, it is a very eclectic collection with some very interesting cars in them as well. Some are personal favourites, also, especially the Porsche 356 Speedster.
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: I keep that one just across the road in a garage in the office and I do like to go and see it sometimes. At lunchtime when I walk past, it's quite a sound that comes out of it when it runs, you know. You don't get anywhere near that with any other car.
Bertrand Dsouza: So, what inspired you to get the cars that you've got?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: For me it's the mid-50s, up to the early 70s. And afterwards, they started bringing in those plastic bumpers and all that. And then I switched off. I have some really nice cars, and I really enjoy driving them. In fact, I went to Southampton yesterday and I took one of the cars, so I had a great trip. Although my back is hurting a bit!
Bertrand Dsouza: That's fantastic that you're still driving these cars around and that they are being used regularly.
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: I just want to make sure that it's not raining and wet. Cold, it doesn't matter. But you don't want them to be in the rain, and then the under-chassis gets rusty - or the worst is it's snowing and then they put salt on the ground. And so, in the winter I try not to take them out.
Bertrand Dsouza: So, I was looking at your collection and the larger part of the collection is all German cars. Has that got any connection with Euro Car Parts, for instance, because you were catering to all the European cars; Mercedes Benz, BMWs, Audis and Porsches?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: I'm a fan of some great British cars. I have an Aston Martin DB5, an XK140. These are great British cars as well. My theory is the drive and feel is very different to the German cars which were very precise and neat and tend to be more reliable than the British ones.
Bertrand Dsouza: Absolutely. So how much of an effort is it maintaining these cars, because some of them you've restored, some of them you bought them in better condition than the others. You have to restore them. What is actually involved with these cars? And do you really need to work on them now that they've been restored to almost pristine condition?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: I do like to get the cars in really good condition, and then I want to drive them. Right now, I've got one that has just come back from restoration, the 190SL came back after three and a half years. And there's still a 300 SL and the XK140 in restoration. But when we do them, there are a lot of hidden comforts that we put in there, but you can't see. So, we'll conceal the air conditioning. We'll put electric windows in there, we'll put electric power steering. You can't see it, but it's there. It just makes it so much more pleasurable. Some people say 'Oh, well, you know, that's not really the real authentic', but it's fine. I do it for my own comfort. So, you know, we put electronic ignition in it so that the car starts every time you want it to start. Not that it's a big deal to get it going after you haven't used it for a few weeks. But even though there's a lot of hidden mod cons in there, we still keep the old parts. So, one day, if we ever sell these cars, they can be restored back. I'm a fairly short guy. In some of these cars, the seats are very low. So, I get it slightly raised so it feels really nice.
Bertrand Dsouza: Can you take me through, you know, some of the cars that you've got? And for instance, how did you acquire them? The 356 Speedster, for instance, how did you get that? How do you get a hold of that?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: I bought the 356 from the auction. I saw the condition and went to see the car and it was really a 10 out of 10. And when I bought that car, I went to pick it up, I met the owner and I asked him why he was selling and then he told me that he was in some difficulty financially. But I asked him if he had something else and he said, 'I have but I don't want to sell it'. He had the DB5. So, after a while he called me and said, 'Look, are you serious?'. I said yes. I've had it about 15 years, so finally, about five years ago I sent it away. The engine went to Germany, the body went to Wales, leather went to Poland, and it all gets put together. And that takes about three years, and then it's like a brand-new Pagoda with all the mod cons that make it so much more pleasurable to drive.
Bertrand Dsouza: So, what was the first car in your collection?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: It was the Pagoda.
Bertrand Dsouza: So, you've also got a Ferrari, correct me if I'm wrong.
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: Two Ferraris.
Bertrand Dsouza: Oh, lovely. Your collection, I saw, is also largely classics. Like you said you appreciate cars, it will be in the 50s in the 70s. But then there is the McLaren, the Mercedes-McLaren SLR.
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: Yes, just one of the cars, which is more modern in that sense.
Bertrand Dsouza: Is there anything else in your collection that is more contained to every day?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: I have a Bentley Mulsanne and a BMW seven series which is being replaced by the all-electric seven series, which has just come out. That's probably being delivered in the next couple of weeks. And then the modern Lusso. And then we have a Lamborghini 4x4, the Urus. Modern cars, which I do not really have a passion for. They're there for everyday use, but the real fun is driving the works of art.
Bertrand Dsouza: Did it ever occur to you to pick up Land Rovers, especially series one, series two classics? I see a lot of restoration work being done in the UK. On first-generation, early-generation Land Rovers.
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: I don't have any desire for the Land Rover. But I believe that people are very fond of those cars. And they're becoming quite valuable. I have a friend of mine who has I think about three of those and is very happy with their values of them as well.
Bertrand Dsouza: All right. So, what is going to be your next acquisition?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: We are looking for a 275. But we were also recently the underbidder on a very special 507 BMW. There is another one in the Sotheby's auction, a cream one that is coming up, I think next month in the US. So, we will look at that and see if it doesn't go for too much of a crazy price. But the 507 before was one I really missed out on. It was actually owned by BMW themselves and they did a private sale. I guess someone must have tipped them off. Because they told me, put a bid of 1.9 million, I did. And then suddenly the guy gets it for 1.95, so I think maybe it's like something he had a tip-off or something.
Bertrand Dsouza: Absolutely. So, you also have in your collection, you've got the two-wheeler, you've got the Honda Cub as well. And those were very, very popular back in India. You know, several decades ago they were sold by Bajaj as the MAD. And of course, it's something that looks fantastic. I've seen some images of that, that two-wheeler that you've got, the 290. What was that purchase all about?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: When I was a little boy, I used to go to pick up and drop off parts to my customers. And that was my mode of transport to come to places quickly. So, if they wanted a pump, I would put it on the bike and take it to the garage. So, one day on my birthday, my friend, Richard, he gifted me that. So, it's a fully restored Honda.
