When he leapt into the nation’s automobile scene with his custom cars, he was revving up a dream that comes with grand ambition. Tethered to low torque and monotonous looks that invited little visual traction—the plain and careworn Ambys, Padminis and first-gen Marutis—the Indian automotive enthusiast saddled up for the souped-up ride Dilip Chhabria, the founder of DC Designs, promised. A commerce graduate who studied car designs in Pasadena, California, he poured passion into his craft and marketed well: A remodeled Maruti Gypsy, seductively initialed BTS (Better Than Sex), was the earliest eye candy from his assembly line. What he crank-started in the 1990s caught on like Viagra and he was sought out over the years by rich celebs—the pimped-up vanity vans of Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan are fine examples—and the moneyed middle-class. But the road often travelled throws up surprises and that proved prescient. Accused of fraud, Chhabria was arrested last December.
His downfall began with his ambitious journey from styling to manufacturing. The first Made in India sports car—the DC Avanti, meaning forward in Italian—was unveiled by Amitabh Bachchan at the 2012 Auto Expo in New Delhi. It hit the road in 2015 after being in the making since 2008. Though the car had adequate ground clearance compared to the Italian namesake and was priced at just about Rs 42 lakh, it failed in performance. Sales never picked up as expected and the carmaker could sell only 120-odd units. The financial problems became evident when banks auctioned his Pune factory in 2018, and declared him and the company bankrupt.