My first introduction to vintage cars was in Udaipur where I saw king’s collection of classic Buicks, Rolls Royce, Cadillacs, Mercs and Austin Martins. Of Course, king of Udaipur could really afford to maintain such a collection. My second rendezvous with vintage cars was in Mumbai on two occasions.
One was on Marine Drive where vintage cars can be easily spotted on a Sunday evening and second when I saw ‘Bugs’ parked across the Taj Mahal hotel in Colaba. Yes! Bugs or Beetle, a German car designed for common man was conceived by Adolf Hitler in 1930s and asked Ferdinand Porsche to develop the car. The car was one of the first rear engine cars in the world. I was instantly attracted to the candy coloured VW Beetles which were out on a drive in the city. Mumbai city hosts VW Beetle Club of Mumbai which was started by Keith Mascarenhas. He owns seven Beetles. Fancy that!
According to Keith, there might be over 500 Beetles across India (Though, 300 members are registered with them at the moment). He says that the original car was brought to India by various missionaries and was often used at their mission stations as an ambulance. Beetle went on to become a symbol of the hippie generation; in fact Beetlemania is considered an important aspect in the study of the cultural history of the US where it was a hot seller. It retains the title of being the bestselling car of all times. More than 20 million cars have been sold since its launch in 1938 after World War II. It remains the most coveted one as well. In spite of difficulties in procuring its spare parts, it is the most sought after car in the vintage car circle. Keith confirms that the club members are from all walks of life like journalists, management students, scrap dealers, business men, etc. They take their hobby to a new level when they personally source spare parts, paint and polish and even help out each other with mechanic inputs.
Sonali Thakur, a Kandivali resident and a proud owner of a glossy, blue bug adds, “Reviving an old beauty gives a gratification which only a Beetle owner will understand.” She and her husband bought an old Beetle for Rs 1 lakh from an old lady who loved her car but was not able to manage it anymore. It was dusty and in a tattered condition. But Sonali and her husband took out their weekends to source the required spares and brought it back to life. Now it is a source of their joy and pride and others envy. There are many members who got their second-hand Beetle for a meager Rs 15000 in running condition, but the main expense is on the spares.
The common problem that these club members face is to source spare parts. With VW Beetle Club of Mumbai group on Facebook, they all stay connected and provide leads to each other related to spares, restorers, cosmetic parts, etc. At times, spare parts and original colours like Beetle Chincilla Grey are procured from UK, US, Brazil, Thailand and other parts of the world. The club members gather at one of the member’s house to discuss the problems related to maintenance of their bugs.
Anoop Thakur from Khar has helped in the restoration of 12-15 Beetles. “Restoration is time consuming and expensive.” He says. It takes more than a year to collect all the parts and then only the restoration work can begin. The club’s main activity is to increase the spare bank, help owners with registration and paper work and help them to acquire a new Beetle. Chor Bazaar and a few auto parts shops in Opera House area in Mumbai stock most mechanical spares but lights and cosmetic accessories are usually imported from abroad.
Time to time the club organizes road trips and treasure hunts. “We organized a treasure hunt in which over 20 Beetles participated.”, said Anoop. The onlookers were surprised to see so many Beetles together on the road. (Just like me) In the past, they even visited the Volkswagen plant in Pune. Recently, the club organized a drive to Chakan where many members participated with their beauties. Anoop advises to keep the Beetles safe as the spares are much in demand and there is a high likelihood of theft. The VW Beetle Club of Mumbai is just a small step to keep alive the love for ‘Bugs’ which are small yet beautiful, timeless and of course priceless. To connect with the club, visit their Facebook group.