You never know when you will find your spark in life. Ask Sunu Babu, a resident of Kakkanad, Kochi, and he will tell you at length about this serendipity. Even though the pandemic has confined everyone to their homes, Sunu’s love for vintage machinery has kept him alive. On July 23, 2020, he was walking around Aluva market after midnight looking for the object of his desire.
Many onlookers may have smiled at the man, thinking he was crazy. But little did they know he was looking for an abandoned vintage quad in the corner of a workshop in Aluva Market. A friend of his had told him about it. When he finally found it, it was something out of a movie. “It was raining and I admit it was love at first sight. When I first laid eyes on the Daihatsu Wildcat TAFT F20, it was almost whimsical,” he says. “TAFT” stands for Tough Almighty Fourwheeldrive Transport. Manufactured between 1974 and 1984, Daihatsu is one of Japan’s oldest automakers.
After working in the IT industry for over 11 years, Sunu started his company Petrolhead Customs about five years ago. The company deals with customization and restoration of motorcycles. But he has always been in love with jeeps. “My first off-road experience on a jeep was in Kudajadri when I was seven years old. I was very excited to see the jeep climb. By the time we reached the top of the hill, I had decided to take a jeep. Years later, I took the same path with my jeep,” recalls Sunu.
After he started working, he saved enough money to buy a 4×4 – A Mahindra MM540. “I started exploring lesser known places, staying in tents. I also visited Kudajadri in my jeep. I also ended up owning an LJ79 series Land Cruiser,” says Sunu.
However, of all the vehicles he owns, the Daihatsu Wildcat TAFT F20 holds a special place in Sunu’s heart. He went through two floods, lying in the Aluva market unattended like a piece of scrap metal. “He was completely rusty. There was no carburetor, cylinder head, radiator, dashboard, seats or even a windshield. A day after picking it up, I found the owner, Jijo Joseph, a vintage car collector based in Aluva. He had imported the vehicle from Dubai, but even he doesn’t know where it was before that,” says Sunu, who says it could be the only Wildcat in India.
New and Improved
Restoration of the Wildcat began two years ago at SuperBee Automobile Union, a garage in Edappally owned by Sunu’s friend Azrif Rasheed. Sunu started by dismantling the entire unit and restoring the 12R engine. As it was an original vintage vehicle, the spare parts and engine rebuild kit had to come from Japan and Indonesia.
“I started assembling everything from scratch and the 1.6 liter petrol engine started on the first attempt. The mechanics struggled with the bodywork of the vehicle as they had never seen anything like it before. I love the design of pick-ups so I closed the cabin of the Wildcat to make it a two-seater. When it was ready to be painted, the first thing that came to mind was a yellow-white combination of the Toyota FJ40 Bright yellow stands out in the crowd with pearl white on the roof and steel rims,” says Sunu.
The stock turn signals and taillights were imported from Columbia. Wildcat’s stock steel rims are 6J wide, but Sunu customized it to 9J and put MT tires on. The dashboard was built in teak wood and new counters were installed. Also, the steering wheel was removed from the old Willys and customized to fit the steering bar.
Since there was no hardwiring kit available for Wildcat, expert electricians in town designed the wiring from scratch. The bed liners were constructed from mahogany wood. “Bringing something like this vintage machine to life was an experience in itself,” says Sunu.