Appar Lakshmanan's desire for a wooden car drew derision from his peers. The carpenter turned a deaf ear to it. Only his wife's opinion matters the most to Lakshmanan; and she had no misgivings about this ambitious idea. As her husband comes from a family of asaris (traditional carpenters) famous for making temple chariots and bullock carts, she had faith in his judgment and ability.
But before he got started, Lakshmanan had to take some lessons. He had never driven a car, let alone stripped one and studied its design. A mechanic friend in Porur, where Lakshmanan lives and works, volunteered to teach him the mechanics of a car. "Dismantling a Maruti 800, he explained everything," says the carpenter.
A week later, Lakshmanan got an old, used Maruti 800 and also a complete set of welding equipment. Freeing the car of its steel body, Lakshmanan proceeded to dress it up with dry wood hewn from black bulbul trees (called so because the black bulbul bird is drawn to them). The bunds around lakes are overrun with this tree, known as karuvela maram in Tamil Nadu. "Considering the difficulty in sourcing quality teakwood, this wood is best for such work. When it dries in summer, black bulbul wood attains great strength."
In two months, he gave the Maruti a bulbul makeover. While keeping the chassis, the drive train and other parts essential to running the car, Lakshmanan replaced every bit of the automobile with this wood. The finished open-top car displays a variety of designs. Made of crossed strips of wood, the doors are latticed. The bonnet is full of grooves; so are the front seats and the rear bench seat. "The grooves prevent a passenger's back from coming into total contact with the seat and aid air circulation." The running board, rear wings, the boot and both bumpers exhibit carvings. In various places, he has fixed stylistic pieces, which he calls 'rabbit's ears' - one of them serves as a sliding cover for the fuel tank's nozzle.
While trying to make the vehicle an awe-inspiring work of art, he was careful not to interfere with the natural processes of a car. Except for its wooden nature, the grille is like any other - it provides adequate ventilation. As the spare wheel is mounted on the right side of the car, the boot is very spacious. The position of the rear-view mirrors can be adjusted.
Lakshmanan has named the car Appar 25 to draw attention to his 25-year career in carpentry. Displayed at the All-India Handicrafts Sourcing Show, on at Valluvar Kottam until November 8, Appar 25 has been bought for Rs. 2.8 lakh by a connoisseur of art.
A wooden cycle is among other works by Lakshmanan displayed at the show.