PRINCE FREDERICK

If you want to have a feel of the economical sidecars that were once made for regular bikes, you have to turn to collectors like Sumanth Chaganti

Vintage vehicles serve to remind us of what once was: cars with a big turning radius hark back to the days when roads resembled empty playgrounds. So do bikes with sidecars. Today, vehicles on the road are often separated only by a few inches. And the traffic authorities don’t want sidecars to add to the problem.

Around the world, sidecars are either banned or allowed only with restrictions. Sidecar manufacturers still in business make the attachments mostly for sidecar racing and high-end touring bikes.

Today, if you want to have a feel of the economical sidecars that were once made for regular bikes, you have to turn to collectors like Sumanth Chaganti. Nine years ago in Yercaud, Sumanth spotted a 1948 Matchless with a Watsonian sidecar in a cowshed. Abandoned for 30 years, the bike had miraculously survived. If it had been a coastal area, the bike would have disintegrated. Luckily, “the Yercaud weather being as friendly to metal as it is to humans, the bike and the sidecar survived three decades of neglect. Every single bolt was intact.”

The previous owner had given up on the Matchless after he ran over a horse with it. Convinced the machine was ill-starred, he wanted it out of his sight. If he had been sensible, he would have gone back to driving school. His loss was Sumanth’s gain. The Matchess was far from unlucky. Following its purchase, many rare bikes came Sumanth’s way. It is in fact the very first veteran bike that Sumanth bought. Today, he has a collection of 63 bikes! This 500cc Matchless was used for policing duty. Sidecar-fitted Matchless bikes earmarked for law enforcers in the United Kingdom had 500cc engines.

The major part of the three months Sumanth took to restore the bike was spent attending to the Watsonian sidecar. The sidecar has a detachable roof and the upper portion of the passenger’s cabin is secured by hinges. Fitting it took all the skills of all the workmen handling the restoration. The upholstery was another challenge. It would have proved too much for Sumanth had he not known Robin Mehra, owner of Mehra Brothers in Royapettah. When he mentioned his predicament to Robin, the latter jumped out of his seat. Apparently, an elderly employee in his company had the experience of working on sidecars.

That, in short, is how a historic bike, lying in a dung heap for three decades, was restored in just three months!

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