Srini is currently undertaking a massive restoration of his 1960 Volkswagen Beetle. What happens next? Don’t hold your breath.
'Here, meet my first wife. She eats my money and drinks my time.' That’s what I tell folks about my 1960 Volkswagen Beetle. Miriam seems to have taken my smart alec comment to heart, as she has started demanding even more of my resources – she’s undergoing a comprehensive restoration, you see.
Over the two decades I have had her with me, my Beetle has been through different repairs and restoration jobs – in other words, most of the time, seeking my attention rather than giving me attention. But she’s never been through a full-blown, ground-up project. I guess I had been postponing the inevitable. No, it’s got nothing to do with dipping into my son’s inheritance.
My Beetle has been completely stripped and is undergoing extensive bodywork – the salty, moisture-laden Mumbai air has corroded hard-to-reach parts of her that are not easily visible. Initially, I didn’t understand the mammoth restoration task at hand. It dawned on me only when the body specialist at the garage pointed out the damage that had been wreaked by weather, time and, according to some non-subject matter experts, who are poking their nose into internal matters, the owner’s carelessness. When I held numerous rusted parts that once belonged to my Beetle, it struck me that Miriam won’t be the same car I once knew. Maybe I’ll sing to her Billie Holiday’s tragic ‘You’ve Changed’ when she’s all done up.
Meanwhile, I have a kilometre-long list of parts that I have to order, a list that comprises nice-to-have as well as simply-can’t-do-without items. Bumper grommets? Check. Quarter glass vertical pillar seals? Check. Front windshield garnish patty? Check. Ceramic flower bud vase? No. No. And a third time no. Oh, and did I tell you these are just a few of the body parts? I haven’t started on the mechanical and electric parts list(s) yet. And then there is the upholstery. And tyres. And battery. And…
And I don’t have the guts to post the progress updates or ask for help in the few Volkswagen WhatsApp groups I am a part of. I simply cannot summon the depth of knowledge these guys have and frankly, won’t be able to come up for breath from under the torrent of information my queries will unleash. Hey, but it’s nice to know that I can always ask around for assistance when required. The level of conversations in the groups leaves me with such an inferiority complex that I occasionally forget how to spell VW.
The workers at the garage in Mumbai where I was recommended to get the bodywork done are skilled. They are fabricating sections matching the original parts pretty well and are adding sheet-metal where necessary to the original body. I am yet to work out the electrician’s assignment and then the upholsterers. I had got the boxer engine completely overhauled last year and now it’s been pulled out once again, along with the starter motor, and sent to Pune where a specialist in Beetle engines is getting it serviced and checked – so that’s thankfully sorted. I hope.
So, as you can guess, I am a bit of a nervous wreck currently, and no matter what people tell you about how easy it is to restore and maintain Beetles, let me tell you, it’s not. Unless you are part of those above-mentioned WhatsApp groups who can distinguish between ’60 and ’62 speedo cables or when you feel like it, lend your surname to ends of cricket stadiums.
The crazy thing is that the Beetle is supposed to be the easiest classic to acquire, own and maintain, given that it has had an extended production run and was one of the most mass-produced cars in history. The large volume of Bugs around the world has still not diminished its appeal. Its ubiquitous impact in popular culture has only ensured that most Beetles remain alive in the hands of collectors. I am just left thinking if it’s so tough to bring a Beetle back to merely an acceptable level, what would a Concours level of finish entail? Pass me those smelling salts, will you?
Yet I am filled with hope that it will all be a blur, and everything will turn out to be all right. Perhaps a few months from now, I’ll be tootling around with a new-look Miriam, with a full heart and a lighter wallet. Wish me luck.