Srinivas Krishnan: The endless restoration of my 1960 Volkswagen Beetle
Dr Ferdinand Porsche said: “Change is easy. Improvement is much more difficult. No wonder restoring his Beetle is a never-ending task, says Srini.
Jean Bugatti, son of the great Ettore, designed a superb bodywork on the chassis of the Type 41 Bugatti Royale. Called the Esders Roadster, the flowing fenders hissed elegantly, hiding the Royale’s elephantine mass and ultra-generous 4.3-meter-long wheelbase. The lines, at the same time, gracefully alluded to the impressive power of the 12.8-liter inline 8-cylinder derived from the aircraft engine. This extraordinary Bugatti was built for a textile magnate called Dr Armand Esters and delivered to him in 1932. As you would expect, everything about the Esders Roadster was superlative. Including the fact that Dr. Esders clarified that there should be no headlights, as they would spoil the exquisite lines of Jean’s impeccable design! And Dr Esders also said he plans to drive the Bugatti only during the day anyway.
This is 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 headlights don’t work.
Neither do the horns. Now imagine driving an old-timer through the streets of Mumbai with no power steering, no decent stopping power, no responsiveness, no handling, no crashworthiness and no horn. No sweating.
Last March, on this same page, I announced that I was embarking on the greatest adventure of my life by trying to restore my Beetle. Well, it’s done and it sounds pretty smashing if I say so myself. The brightest yellow on the planet is out and one shade of green is so gorgeous it even makes others turn green. The interior upholstery has been completely redone, in orange and ivory. The chrome parts went to a chrome plating specialist, while I had all the rubber parts replaced. Many items have been added and replaced throughout the car including handles, switchgear, matching orange carpeting… the works! The ground plane has been painted to prevent corrosion and all cables have been replaced, as well as the brake components. I had already had the engine rebuilt earlier, and now all I had to do was put it back together and tune it.
The dynamo and electrics of the engine are more or less regulated because Miriam (that’s her name) is reliable and starts at the first turn of the key – even after a week of inactivity. There are plans to replace the dynamo and fit an alternator system, while I have to seriously overhaul the suspension. As Dr. Porsche said… Well, you already read that above.
Indeed, Miriam has found new life and the effort has been worth it because I drive her more often than my usual car! The Frog Princess is seen everywhere, whether it’s buying groceries, showboating on open roads, meeting other Bugs and elders, or acting like a dummy. Many have asked, “Is this a new model or an old one?”
Alles gut, ja? No, no, not yet. Something inevitably has to happen, doesn’t it? So I reversed the Beetle into the wall of my building (don’t ask) leaving it with a crooked rear bumper, which left the slightly curved left rear fender a bit misshapen. I said don’t ask. And an old gentleman in a Santro swept the right front fender the day I write this. It will be fixed, but the gash in my heart will take time to heal. Something like this would have bothered me for days, but I can cope better now. Let me tell you how.
The day before my participation in the Raid of the Himalayas 2000, I had taken the Gypsy to the service station of Shimla to have it checked. The mechanic inadvertently knocked the car into the garage wall, denting the rear bumper. Coming just before what was essentially a dangerous rally, I was afraid this might be a terrible omen. But a gentleman who was having his Maruti 800 overhauled saw me completely annoyed, he said to me: “It’s good that it happened, it’s done. The vehicle has taken a little hit now, and that may have avoided a bigger accident. You will have a safe rally now. He was right. I have treasured that lesson ever since.
I am eternally grateful to Keith Mascarenhas (the Oskar Schindler of classic Volkswagens) who continues to guide me, and to Aslambhai and his talented team of Noor Automobiles and Udayvir Singh of Bengaluru for the bewildering plethora of parts (the left door the rubber is yet to come). There is so much to do, it’s endless! As Dr. Porsche said…
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