Resurrecting the rev and rumble

MAN AND MACHINE: Beboy J John, automobile enthusiast at his vintage cars restoring workshop   | Photo Credit: R. ASHOK

The clang of hammers and a heady whiff of diesel are unmistakable inside this dingy workshop on Bypass Road. There are automobile parts all around — chassis of cars, dismantled engines with metal wires jutting out, soiled seats and tyres. The mechanics are busy at work, one wields a welding machine while others spraypaint onto metal shells of vehicles. And amidst all this stand a dozen antique cars, including some much-acclaimed old-world beauties such as the Willys Station Wagon, the Volkswagen Beetle, the 1948 Triumph Roadster TR1800 and Mark IV Ambassador, apart from a couple of 60s Jeeps and a 1972 Mercedes W114. Over the past four years, JJ Auto Customz has become the go-to place for restoration, repairs and complete rejig of old classic cars in the region. This is where antique cars that arrive on flat-beds have been rumbling back to life.

Resurrecting the rev and rumble

Beboy J John, a self-made automobile expert, is the man behind the venture. “I was fascinated by automobiles since childhood. As a school-goer, I turbo-charged and inter-cooled a Contessa Classic. As a 16-year-old, I learnt to take apart and put together a car engine,” says John.

Riding a trademark Harley Davidson Fat Boy, the man in his late 40s walks with a spring in his step. He greets me with a smiling face and a greasy palm, before taking me inside the roomy and airy cabin of the Station Wagon. With its imposing mauve-and-grey body, the monstrous machine stands tall, the interiors of which John has modified with modern features like rear AC vents, power steering and even a sunroof. “It’s entirely hand-built and took almost a year. The chassis was in a bad-shape when I bought it from the Madura Coats,” he says. “The Station Wagon was once common in India but now, it’s extremely rare. It’s the grandfather of all SUVs, literally the first SUV in the world.”

Resurrecting the rev and rumble

Showing a 1960 Willys jeep CJ3A, he explains how the vehicle has a rally spec roll cage. “It comes with chassis-mounted roll bars, designed to take part in rallies. It also has an open-knuckle ball joint which is a more reliable older technology.” “Jeeps of those times are absolutely robust and rugged,” adds John. “And that made me buy one with a 2.2l petrol hurricane engine at a Naval auction. I have fitted it with disc brakes and replaced the points ignition with an electronic ignition so that I can drive it with ease.”

John’s workshop is like a fantasy world for automobile lovers. “There’s some experiment going on all the time. Working on old cars is not easy, as the mechanism and design are entirely different from cars of the current times, which only experienced mechanics are adept with,” he says. “But, there’s nothing that you don’t find in books and on the Net. I believe the old-school mechanism was much simpler if not sophisticated.”

Resurrecting the rev and rumble

There are two kinds of customers who reach out to John: those who just want the cars to be fixed and those who want them updated with modern features. “Restoring old cars to their stock look and functioning is the biggest challenge, as it takes a lot of patience and skill and it’s expensive. One major issue is finding parts, which I source from the UK, US, Dubai and China. Once, I visited a yard in Singapore and was astonished to see the volume and variety of automobile parts. There’s nothing that you can’t find in places like that but to import them is a convoluted time-consuming process,” he says. “Though people are willing to spend money on restoration of old cars, I suggest cheaper alternatives so that the cost doesn’t cross the gross value of the car. Exceptional cases are cars which have an appreciating antique value.”

He takes the instance of the Triumph Roadster. “The Nagercoil industrialist who owns it is ready to spend on its restoration. It’s a true antique from 1948 with a wooden floor, a four cylinder engine and the trademark ‘mom-in-law seats’ at the rear. We had to hand-fabricate some parts and make over 40 templates as the chassis was in pieces. It may take another couple of months to fully restore it.” says John. “The purpose of restoring cult vehicles is to actually preserve them for posterity. For me, it’s a passion out of which I have made business. My publicity is only through word-of-mouth.”

John has restored six cars so far and is currently working on 15 more. “Some real cool cult cars including a Dodge Kingsway and a Baby Hindustan may soon land in my workshop.”

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Printable version | Mar 1, 2021 7:34:42 PM |

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