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Restoring Defender celebrates beautiful journey of friendship

Restoring Defender celebrates beautiful journey of friendship
"Restoring Defender celebrates beautiful journey of friendship"

There I was, in a gleeful and joyful mood, at the crack of dawn, on a Sunday. I was like a young Charlie Bucket exploring Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Instead of riding, no thanks to a recent accident, I embarked on a drive to Mentakab, Pahang, to bring home my restored 1987 Land Rover Defender 110, nicknamed El Torro (The Bull).

The drive was with my good buddy Dr R. Sethunath, in his 2022 Land Rover Defender 110. Another good friend, Dr V. Selva Raja, also joined in the fun.

Dr Sethunath, a great ophthalmic surgeon and a true blue-blood motor head, did not think twice when I requested a dawn ride to bring El Torro home. He was more excited than I was. During his younger days, Dr Sethunath used to participate in rally races in India.

Dr Selva Raja, meanwhile, was my training partner during my Vitreo retinal sub-specialty training days, working long hours at the national referral centre for retinal diseases in Malaysia. The friendship was forged through long, hard hours of non-stop work where we relied on each other for help and moral support.

Even though I’m a big fan of motorcycles, I’ve always wanted to own and drive a manual 4x4, specifically the Defender. I suppose the ‘Man’ above felt the time was right.

This project started 30 months ago, when I was fortunately introduced to Sudhakar @ ‘Landrover Ravi’ in Mentakab, through my close family friend’s son, R. Maheswaran.

His father, Ramachandran, was a real gem of a man. I met him in 2007, when I was posted to a hospital in his district. He offered me, a total stranger, a place to stay in his home, as I was not able to secure accommodation. The friendship blossomed over the years and we are now like blood brothers, sharing the good and the bad, in our lives.

Maheswaran drives a Defender 110 single cab. The introduction was ‘preordained’, as Sudhakar had a Defender that a customer had wanted to sell.

It had been earmarked for restoration, but due to unfortunate circumstances, the previous owner had to forgo his plans. When I saw El Torro for the first time, it was ‘rust love at first sight’! Six potential buyers had a good look at it but passed.

Honestly, I too, had some misgivings, as I was not a qualified motor head, and had no idea of the enormity of the restoration. I made my decision to look beyond the rusty, dilapidated condition of El Torro, and instead, focused on the man who was going to restore it. I saw the spark of passion and the zeal in his eyes, and the conviction and confidence in his voice. The scars and oil stains on his hands showed me that he was an honest, hard-working man with good skills and knowledge of the work he does.

Sudhakar has been restoring these vehicles for the last 30 years. He has clients from all over the country, including from Sabah and Sarawak, and even Singapore. His workshop and home have multiple vehicles waiting to be worked on.

With a gentlemanly shake, our deal was sealed. Seeing how El Torro turned out, under the loving care of Sudhakar’s skilled hands, I am happy that I trusted my instincts and made an accurate measure of the man.

I was smart enough to listen to his sound advice to keep it simple and easy. The whole vehicle was stripped down to the chassis and was rebuilt, from the ground up. The 2.5-litre diesel engine was taken apart, cleaned, and overhauled. The suspension was changed to toughen it up and prevent body roll, which the Defender tends to do in the twisties.

Sudhakar had anticipated my long runs and did the needful. He retained the vehicle’s hardy and tough exterior, hammering out every dent, replacing those worn-out body panels, and carefully sourcing them from his extensive network of contacts. However, I requested some modern aesthetic upgrades that included LED lights, a good sound system, and air-conditioning. The roof rack was a must.

My dawn runs are to greet the rising sun. Being able to stand on the roof with a hot cup of coffee in hand, is a privilege. Since my unfortunate mishap in November 2023, I had been travelling 300km, round trip, on my Saturday afternoons to visit Sudhakar and El Torro. The progress was painstakingly slow, so much so that my missus and children had started to doubt if there even was a car.

Sudhakar himself developed some sort of attachment to El Torro. All these years, he had not felt the kind of connection he had with this build, compared with those he had done over the years. He felt proud of the work he had done with El Torro. We too, have developed a strong friendship because of El Torro.

Finally, the long wait is over. El Torro is now standing tall, in full glory, and ready to tackle the path less travelled.

The drive back was joyful, the sound and feel of the powerful diesel, a catharsis for the soul. The engine performed flawlessly, without missing a beat. Reaching home safe, I commemorated El Torro’s arrival with a Moet.

It was great for Dr Sethunath and Dr Selva Raja to take the trouble to accompany me.

It is friends that we meet along the way that make the journey worthwhile. I have been very fortunate to have made many good friends over the years.

There are friends, there is family, and then there are friends who become family.

The valuables we carry may impress some, but the values we hold, will inspire others. It doesn’t matter what’s been written in your story so far. It’s how you fill up the rest of the pages that counts.

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