Edward Balanathan has ably maintained a 1958 Bullet that was made in Madras but belongs more to Redditch
This classic 1958 Bullet was made in Madras but shares some features of slightly earlier Bullet models produced at the Redditch factory in the United Kingdom. In its early years, Enfield India assembled Bullets under license from Royal Enfield and the consignment for Madras did not entirely comprise of newly developed parts.
There was a reason for this. In the year of its inception (1955), Enfield India bagged a contract to supply the Army with Bullets by the dozens. Since the Army was impressed with the 1955 Bullet model, Enfield India selectively adopted subsequent product upgrades at the Bullet assembly line in Redditch. As a result, there were striking dissimilarities between Madras and Redditch Bullets sharing manufacturing date, with the local machines slightly behind the times. To give an example, this 1958 Enfield India relies on a mag-dyno for charging. The Redditch factory had dispensed with the mag-dyno and switched to the alternator by 1956.
But this 1958 machine is not out of sync with the Bullet technology of its period. The frame is completely welded, lugged and brazed. Sprockets are of sizes (rear has 46 teeth and the front, 18 teeth) found only in the 350cc Royal Enfields that were aimed at the trails and the 500cc models. Twin, full-width hub braking in the front is an upgrade this Madras-assembled Bullet had not missed. The rear wheel provides the advantage of a quick-detach mechanism.
As the British Royal Enfield folded up many years ago, maintaining a Bullet made up of parts from the Redditch factory is a tough ask. But Edward Balanathan, who bought the bike in 1976, had the expertise to keep it running. A production engineer at Ashok Leyland, Edward waded through classic Bullet user manuals and maintained the bike all by himself for a long time.
For 72-year-old Edward, this Bullet is a vehicle of memories. It belonged to his friend Gilbert Karunakaran (who headed the engine assembly and testing section at Ashok Leyland); Gilbert had won a string of rallies with this bike. This Bullet helped Edward reunite with his wife, from time to time. As a nursing tutor attached to the government, she went on transfer to many places. “This Bullet was a Godsend. To meet her, I have ridden to many places including Salem, Thanjavur and Vellore.”
When Edward stopped maintaining the bike, mechanic M. Sundar began to help out. Sundar calls the septuagenarian ‘Eddy Uncle' and goes out of his way to keep the machine looking and running good.
There is a reason for Sundar to willingly go the extra mile. His father, Mannar, was employed at the Ashok Leyland's chassis assembly section and learnt the trade from Edward.