Bertrand Dsouza: That's lovely. So, I saw a few pictures with that mint condition. It did look pretty. It looked very, very impressive.
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: I think the 1928 Blanc was a Maharajah. So, when I was in India, I was walking near this scrapyard near Delhi. I don't know if you know the name. It's where cars get broken up for parts, but it's huge, maybe two kilometres long, just outside Delhi. Cars that had an accident or a fire, you know, they come there then they strip them for parts. This guy takes the doors, he takes the gearbox, he takes the wheel, so the full body comes in and then it becomes a carcass by the time it has gone around the market, everybody just buys the parts. And then I was working there because I was just interested, as in what happens in that place, because I was interested in recycling and salvage you know. The thing gets recycled back. And then I actually saw a guy, he was asking, 'What are you looking at?' and I said, 'You have some interesting bikes', he said 'Oh no, the real ones are in the back, which I own'. So, I said, 'Oh, any chance I could see something?'. He was quite interested that I was from abroad. He had five bikes there. I said 'Oh my God, I wish I could own one of them'. So, I ended up buying it. But the thing is, we couldn't get it out of the country. So, we broke it down into 100 parts so that you could ship one part every day. When it was all back England, we put it back into a bike, so we have a bike.
Bertrand Dsouza: Absolutely, absolutely. So, you intend whenever you move down to India, you intend to get your cars along with you too?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: I'm not gonna just come and stay in India and never leave India, I have my family, I have four grandkids, cars will be here, my kids use them, some of the cars are even owned by them. So, you know, they will use them, I will use them, we'll have a car here. But for certain cars, I haven't actually explored how difficult it is. It is pretty tough getting the cars down to India, I noticed the huge challenges around that and being able to drive them.
Bertrand Dsouza: Get them on a train. I mean, that would be a temporary solution, not a permanent solution. This means you have to ship the cars down to India, and then ship them back again once you're done. That's how a lot of Middle Eastern cars also now come to London. They're driven around London and are shipped back to Dubai. It's something similar that you'd have to do for India as well. But regulations are getting more stringent in India for using classic cars. There is a huge challenge at this point in time because of emission regulations. And the classic car movement itself is quite affected by it. Because the regulation has not been updated or at least has not taken into account the fact that a lot of people own classic cars in India, and they are driven around consistently. So, they're still working out legislation around that and what can be done. There are challenges here in India as well with classic cars. And shipping them down will be one of those huge problems. You have to wait and see what happens about that. But just completely off your collection. What do you think about this whole movement towards electrics? I think it's required, but it somehow seems to lack the soul and the character that we've experienced from IC engines. What's your opinion? What do you think about the whole movement?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: It's here to stay, and particularly in affluent countries and in city centres and things like that. Yes, I think there will be a significant proportion of the sales will be either electric or combination or something else, or hydro, that's coming for sure. But I think for it to completely take over the market, I think we are many, many, many decades away from it because the price point for electric cars is still many times higher than the normal, you understand. So, for the masses to be able to afford it, the price has to drastically come down. and secondly, I'm also concerned that these cars are not so environmentally friendly as they are made out to be. The production of the lithium battery or whatever it takes out of the environment and releases is also kind of a big question mark. They are rapidly increasing their market share. But I think outside the city centres, the network of recharging and charging, that is still some years to go.
Bertrand Dsouza: So, what are some of your favourite cars? For instance, are there any other cars that you would want to add to your collection? At some point, whenever they come up for sale or auction?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: I think a Ferrari 250 short-wheelbase California would be the ultimate desire and prize for me. So, maybe a couple of years away from that. But let me just get the 275 and 507, then I guess the 250 could be the next one. And I think I'll be done after that.
Bertrand Dsouza: So, tell me something. I mean, this is just a general question, how easy is it to acquire classic cars in the UK, because in India, there is a limited number of cars you could buy. And it usually just exchanges hands from one owner to the other, if at all that happens. There are no new cars coming in and whatever is there or was there in the market decades ago, as people discover them lying around in, like you said, in garages or in scrap yards and restore them. It's not as large a market as it is in the UK, for that matter. But even in the UK, how easy or how difficult is it to kind of acquire some of these cars?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: What's happened in the last few years, is the market has become quite the global market now. So, whenever you want to buy or sell, it doesn't matter. I recently bought a car from Melbourne. I never saw it. I called my friend who lives in Melbourne to go and look at this Porsche 911 2.4 E. He went and looked at it and said the guy who owns it had it for 50 years and it's in absolutely genuine condition! He said it's got lots of things to do on it. But I still bought it. It took six months to get over. It's now in restoration. I'll see it in two and a half years' time. The McLaren came from the USA. And again, it's through reputable auction sites. So, they describe the car very well, they give you a couple of hundred photographs of every angle of the car. And I've not been disappointed so far. So, I think the classic market, it's no longer local, unless it's the cheap cars, you know £10,000. But if it's of any value, then it's the international market.
Bertrand Dsouza: There isn't an issue with legislation or with any regulatory framework that prevents you or makes it challenging to get cars into the UK?
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia: Not with the US and Europe or in Australia. It's very simple. There are shipping agents to call that ship, then you test to be registered. There are duties, for example, 4% to be paid from the US, some depend on the countries. There may be some other taxes, but no there are no problems other than time. It's just a cost.
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