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The 1D project

Indian custom car

24/03/2014 09:19 |  Comments: 

Contributing editor

Sipi is a fairy who hangs above us like a huge, ever-smiling, men’s fragrance-smelling umbrella. He can be called anytime, anywhere to lend a helping hand, and he’ll be there in an hour with one of his Transits for sure. A dangerously maniac car collector (the street in front of his house is full of his vehicles), a radio-control and model car freak, Sipos is a Swiss knife made of human flesh. Totalcar is just one job amongst his zillion occupations, but he endears it the most. Lives with a girlfriend and two dogs.

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An Indian car nut's dream come true: Niko built his own custom car. Transformation of a Maruti Zen from sketches to squeeches.

This is the story of Nikael Joseph - aka Niko - from South-India. The 1D project:

"When I was old enough to hold a screwdriver I started to dismantle everything in sight, the TV, the music system, my R/C cars and whatever else that had screws loose enough for a 3 year-old to unscrew and keep in mind that I had every intention to assemble it back into a working product. Unfortunately for my folks that wasn’t the case, instead they kept a service man from the local electronics shop quite happy with the money he made reassembling one of the many things I very carefully dissected into a million parts.

When I was a bit older, at the age of 8 I discovered my love for greasy hands, motor oil and the smell of fuel.  I wanted to build something with a motor. It all started with a tiny moped with a 49cc motor called a ‘Sunny’ so I started off by stripping down the body to make it as light as possible, then modifying the frame to make it a single seater, and hand painted all the components to a bunch of freakishly bright colours with a paintbrush and some enamel paint, dropped the handlebar and juiced up the 49cc 3bhp motor to 58cc that put out a massive 5bhp. Haha. At the time this was the coolest thing to me but my neighbours had a different opinion. It sounded like a really loud gnarly sports bike but the sound of my bike didn’t fade out as fast as expected because it topped out at about 40kmph. It being the joke of my locality I decided to name it the ‘Hardly Davidson’ and people still talk of it today.

As I grew a bit older I developed an interest in mechanicals, specially the type with two wheels or more. When I hit naughty 13 my horns started to appear and the crazy things I would do on a motorcycle still scare me till today. Once my folks caught on to what I was up to they took  the liberty of sticking two more wheels under me and bought me my first car when I was 14 (a bribe to save my life). I couldn’t complain I was the only 14 year-old kid with a black SUV, and I mean all black: black wheels, black bumpers, blacked out windows, and all black body with a massive sticker on the bonnet that read (Parental Advisory Explicit Content) similar to the little black and white warning label on an angry rap CD.

After school I wanted to pursue my love for cars so I went to an automobile engineering college to learn more about what I loved. Sadly the colleges in India don’t cater to the kids who have more questions than out of the book. Pissed off at the lack of practical knowledge I had got from this shitty college I set off on a project that would teach me more than the impractical theory I got from my college. This is where project 1D all began.


In South-India the literal translation of the word car is “vundi”. The way it is pronounced here is similar to the way one would say 1D, hence the name.

The 1D project started when I was 18 years old. When I kicked off I guessed it would take me about 6-8 months to build it as I had a frame from a car known in India as the Maruti Zen and internationally as a Suzuki Alto of the early ‘90s .

The design was an amateur drawing of the different angles on 5 sheets of A3 paper, top, sides, front and back.

 As all builders know, the first time you attempt to build a car the budget and timeframe you set on your first build has no relation to the final budget and timeframe. The 6 months project turned into a 2-year one.

For 6 days a week I was in the workshop, shaping metal sheet with nothing but a gas welding kit, a few hammers and a few differently shaped lead blocks. Shortly after I discovered that it is a true art and takes a lot longer than assumed. As though the challenge of designing and building a style of car that has never been taken on before was hard enough. I was stuck using some medieval tools to do it with.

The body was built in many components and then piece by piece welded together to create a full shell. This process took almost 18 months to complete as all the work was manual and no power tools were used in the build, from cutting the sheet with metal scissors to grinding the rough edges with a file similar to the fingernail files your ladies use just a lot bigger and rougher, and the low-tech newspaper templates to mirror the design from one side to the other.

Then came the exciting task of buying all the components: wheels which were cool back in the day, with some sticky rubber to go with, some mad rally fog lights that have a throw of a kilometre, mufflers, steering wheel, and so on. Then I got down to the interiors with a hand built leather wrapped metal dashboard with a set of old-school Japanese switches that I had bought from my friend, Kumar, who had it up on his shelf forever. The engine and gearbox were built to pack a punch with a shaved head, upgraded valves, springs and rockers, a custom carb, bigger pistons and a short ratio gearbox.

Putting this machine together, as I discovered, was no Lego set, things just didn’t want to line up the first time because all the body panels had different gaps so I stripped it back down, made a few changes and tried again. Quite close to strapping everything together I hit another snag: the A/C had a clearance issue, so after pulling all the interior out I made some more changes and finally got it buttoned down and ready to roll with 2bmp (break man power).

The next step was to put the beautifully polished engine with its powder- and nickel-coated parts into the bay that surprisingly went in the car relatively easy compared to the rest of the project. This made me quite happy. It was like the 1D wanted to spread its wings. I was convinced of this even more when it started up like a champ on the very first crank. Exhausted from the 2 labour-intense years and thrilled beyond belief.

I drove it around for a month with grey primer on and the colour started to grow on me, so when the time came to slap the paint on I went with a matte metallic grey that was quite close to the colour of the primer with some go-faster stripes. That matched the wheels.

Finally the project was done. I was ecstatic cruising around in my own creation. The 1D was finally out and ready to play. I had learned so much more than I thought I would when I started this project and it’s been the most fun I have had of all my dismantling, stripping down or building . I look forward to my next project, a hot rod using an old Indian cab called the Hindustan ambassador."

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