Often referred to as the father of motor journalism in India, Adil Jal Darukhanawala of Pune, Maharashtra is a little uncomfortable with that title. “That’s rather pompous to be attributed to me,” Adil says, and adds, “as a rule I don’t think too much about it, but there wasn’t anyone else in India who were writing on the subject for enthusiasts and consumers.” That was in 1977.  Only a couple of motor trade magazines were being published, catering to dealers and spare parts and services providers. “Never had I come up on anyone who wrote in the way enthusiasts have taken to automotive magazines the world over,” he says. So, Adil wrote his first piece about automobiles on August 26, 1977 and saw his byline in print. By 1981 he’d progressed to a weekly page in the Business Herald section of The Maharashtra Herald newspaper. “I was always good at writing and debates in school and so when it came time to give an outlet to my pent-up automotive emotions, it just burst open,” he explains. Soon, he was writing for many magazines across India, including Sportsweek, Sportstar, The Sun, and many others. With the advent of the Himalayan Rally in 1980, Adil also penned race reports for British and German magazines.

Adil Jal Darukhanawala with his Adil’s 1956 Jawa 250 Type 353, a machine built under license in India, and a brand now owned by an Indian company.  Vintage version are coveted machines in India. Read Adil’s story for The Vintagent, ‘Jawa Day in India’ [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
“In 1987,” Adil says of his motor journalism career, “I started my own automotive publication, Car & Bike International. which was also the first genuine automotive enthusiast magazine in the country. We had next to no money — my uncle bankrolled us for a couple of years – and I didn’t know anything about doing a magazine, but we learned and learned quick. I did Car & Bike International (C&BI) from June 1987 to June 1998 and then I moved to Tata Infomedia. Just as I had done C&BI, I conceptualised Overdrive magazine and for once I had the wherewithal to play out all my ideas to the hilt because we were decently funded, had the infrastructure and HR support and within three months from launch (September 1998) we had shattered all publishing records in the country. Overdrive magazine to this day is the template for all automotive mags in India and I think this is something that I am immensely proud of even though I left the mag in April 2005 because the Tata Group sold off the firm to a venture capitalist who only spoke about asset monetization – something of an anathema to us content creators.”

Car & Bike, India’s first automotive/motorcycle enthusiast magazine, that proved a success, and started a career. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
Adil then spent two years working for a new start-up called Next Gen Publishing. They separated the cars from the bikes, publishing two distinct magazines. Car India was done with EMAP of the UK, while Bike India was a “self-conceptualised publication,” Adil says, and adds, “It was pretty tough reconciling readers in the early days who didn’t want to pay for two publications but wanted cars and bikes bundled in one. We managed to break that line of thought and did very well. Then came a dream project. Beginning in December 2007, the largest media house in the country – Bennett Coleman & Co., publishers of the Times of India (TOI) and the Economic Times (ET), the largest circulating daily newspaper in the world (7.2 million copies daily nationwide) and the world’s largest selling business newspaper (1.5 million copies daily nationwide) asked me to set up a totally separate vertical for automotive communications. Such an opportunity comes one’s way maybe once in a lifetime and I was given full freedom to set up an outfit to provide enthusiast content that even the lay persons could benefit from. We identified that we needed to be in long form print via weekly 4-page supplements in all editions of the TOI and the ET, set up a wholly dedicated website for Indian consumers and enthusiasts, pushed the envelope further to have a weekly automotive show on the ET Now national television channel and do as many ground events as possible.”

Adil at the wheel of a Tata Zest on the Geared for Great 50,000km record run. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
Full of passion for this project, Adil was dismayed when the digital side of the business, www.zigwheels.com, was sold to a venture capitalist. He left in 2013, and worked with Zee Media Corporation, India’s largest television network for two and a half years before agreeing to help a protégé from his Overdrive days with Fast Bikes India, at www.fastbikesindia.com. Adil writes the editorial page, comments on the ongoing evolution of motorcycling, and mentors a new breed of journalists. He’s also documenting and preserving India’s rich motoring history in books, with several titles to his name including Timeless Mahindra; Jawa: The Forever Bike; Volkswagen In India, At 10; and Mercedes Benz Winning: 120 Years On the World’s Greatest Racetracks & In India.

