One day in the early 1990s, Mohsin Ikram coaxed the watchman at Mohatta Palace—the former residence of Fatima Jinnah, the youngest sister and closest confidante of Muhammad Ali Jinnah—to let him in. The palace is one of the most striking buildings in Karachi, with turrets and domes made of pink and yellow stone, but it lay empty and abandoned at the time. Fatima’s clothes, Ikram said, were still hanging in a bedroom cupboard, and some of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s were in a suitcase nearby. The watchman told him he could take as many pieces of clothing as he wished, as long as he paid him 100 Pakistani rupees per item.
But Ikram had come to see the cars: a 1966 Mercedes, parked in the shade of a tree and, inside a padlocked garage—the watchman claimed he had never seen it open, but was soon persuaded to break the lock—a 1955 Cadillac convertible. “It looked as if all it needed was a good wash and a full tank,” Ikram said of the Cadillac, when he met me in his Karachi home in late August.
In 1995, the government of Sindh purchased Mohatta Palace and, by 1999, turned it into a museum; the cars were hauled to the Sindh archives nearby. They were not cared for well there. Ikram, a 53-year-old automobile enthusiast who has restored about 100 antique cars, watched in dismay as they rusted in the sea air, and wheel caps and other parts disappeared. He said he even wrote letters to the government, offering to restore the cars for free.