The aging Chevrolet parked behind the house was a convenient place for young Geet Chana to use for doodling. It was, as far as her precocious mind was concerned, the closest thing to a chalk board and she would write on it, mimicking her maths teacher.
But obviously, her father, TS Chana, did not share his daughter’s view of the pick-up truck.
It would have been easy for him to punish her for messing up the classic vehicle for which he had a great fondness. Instead, he decided to teach her about the value of the vehicle manufactured in 1928.
This was not just another rust bucket; it was a rare model and, after a bit of restoration, it could become a possession of great value — though he bought it for only Sh20 from the original owner.
“That was my first lesson on how significant and historically important these vehicles are,” says Geet, now in her 30s. From that day on, she started looking at the classic car with respect.
And whenever her father, who had an eye for old but valuable “junk”, would be restoring its glory, Geet would take a cup of tea to him. In the process, she started to learn how to fix the cars and turn them into head-turners. But it was not always easy.
“Do you know what a dip-stick is?” TS once asked his daughter as they worked in their garage.
“It must be someone who is not very clever,” she answered, innocently. But that was before she learnt what spanners and gaskets were.
With time, besides serving her father tea, she would pass him some of the tools he needed to do his job.
As a reward, he would take her with him when he went to participate in weekend motor shows and races organised by the Vintage Classic Car Club of Kenya, of which he was a member.
“The conversations my dad would have with other members regarding the body work, paint, and the engine firing orders made me want to know more,” she recalls.
Little did her father know that he was planting in Geet a life-long passion for collecting and restoring classic cars.
In 1991, Geet was by her father’s side when the now red and black Chevrolet won the top prize at the Concour D’Elegance, the biggest vehicle beauty pageant in Africa.
“I remember my dad going up to receive the trophy and thinking to myself how it would be nice if one of our cars could win every year,” she says nostalgically.
Sometimes, when TS and his daughter were on one of their many trips across the country, he would spot rotting cars from a bygone era. Once in a while, he would make a detour and talk to the owner of the junk, which he would buy for a song.
On one such trip, Geet herself spotted an aging Ford CX manufactured in 1936, and asked her father, then a stockbroker with Francis Thuo and Partners Ltd, to buy it as part of the family collection.
It did not matter to her that at the time, he was trying to raise school fees for her and her two brothers. To cut a long story short, she got the Ford, which is now painted white and sky blue, and is among her collection of 13 classic cars.
TS once vowed that he would one day have a Porsche 911 in his collection. Geet could hardly wait to see the car when her father finally found one. But it fell far too short of her expectations.
For a start, it was a former rally car and on the day it arrived in the family driveway in Nairobi, it was not only dusty and unrecognisable as a Porsche, it also had one dent too many, not to mention the numerous steel bars typical of a rally car.
It was also high, having been lifted to give it ample clearance on rough terrain.
Seeing the disappointment in his daughter’s eyes, TS made her a promise: She would not see the car for the next six months.
True to his word, when the vehicle made its way back home six months later, it looked like, well, a Porsche. The wine red car manufactured in 1982 remains one of Geet’s favourites, never mind that it is a left hand drive.
“She never allows me to drive it,” her fiance says, to which she replies jokingly, “Perhaps I will allow him at the wheel when he marries me.”