In reverse gear: Turning junked cars into adorable beauties

Bhopal: Industrialist Rajan Deb, 50, is a connoisseur of old beauties – albeit of a different kind. The basement of the office of his company – which undertakes turnkey wind power projects – is chock-a-block with gleaming cars and jeeps.  Mind you, none of them are new and most date back to the 1940s and the 1950s. And one has to just turn the ignition key and the engines of the meticulously-maintained vehicles purr to life. With not a speck of dust or a scratch on their bodies, they could well be just out of a showroom.

Rajan Deb
Rajan Deb

“It is my hobby and my tribute to the matchless mechanics of the city, who can work wonders. All the credit goes to them,” says an unassuming Deb. The latest addition to his stable of vintage beauties is a 1957-model Fiat 1100. It cost him around Rs 1.5 lakh to restore the junked automobile, complete with new upholstery, fenders and lights. “Scouring for spare parts is a big headache. I source them from Bombay, Chennai, Delhi – from wherever I can get them. And when I cannot find them – which is often the case – we use ‘jugad’ – something in which local mechanics are past masters.”

The first vehicle he restored was a 1946 Morris Eight, manufactured by Morris Motors – a British car manufacturer of yore. That was in 2010. Deb’s Man Friday is Nafees Bhai, a fiftyish mender of cars and jeeps, who has an uncanny expertise in dealing with sick vehicles.

How he forayed into the field of making junked cars road-worthy is interesting. “Nafees Bhai and many of his family members used to be drivers in our company. And he maintained all our cars. One fine morning, he suggested to me that if I am so interested in motor sports, why I should not venture into restoring old cars. That set me thinking and after a while I said yes. And he discovered the Morris Eight, which was rotting in a field in Ajmer”.

It was brought to Bhopal and after months of labour, was ready to be driven away. Since then, Deb has restored 13 vehicles. He uses the Internet to find out how the vehicle looked and worked and then builds them back bit by bit. The car enthusiast is clear that he does not want to make it a business. “My friends and acquaintances have gradually come to know that I am good at this job. So, they send old, rotting vehicles to me. I get them restored in Kabadkhana under my guidance and send them back. The payment is made directly to the mechanics,” he says.

The oldest vehicle he restored was a 1938 petrol bus, in which Pandit Nehru travelled while on a visit to Mandu. Now, it is parked at Jhira Bagh Palace – a heritage hotel just outside Mandu. And a 1947 Morris Eight he reinstated to its glorious past is with a Jaipur-based industrialist. Deb uses the word ‘fitters’ for the mechanics employed in hi-tech workshops of leading car companies. “The real mechanics are the old hands operating from ‘gumtis’ and congested shops in the walled city. The fitters only change dysfunctional parts, the mechanics manufacture them,” he says.

Currently, he is busy restoring a Land Rover and a jeep. He takes time off from his busy schedule to travel to Kabadkhana at least once a week. “It is not a burden. I enjoy doing it,” he says. As he affectionately strokes a 1994 Mercedes S Class (No, it is not a vintage but has been assigned to his care by its Delhi-based owner due to the ban on plying 15-plus years old cars in the national capital), Deb’s eyes light up as he describes its features. “You know, it is bullet-proof,” he chuckles. And gets into the plush vehicle to roll down its window to show how thick the glass is. Clearly, the car rejuvenator’s passion is boundless.

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