Three friends buy old jeeps and restore them into hi-tech, road worthy vehicles. K. Jeshi visits them at their Jeep Clinic where they carry out the transformation
It was nothing more than junk when they bought the Willys GPA, a jeep manufactured in 1941 during the Second World War. Three engineers from Coimbatore bid for it at a Defence Yard auction and towed it all the way to Coimbatore. Here, they lovingly restored it, and today it stands pretty at their recently inaugurated Jeep Clinic. A. Gopal, K. Naveen and R. Muthu Kumar have converted their love for jeeps into a business opportunity. They refer to their clinic as a high-tech private hospital for jeeps! It is here that old jeeps are given new life. “Other than the chassis and the engine, we replace almost everything else - the nuts, screws and bolts - and rebuild the body. The vehicle is ripped open, and re-modelled from scratch,” says Gopal.
The three friends want to make jeeps affordable. One has to spend a minimum of Rs. 2.75 lakhs to buy a re-modelled performance oriented jeep, they say.
They show off a Low bonnet Willys GPW, another World War classic. They have retained its original map reading lamp, Lucas headlights, the logo, emblem, and the military colour. The Willys Station Wagon, a limited edition jeep, also occupies pride of place. It is the first commercial civilian utility wagon, manufactured by Willys in 1954 after World War II.
“There are just two or three of these vehicles around. One of them is stationed at the Chief Minister’s Kodanad Estate. For ours, we had to wait for five years to get it directly from the owner in Andhra Pradesh. It’s an asset,” Gopal says with pride as he points to the Wagon that has an amazingly generous leg space.
They have retained the number plate of the previous owner, as well as the original blue paint on the outside, the windshield with original beading, door handles and the steering wheel. Many have shown interest in buying it but they are not ready to sell.
Gopal is a storehouse of information. He has collected the technical details of Jeeps right from 1939 onwards to the latest Wrangler Sport, introduced in 2011. Every jeep has a history, he says. “A jeep is like Spiderman…it can jump, hop and run, uninterruptedly, there’s no stopping. We want to build interest in these vehicles. We want to do that by making jeeps affordable. The sturdy body that weighs around 1400kgs (1.2 tonnes) ensures safety too.”
Automobile evolution began with jeeps, says Naveen. “Cars came much later. Our future generations should know the history. In the West, jeeps are popular even today as it is suits any terrain,” he says. Their single-seater high bonnet open jeep (Willys CJ 3B), a 1953 model, comes with a foldable windshield.
The Mahindra Major, a commercial passenger jeep is another prized possession. So is a Mahindra MM 540. “The original owner is the former Commissioner of Police, Triunelveli. We got it at an auction and converted it to look like a military vehicle. It comes with a set of 12-lights in the front that is good enough to light up the jungle.”
A work in progress at their clinic is the black Mahindra Thar CRDe. If you leave the door open, a pre-recorded voice asks you to shut it. It will soon have an automated rain-detection sensor that activates the wiper the minute water falls on the wind shield. “The owner, an Australian, wants to convert his Rs. 8 lakh Thar into a hi-tech vehicle, on the lines of Wrangler Sport (it costs Rs. 1.5 crore). We are doing the automation for just Rs. 7 lakh; his total spend is just Rs. 15 lakh,” explains Muthu.
He has developed a unique high-tech mobile Security Access Control System for the Thar which allows its owner to control the vehicle anywhere in the world through a wide area network. “The mobile phone becomes the remote,” he says. If someone tries to steal the car, an in-built spy camera captures the footage and the owner can see it on his mobile. From the mobile phone, he can cut the fuel supply and activate the jeep horn. As the kit is connected with the nerve centre of the car, any attempt to deactivate it results in the car going dead. This device can be installed in cars, two-wheelers, and buses too.”
To add muscle to the Thar, they have also added the high lift jack to raise the vehicle by nearly 40 inches if the wheels get stuck. There is GPS tracking, voice recognition systems, rugged tyres, and wooden interiors. “Every hi-tech automation aims at ensuring safety to the vehicle, driver and co-passengers.”
They have delivered over 100 jeeps to customers across the country over the last seven years. “Jeep Clinic is a registered company. We are not a roadside garage,” Gopal clarifies. A chunk of his customers are from Karnataka, Andhra and Kerala as well as the North, especially from Punjab, and Bengal.
The three friends have travelled as far as the Pakistan border to buy jeeps on auction and to source components. “Every day is a learning process. Our mission is to retain the old culture, the history and infuse it with new technology for a never-before driving experience. It is the ultimate thrill.”