Dr Ferdinand Porsche said, ‘Change is easy. Improvement is far more difficult.’ No wonder restoration of his Beetle is a never-ending task, says Srini.
Jean Bugatti, son of the great Ettore, designed a stunning body on the Type 41 Bugatti Royale chassis. Called the Esders Roadster, the flowing fenders swished elegantly, hiding the Royale’s elephantine bulk and the ultra-generous 4.3-metre long wheelbase. The lines, at the same time, gracefully hinted at the awesome might of the aircraft-engine derived 12.8-litre straight-8. This extraordinary Bugatti was built for a textile tycoon called Dr Armand Esters and delivered to him in 1932. As you would expect, everything was superlative about the Esders Roadster. Including the fact that Dr Esders specified that it shouldn’t have headlights, because they would mar the exquisite lines of Jean’s flawless design! And Dr Esders also said that he planned to drive the Bugatti only during the day anyway.
That’s the story I tell everyone who asks me to take my 1960 Volkswagen Beetle out late at night or early in the morning. You see, the headlamps don’t work.
Neither do the horns. Now imagine driving an old-timer on the streets of Mumbai, with no power steering, no decent stopping power, no responsiveness, no manoeuvrability, no crashworthiness and no horns. No sweat.
Last March, on this very page I had announced that I was embarking on the biggest adventure of my life by attempting to restore my Beetle. Well, it’s done and it is looking pretty smashing if I say so myself. Out went the brightest yellow on the planet and in came a shade of green that’s so gorgeous that it makes even others turn green. The interior upholstery has been completely redone, in orange and ivory. The chrome parts went to a chroming specialist, while I got all the rubber parts replaced. Lots of bits and bobs were added and replaced throughout the car, including the handles, the switchgear, the matching orange-trimmed carpeting… the works! The floorplan has been painted to avoid corrosion and all the cables have been replaced, as well as the brake components. I had already got the engine re-built earlier, and now it was just the question of putting it back in and tuning it.
The dynamo and electricals of the engine are more or less sorted now because Miriam (that’s her name) is reliable and starts at the very first turn of the key – even after a week of remaining idle. There are plans to replace the dynamo and fit an alternator system, while I need to have a serious look at the suspension. As Dr Porsche said… Well, you’ve already read that above.
In effect, Miriam has received a fresh lease of life, and the effort has been entirely worth it because I am driving her more often than my regular car! The Frog Princess is being seen all around, from buying groceries to showboating on open roads and meeting fellow Bugs and other old-timers to behaving like a supermodel. Many have asked, “Is she a new model or an old one?”
Alles gut, ja? No, nein, nyet. Something inevitably has to happen, right? So I reversed the Beetle into the wall of my building (don’t ask) leaving it with a bent rear bumper, which in turn has left the smoothly curved left-side rear fender a bit misshapen. I said: don’t ask. And an elderly gent in a Santro swiped the front right fender on the day I’m writing this. It will be fixed, but the gash in my heart will take time to heal. Something like this would have disturbed me for days on end, but I can cope better now. Let me tell you how.
The evening before I was to participate in the 2000 Raid de Himalaya, I had taken the Gypsy to the service station in Shimla to get it checked. The mechanic inadvertently reversed the car into the garage wall, denting the rear bumper. Coming just before what was essentially a dangerous rally, I was spooked that this could be a terrible omen. But a gentleman who was getting his Maruti 800 serviced happened to see me completely flustered, said to me, “It’s good this happened, it’s done. The vehicle has taken a small hit now, and that perhaps has avoided a bigger mishap. You will have a safe rally now.” He was right. I have treasured this lesson ever since.
I am eternally grateful to Keith Mascarenhas (the Oskar Schindler of classic Volkswagens) who continues to guide me, as well as to Aslambhai and his talented workforce of Noor Automobiles and Udayvir Singh of Bengaluru for the bewildering plethora of parts (the left-side door rubber is yet to come). There’s so much still to be done, it’s never-ending! As Dr Porsche said…