Adil with a few of his books: all beautifully published coffee table editions. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
He comes by all this motor passion honestly. Born in Bombay – now known as Mumbai – Adil was raised in Sholapur, a city some 410 kilometres south of the big city. His father owned a Norton 16H, and before he was just one year old, Adil was going along for rides. Also, Sholapur was a regional hub for Indian Railways, with many lines converging in the city. Adil’s bungalow was nearby, and “every second evening I would be there to see and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the steam locomotives,” Adil explains, and adds, “I was fascinated by steam and when some friends of the family who were locomotive engineers and pilots came to see me, they would take me on a day’s trip from Sholapur to towns about 150 to 200 kilometres away and back. This got me interested in things mechanical like nothing else.” Motorcycles, though, were at the core of Adil’s motor interest. After the Norton, his dad had a Rajdoot 175cc machine, and his grandfather ran a series of early Jawas that Adil spent some time riding.

Adil’s 1972 Vijai Super, a Lambretta built under license. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
By education, Adil is a qualified mechanical engineer. “But I was into bikes and cars and all things with an internal combustion engine since the time I had my first solo ride on my dad’s Rajdoot when I was about 9 or 10. It happened unknowingly of course but then I got caught when my cousin ratted on me, and I had a stern talking to! But slowly and surely my dad, his brother and their cousins started to show and educate me how to ride bikes, what not to do rather than just what to do and this accumulated critical mass and there was no looking back. I never knew that I would end up doing automotive journalism, but fate had a definite say in this.”

Adil with Randy Mamola for the charity event Pillion in a Billion. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
One key element that has always driven Adil; he is largely self-motivated, and is a very involved student of history, be it automotive or political or cultural history. “As such it had always pained me in my early days to not find anything chronicled on Indian motorcycling and motoring. Apart from my uncle that is. Now here is where the story is at my very heart for my uncle’s grandfather — who I never met or saw thanks to the age differential — was the man who brought the first motorcycle to India in 1903. He was based in Poona (now Pune), having set up in business in 1895 as a sole selling agent for Singer sewing machines and safety bicycles. When Singer added motorcycles, he ordered a first batch of five units, and these arrived in 1904 and were sold out in a matter of days. Ratan Mody Sr. was also a pioneer motorist and organized the country’s first race for motorcycles and the second race for motor cars. His archive was handed to me by my uncle Ratan Mody Jr who saw how dogged I was in foraging for news and reports and images and such and this bent of unearthing history and chronicling it for our future generations is my biggest driver since I started writing.”

Old habits die hard…Adil acting as the engineer on a vintage steam engine. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
As for a personal motorcycle collection, Adil has more than 20 machines and loves them all. “It isn’t about one or the other being my favourite,” he says, “but just that one motorcycle doesn’t do everything in every aspect so therefore it is horses for courses.” The oldest motorcycle in his collection is a 1934-35 Sunbeam 600 single. It’s currently undergoing restoration. The rest of his machines range from a Harley-Davidson to a 1948 BSA C11 with family history. He has a Jawa, Lambretta, BMW, several Kawasakis and Hondas, a Triumph and a trio of Royal Enfields. “What is important for me is that I need a bike that delights me in different ways given that the place where I live in Pune city is just half an hour away from the hills surrounding it,” he says, “so hitting out with any one of my bikes every weekend is what keeps me fresh, alive and agile.”

Adil with his 1949 Fiat 500C Topolino. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
Most of Adil’s time these days is spent researching and writing, working on books such as a century of motorsport in India, the greatest cars in the country, and he is also considering a marque history of another Indian OEM. He usual refers to his own vast archives, and all the while, music is playing in his den. He enjoys a wide variety of genres from country, R&B, folk, and instrumentals. He avoids the TV but will take in live telecasts of the MotoGP and F1 races, and also the Indy 500. “I visited and covered the Indy 500 for my magazine in 1989 and 1990 and was the only Indian journo ever at the speedway.” Now 64 years old, Adil says, “Interacting with people across the societal spectrum, indulging the kids, mentoring the youth and listening to as many individuals and their stories are what I find release in and excitement alike. The wife says that I am incorrigible about so many things but then I always keep reminding her that a leopard never changes its spots or a tiger its stripes. It always has and will always be the people who are at the core of all that I do, and it is this devilishly stupid zeal to chronicle automotive history of my country that keeps me relevant and constant.”

Adil’s 7000-strong model car and motorcycle collection! [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
Adil with his wife Jayu on a drive through Udvada in Gujarat state with their Tata Hexa. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
Adil with his incredible shrinking Yamaha MT 01. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
Perks of the job: Adil driving a BMW 507. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
[Editor’s note: I met Adil Jal at the Concorso Eleganza Villa d’Este in 2018, and we immediately began corresponding on motorcycle history in India.  Adil has provided articles for The Vintagent, and sent several of his books, but his background in publishing was unclear, so I assigned Greg Williams our Profiles Editor reached out for an interview.  Thanks Adil!  We still want to publish the history of early motorcycle racing in India! – Paul d’Orléans]



Greg Williams is a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics
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