The road runners

Elizabeth Paulose
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Cousins, B. Sasikumar and Sathish Balu lovingly restore and refurbish old jeeps and make them road worthy.

Jeep restorers B. Sasikumar and B. Sathish.— Photo: M.Periasamy
Jeep restorers B. Sasikumar and B. Sathish.— Photo: M.Periasamy

People often stop B.Sasikumar and Sathish Balu on the road to ask them about their jeep. The bright blue shiny 540 Wrangler jeep fitted with a snorkel and large imported lights is a head-turner. Sasi calls it his ‘lucky jeep'.

“Around 60 people have approached us for modifications and restorations after seeing this beauty,” he says. B.Sasi is one of the proprietors at Big Motors that has been modifying and restoring old jeeps since 2003.

Sathish and Sasi are cousins and they have 16 jeeps that they are working on at their workshop in Kotagiri. A 1942 GPW Ford, a 1947 Willys Civilian Jeep 2A (CJ 2A) Willys, a 540 Wrangler, a Kaiser 101 are some of them. They also have a workshop in Pollachi and two more in Coimbatore.

Sasi's first love was a 1963 Willys, a left-hand drive that he procured while he was still an undergraduate at S.N.R. College of Arts and Science. Sathish, a mechanical engineer, at that time was working in Punjab.

He later joined Sasi in his jeep venture.

“We first started out in Pollachi. Initially, it was difficult for us to source jeeps. Now, there are e-auctions. But, we still have to go to the venue and see if the parts are original. We have procured military jeeps from Akhnoor in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as a few from Kanjirapally in Kerala,” says Sasi.

Most of the time, it is only the shell of the jeep that they get. They build the rest. A jeep that they recently acquired from the Punjab Jeep Mela is a 1957 Willys original left-hand-drive.

It still has the post on which guns were placed during wars!

“The true jeeps are the ones that are left-hand drives. Post 1968, Willys stopped manufacturing these vehicles. There are very few people who can handle a left-hand drive. But, it feels wonderful to drive one,” says Sathish.

Star wheels

They have a military green ex-Army Low Bonnet Willys MB 38 that is a movie celebrity. It has starred in Kuruvi , Silambaattam , Nari , Deivathirumagal and Rakthacharithra . Some of their signature features include special lights called map-readers, cat-eye lights, spot-lights and block-out lights. “These are all fittings in military vehicles that we have incorporated into our jeeps. Since most of our clients are adventure junkies, these fittings are ideal,” says Sasi. For drives through water bodies, they provide jeeps with snorkels. This prevents water from entering the engine and keeps the vehicle functional even in water.

Their jeeps are also provided with a high-lift jack that can lift the jeep upto 48 inches. “Once you are out on trips on off-road terrains, jeeps often get stuck in mud. These jacks can help in lifting up the vehicle,” explains Sasi.

A special seat near the bonnet for a passenger to sit right in front during safaris is another added feature. “My son often sits in front while we go out on adventure trips,” says Sasi. Maxxis Bighorn Tires for the jeeps, each priced at a whopping Rs. 35,000, are in big demand. These are perfect for all terrains – be it sandy, muddy, hilly or rocky.

Sasi and Sathish restored three jeeps including a Willys 1963 station wagon for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa. “That was quite a rollercoaster ride for us. There were just three days left for delivery of the station wagon. The vehicle was ready at our workshop in Kotagiri. Only the final touches were left. We woke up in the morning to find a large rock on top of the station wagon. There had been a landslide. We had to dig the mud from underneath the vehicle, retrieve the vehicle and completely re-do it. The rock is still there where this happened,” recalls Sasi.

Jeep adventures

The two jeep lovers regularly go on off-road jeeping events. Their team, ‘Steep and Deep' has taken part in the Palar Challenge held on the banks of the river Palar, the Great Mountain Challenge at Munnar and the Great Mahindra Escape in Wayanad. They also organise off-roading trips.

“We get a bunch of our friends together, take our jeeps and proceed to places such as Anaikatti, Sathyamangalam, Ooty and Kotagiri.”

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