Septuagenarian re-engineers the low-cost car into a coupe

He built a go-kart when he was all of 17-year-old as a student of IIT Madras. Now 70, an age where most people look forward to a quiet life, K. Mahesh is busy knocking down car chassis and re-engineering them.

That is when he’s not busy in a board meeting of Sundaram Brake Linings Ltd., the Rs.276-crore TVS group company, of which he’s the Chairman and Managing Director.

Mr. Mahesh’s latest baby is the MAK 5 concept, a coupe version of the Tata Nano — a car that he greatly admires. He has completely re-engineered the Nano to a two-seater with a small boot in the rear, in the process making the car look even cuter than the original.

“I’ve always wanted a coupe but couldn’t think of spending Rs.30 lakh for a model such as the BMW Mini Coupe. A car is an extension of your personality and I wanted one that would respond to me,” says Mr. Mahesh. He spent about Rs.1.5 lakh to redo the Nano, converting the car from monocoque to a box-chassis; the work was done in seven months with the help of a local mechanic in his small workshop. The MAK 5 is about 19 per cent shorter in length compared to the original Nano but its performance in terms of mileage, acceleration and air-conditioning is the same. The weight of the car is the same as the original, but the brake is softer. The car handled well during a test drive by The Hindu but the engine noise was harsh. Mr. Mahesh says this is because the engine, which is in the rear, is closer to the driver now and the insulation is not the same as in the original.

Mr. Mahesh feels that Tata Motors can produce a coupe version with bells and whistles and aim it at the younger generation. “The younger generation wants something new. This car is driveable and we can even fit a baby sit in the back so that a small family can use it till the second baby arrives,” he says, pointing out that the MAK 5 is proof that it is possible.

A couple of years ago, Mr. Mahesh engineered a trailer for the Nano, which he says he has driven to Kodaikanal and back several times from Chennai. What was the reaction of Tata Motors to the concepts? “Nothing at all. I sent them pictures which they acknowledged,” he says.

Mr. Mahesh is recovering from a major ailment now but his enthusiasm has not dulled. He’s already on to his next project — MAK 6 — a two-seater quadricycle that he’s building out of a knocked down chassis of an autorickshaw.

“You’ve got to keep your mind active and age and ailments are not relevant,” says Mr. Mahesh who’s now a hands-off CMD at Sundaram Brake Linings, where his son is managing with guidance from him.