Aju C. Cherian flies the latest aircraft, but drives an old Mercedes-Benz
Captain Aju C. Cherian flies the fascinatingly modern Boeing 737 Next Generation, which has a cruising speed of 890 kph. In severe contrast, he drives a relic of a car — a 1959 Mercedes-Benz Type W121 190D (diesel) ponton — which rattles like a wind-tossed window when the speedometer needle jumps past 90 mph.
Design, and not speed, drives Aju's car-buying decisions. Two more Mercs — a 1965 fin-tail model parked at his ancestral house in Thrissur and a 10-year-old E220 in the driveway of his house on East Coast Road — clearly show that he appreciates the Mercedes-Benz's design language.
With a deep love for classic cars — a trait inherited from his grandfather — the 49-year-old pilot has the patience required to maintain them. Five years ago, he had settled on this190D, because his son Sumit squealed with delight at the sight of it, ignoring all the other Mercs lined up for sale. The car was in running condition, but far from trouble-free. There were problems with the differentials and the gearbox.
After futile attempts at getting professional help, the solution came knocking at the door. Rajan, a man who has worked on an astounding variety of vintage and classic cars owned by enthusiasts in Chennai, was passing by Aju's house when his eyes fell on the 190D. Once the experienced Rajan came on board, it was a quick flight to restoration for this Merc.
As an Air India Express pilot with numerous flying hours, Aju's exposure to the world is wide. In no time, he figured out where the mechanical parts for the 190D could be sourced. “In the Middle-East, old Mercs are popular. In countries such as Lebanon and Syria, they serve as taxis.”
Aju had to buy only the mechanical parts for the car's restoration.
Stylistic elements were either on the car or were in the storage area and required re-fitting. For example, the tiny clock made for the 190D's dashboard lies in the boxy tool cabinet sandwiched between the bucket seats in the front. “It has to be fixed one of these days,” says Aju. Thanks to the simplicity of this 190D's I4 engine configuration, settling problems under the hood has never been a sweaty and time- and money-consuming affair.
Spared the headache of looking into persistent mechanical troubles — which normally plague cars that are past their sell-by dates — Aju is free to focus on improving the Merc's looks. Influenced by a Merc of the same model he had seen in the Middle-East, he painted his car silver and black after scrubbing off its military-green paint. Unhappy with the result, he plans to use better paint and a new colour — maroon. This time, he patterns the look on a maroon-coloured ponton, whose picture is framed and adorns Aju's living room.