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|Feb 03, 2003|
Deers for steers
The feeling is almost go-kartish, as the road blurs, like, a foot away from my bum
I read Guido Bothe's press release about his Chinkara with great interest, probably the only one that has held my attention from beginning to end in the last couple of years. While the content was decidedly amateur, it was also honest, earnest and full of enthusiasm for his 1800 CC 88 bhp fibre-glass-bodied two-seater.
A refreshing change from the hyperbole-laden, abbreviation-packed dockets religiously sent across by other manufacturers. I called up the German, who also builds speedboats at Alibaug, near Mumbai, and a meeting was arranged for once, there would be no boring powerpoint presentations, market figures, and PR personnel, whose efficiency some times leads me to believe that they actually like me.
Bandra's Carter Road early next morning was being pounded upon by a legion of earnest feet; arms flailed, and love handles jiggled, as chattering mouths took in surreptitious gossip along with gulps of still fresh air.
A meek winter sun bumbled its way through the smog, colouring patches of the sky a faint socialite-cheek pink. It was then that the Chinkara (named after the smallest of Asiatic gazelles) appeared, with its sonorous exhaust battering the atmosphere around it. With an extra long snout, flanked in the middle by eager Peeping-Tom headlamps, fat 16-inch Continental tyres, a shiny side-silencer, and a low-slung, almost reptilian affinity with tarmac, the roadster snatches eyeballs and has mouths agape as Guido parks it alongside my bike.
Contrary to reports in the mainstream media, the Chinkara 1.8 S Roadster is not India's first attempt at making a sports car. But while Karivardhan's Kari 500 holds claim to that title, the Chinkara at least comes at a time when our economy-obsessed market is more open to niche products.
Inspired out and out by Colin Chapman's Lotus Super Sevens (now built by Caterham and cloned by many other kit-car makers), this little car belongs to a tribe that are ridiculously light, moved by punchy engines, and shatter every possible concession to practicality in their effort to provide fun-filled outings to the well-heeled, the truly enthusiastic, and occasionally, to motoring journalists.
Guido's rear-wheel driver consists of critical parts easily acquirable in the Indian market. So, the engine is a 1817 CC Isuzu (also found in the Amby, but with 13 more bhp), the suspension is M800 (independent McPherson struts at both ends), and so are the dials and controls.
Which means that should you buy one of these, spares and repair won't be a problem. The interior of the Chinkara prototype I drove was pretty functional, with familiar Maruti dials and controls, a wooden steering, bucket seats, and red three-point safety belts all of which made for an appealing picture.
But what's more interesting is that this roadster can be entirely customised. The Chinkara comes with a manual or auto gearbox, custom colours are available for the body, fenders etc., with matching upholstery, the headlamps and tail lamps can be either round or square, and if you think you deserve more than the standard water-proof soft-top, there's a hard top with gull-wing doors on offer.
Bothe and his team will take approximately two to three months to put together one of these cars, which will cost Rs 6.72 lakh. That sounds like a lot of money to you and me. But up in those rarefied heights where money begets more money, seven lakh is probably a birthday bash or two at the Zodiac Grill, a couple of first-class tickets to New York and back or a doting pa's impulse purchase for his just-in-college son. I roundly curse the rich under my breath while easing myself into the Chinkara's leather bucket seats. The pedals are perfectly placed and the compact wooden steering nice to hold. There's a faint hum as I turn on the ignition and slide the three-speed autobox lever, before plunging my right foot into the accelerator pedal.
The feeling is almost go-kartish, as the road blurs, like, a foot away from my bum. The sky appears bluer and bigger, and the shortest of people seem tall, as the Chinkara's horses trundle out. The car moves at a rapid clip (claimed top speed - 187 kph), as if the SOHC engine wants to get as far away as possible from all its Amby associations.
The acceleration is crisp, if not awesome, the disc brakes at both ends felt more than capable, and all my apprehensions about ground clearance were laid to rest, thanks to the 16-inch rubber that the Chinkara runs on. While I can't claim to have straightened corners at 80 kph on the peaceful, gently winding Carter Road, the hard, almost race-car, suspension ably complemented the steering, which delivered adequate feedback. Guido intends to make the suspension a little softer, in order to cater to Indian preferences.
you could buy a fully loaded Hyundai Accent for the money this machine
comes for, the Chinkara provides, to sum it up, an out-of-the-car experience.
In any case, the people who'd probably buy it won't think in these lines
Which was exactly what I was doing, and Guido Bothe's got it made if people like these intend to get into a similar frame of mind.