“Do you want to be a car designer?” said the advertisement. The eyes of a young Dilip Chhabria twinkled with anticipation. Could his hobby of doodling cars actually culminate into a viable career option? This revelation happened in the 1980’s, when Dilip Chhabria, armed with a bachelor’s degree in commerce but obsessed with cars, sat pondering about his future.
Unlike other success stories, which usually go from rags to riches, Dilip Chhabria’s story starts with the latter, and then progresses towards quadrupling his fortunes. It’d be safe to say that being a son of a successful businessman, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but that didn’t stop him from becoming India’s most popular automotive designer.
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Now, Dilip’s love for cars started since his childhood. He doodled them everywhere, from the backs of his notebooks to every surface he could find in his house. Upon seeing the advertisement, he applied to the Art Centre of Design Pasadena in USA for the Transportation Design course, got selected, and eventually majored from there.
He landed a job with General Motors as a designer after completing the course, but cut short his stint there due to excessive bureaucracy. Dejected, he returned to India, and was given a small space inside his father’s electronics manufacturing factory in Mumbai, where he was given an ultimatum of one month to do whatever he wants to.
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With a team of three people on board, Dilip designed an indigenous, ring-shaped horn for the Premier Padmini, manufactured it, and sold in for INR 40 apiece. The horns sold in hordes, and the margins were huge, because each piece cost DC and his team just INR 8 to make. He ended up making more money than his father made in one year! Elated by his son’s success, his father handed over the entire factory to him.
The Arka, a Maruti Esteem based retro-convertible that was one of DC’s earlier works
In 1992, DC made his mark by remodeling his own Maruti Gypsy. He gave it all he had, which showcased his best efforts as an automotive craftsman. The remodeled Gypsy proved to be a great hit, and turned out to quite the crowd puller wherever it went. Eventually, he sold it, and used the money to finance his projects for designing cars at his newly founded workshop in Marol, Mumbai.
Meanwhile, he signed an exclusivity deal with Mahindra where he worked on the Armada and concepts that led to the Scorpio. However, being a non-conformist who wanted to be free from restrictions of any sort, he got off the deal after a couple of years, with the sole motive of designing his own cars. Finally, in 1993, he formed DC Design, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The man himself, posing with the Aston Martin V8 Vantage show car in 2003
Initially DC Design only produced body kits for Indian cars and also designed motorcycles. However, DC’s biggest break came in 2003, when Aston Martin approached him to make the show car that previewed the British manufacturer’s V8 Vantage sports car. With just months to go before the deadline, DC and his team burned the midnight oil in India to complete the prototype in time, as well as adhering to the high quality standards set by Aston.
It was a moment of pride for the entire country when the show car, built by Dilip Chhabria was unveiled at the 2003 Detroit International Motor Show, and was eventually launched in 2005. This event put DC Design on the world map, and since then he has had well-heeled clients like Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, and Mahindra approach him to make concepts for them. He even got busy designing buses and aircraft interiors, for clients like Siddhi Vinayak Logistics and Air Works India respectively.
At the 2010 Auto Expo with the “Ambierod”, Vivek Oberoi and Ajinkya Patil, Chairman of the D.Y. Patil Group
In 2010, he started the DYPDC Center for Automotive Research and Studies in Pune with the D. Y. Patil group, an automotive design institute that ranks amongst the top institutes of its kind in India. With body-kits and customized interiors that fit anything from a Maruti to a Rolls-Royce, DC’s portfolio has been rather extensive. His long list of achievements was finally topped in 2015, when he rolled out the Avanti, India’s first sports car (gallery below), with prices starting from INR 35.93 lakh (ex-showroom Pune).
Today Dilip Chhabria Design Private Limited is the largest auto accessory manufacturer in the country, and is credited with more than 600 designs, while boasting of employee strength of 300. Dilip chhabria is quite the painter too, a hobby which he indulges in on Sundays. Also known to sculpt, he has a full-fledged studio in his factory where he uses the same materials as in his cars to make sculptures out of plastic, acrylic, fiber glass and steel. These are then displayed in his showrooms in Mumbai, Pune and Delhi.
Compiled with the help of excerpts from an interview on Firstpost