Motoring

The bike restorer

His Norton 16 H WD (War Derived), a military motor cycle, came to him in a gunny bag! Today, the British bike stands pretty as a picture in his garage in Peelamedu. “I had to wait for months before I got an original brand of the horn button for it,” says tool room engineer K. Muthu Kumar, of his prized possession. While he services cars for a living, restoring bikes is what he loves doing best.

“When I lay my hands on a bike, the first thing I study is its literature. Only after reading up on its history do I start sourcing the components,” he says. Muthu has restored 50 vehicles so far, including cars and scooters, and bicycles. His passion for technology comes from his father M. Kanakachalam, a self-taught engineer. It was his dad who gifted him his first bike, a Yezdi CL II, when he cleared his engineering with distinction. “In 2004, I restored an Innocenti Lambretta 48CC, a 1957 made bike,” he says.

But it's the Norton he can't stop talking about. It was used in World War II. Muthu Kumar travelled to Vizag to source its army light, a removable helper light used during military search operations. He also opted for ‘metal stitching', an old method used to repair cracks in cast metals without welding, and retained the original cadmium coating to keep the original dull finish. “We fabricate components only as a last option. I did start fabricating the prop stand, but luckily I found the original one. The stickers and piston for the bike came from U.K.” he says.

Engine evolution

Muthu's collection reflects the evolution of the engine, carburettors, ignition, brakes and suspension of two-wheelers. He says the automobile revolution in the eighties kick started a new wave of fuel efficient bikes from manufacturers such as Yamaha, Kawasaki Bajaj, Hero Honda and Royal Enfield. “Transport technology started off as a means of getting people from one point to another. It was only later when people wanted it to become pleasurable that the vehicles evolved,” he says.

Muthu is currently restoring a 1951 model of a Norton Dominator (500 CC) that comes with a twin cylinder. His collection includes a Lambretta series II scooter, Royal Enfield 700 CC twin (1957), Yamaha RD 350 twin cylinder bike (one of the classic super bikes of the century), Brooke Bond's BSA Bond (India's first bike with a mono shock absorber, he says), and a Vespa scooter (Italian make). “All of them were in a junk state,” he mentions.

But some of them have an interesting past. The Rajdoot (GTS) Bobby bike in bright orange was the one that Rishi Kapoor rode with Dimple Kapadia as pillion in the 1974 blockbuster “Bobby”. It was very hard to gather its components, remembers Muthu. In pride of place is a gleaming red and white Italian-made Vespa VBA 1960 scooter, intact with its original parts. “Only after I restored it did I come to know that the first Indian owner of the scooter was the scientist M.S. Swaminathan,” he says. Muthu also has a BSA CII, a 21st century British bike that was first owned by an Indian scientist in the U.K.

The other stars in his stable are the civilian version of James ML 125 (Military Light vehicle), a 1942 hand gear bike made for military use during World War II, and the Aerial NH Red Hunter, a 350 cc which Muthu declares was way ahead of its time. “It has advanced features such as alloy drums and cylinder head, and a fulcrum brake. It came in the seventies along with other British bikes.”

The 1959 Royal Enfield (that costs more than a lakh now), a Czechoslovakian Java Pionyr 50cc bike, Yezdi jet bikes, and Motobecane mopeds from France are his other treasures. According to Muthu, bike lovers consider British makes such as BSA, Norton, Triumph, Ariel and Royal Enfield collectibles. Muthu shares all the information, history and the nuts and bolts of bikes that he owns on blogs. “I write regularly about the history, evolution, and engineering of bikes to create awareness among youth. For instance, they should know that the production of two-stroke bikes has stopped. We make such bikes only for sports purposes now.”

Fascination for bullets

Pointing to a Raleigh Roadster bicycle (24-inch, made in the U.K.) that he restored, Muthu says that it has the original Brook's Saddle handle grip, Miller lamps, rolling bell, warning lamp and odometer. There is a bicycle transistor, and hand-held flash lights too, not to forget white tyres (the cost of which could buy a new bicycle!). He shows off a restored Royal Enfield Bullet (1959). “There is fascination for Bullets in India. They sell like hot cakes. There is pride in owning a pre-60s model of a Bullet and it promises good returns when sold.”

While the internet has made it easier to source spares and components, he says networking with engineers and local contacts is important. Muthu is currently restoring the rare Holland bike Rap Crown (1965) and a type B Piaggio Ape (the 3-wheeler tuk tuk made in 1954). “It is addictive,” he confesses. “Restoring is not just about giving a new coat of paint. It is about leaving something behind for the future.”

Star tracks

Muthu Kumar's father M. Kanakachalam worked with motor enthusiast G.R.Karthikeyan (racer Narain Karthikeyan's father). Along with M. D. Mangalakaran and P. Ranganathan, they won the 7000-km long All India Highway Motor Rally of 1972, organised by the Indian Oil Corporation

Muthu Kumar's BSA CII, Java and Vespa appeared in the film Vaaranam Ayiram. His Suvega, Lambretta and Java, Humber bicycle (a 1940 make with 3-speed hub dynamo and 3-speed gear) featured in Pokkisham

His Royal Enfield's “Fantabulus” the only scooter made by Royal Enfield was featured in the August issue of the British magazine Scootering

He owns a 125 CC twin cylinder Honda B 125, a 1972 bike rated as one of the best street bikes of the century


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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 12:33:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Motoring/the-bike-restorer/article2455981.ece

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