The jeep is a sturdy and
dependable vehicle. But the jeeps that are being assembled in
Punjab can be a terror on the road. Driven by the imagination
and ingenuity of over-the-top Punjabis, they come in garish,
loud and often unsafe avatars, says H.
Set for a make-over: Mahendra jeeps stripped to the bone
whether an original from Ford or an indigenous one from Mahendra
and Maruti, is a soft-top vehicle designed to be driven open. It
has a canvas top and foldable or removable overhead rods. With
the top off, it becomes a general purpose vehicle. The police
Gypsys are testimony to this.
A lot of people
buy the Mahendra jeeps and Maruti Gypsys and build a hard top
body on them. This is in contravention of Section 52 of the
Motor Vehicles Act, which states, "No owner of a motor
vehicle shall so alter the vehicle that the particulars
contained in the certificate of registration are no longer
accurate." So the jeep is designed, manufactured and sold
as an "open" vehicle. There is no reason to challan
this vehicle on grounds of being "open", which
incidentally the police does many a time.
It would seem
that the police cannot see the wood for the trees. The jeeps
that they should be targeting are specially prepared in rural
Punjab and can be challaned for a number of reasons but not for
made-in-Punjab jeeps are a tribute to the imagination and
ingenuity of Punjabis. It is an industry born out of the
Punjabis’ love of things automotive and a need to project a
macho image. Jeep assembling is the ‘most organised
unorganised’ cottage industry in Punjab. These jeeps are being
mass produced in the Punjab heartland. The workshops, basic and
primitive, are in the open on the roadside with an ustad
in charge of design and build. He, in turn, is helped by a
number of chhotus. There is nothing fancy or
sophisticated about the manufacturing but the product is ‘deadly’.
devils on the road: Jeeps rebuilt as replicas of WW II vehicles
The end result
— low bonnet, split windscreen and open — is a replica of
the iconic World War II jeeps. There is provision for fitting a
canvas top but this is largely ignored. The similarity with the
WW II jeep ends here.
There is one
major deviation from the original. The rectangular-shaped
headlights have been sourced from Maruti 800. A true-blue jeep
aficionado will tell you that if the lights are not round, it’s
not a jeep.
are sourced from Army disposal sales and then stripped down to
the chassis. Every original fitment is removed and replaced with
modern technology. The heart of the new jeep is a two-litre
engine, and if you want a big bang for your buck a
two-and-a-half-litre turbo-charged diesel Toyota engine can be
used. This is mated with a five-speed gearbox. The dashboard is
faithfully reproduced with all the necessary instruments. The
gear-shift lever is sporty with a wooden knob. Then follows a
paint job. The more garish and loud, the better. A massive
bumper, wrapped in coir rope and sporting large spotlights,
adorns the front end. ‘Black-out lights’ are on the
actually meant for airlifting are also attached to the bumper.
Fire extinguishers are placed on the radiator. Power brakes and
power steering are fitted. The original wheels are replaced with
mag alloy rims sporting oversized tyres. A sporty steering
wheel, bucket seats and a jump seat for passengers in the rear
and a fully carpeted floor. A jerry can and spare wheel are
fitted on the rear. ‘USA or US MARINE CORP’ is painted on
the bonnet, and it is followed by a broad arrow number.
and visuals complete, the accessories are then fitted to the
exterior of the jeep. It is these accessories that make the jeep
an extremely dangerous vehicle. Open or closed, this jeep is a
weapon of war.
Fitted on the
exterior is a shovel, an axe and a short-handle pike, a
weapon favoured by foot soldiers in medieval times. A pick-axe
handle studded with brass knobs is fitted on the cowl just below
the windscreen. A gun rack is fitted on the driver’s side. A
baseball bat nestles in the gun rack within easy reach. The
owners are ready to go to battle. Even as road rage is generally
unknown in Punjab, honour killings are very much a fact of life.
While being concerned about the jeep being "open", the
police have overlooked these accessories.
Once the jeeps
are ready (the largest manufacturing facility is in Dabwali),
they are sent to Moga, Bathinda and Barnala. These towns hold a
bazaar of used cars on Sundays, where these jeeps take pride of
place. There are tractors, trailers, and every make of car on
sale. The venue is often the grain market, which can hold a
couple of hundred cars on display.
yesterday we sold eight jeeps in one go," said the proud
owner of these vehicles. "A few boys came and said they
were going in a baraat for a wedding". And the
wedding could have been a bash (pun not intended!). Eight fully
loaded jeeps, battle ready and we know that Punjab’s sixth
river daroo flows freely at weddings. A deadly mix.
The open jeep is fun and street
legal. It’s the made-in-Punjab variety with its accessories
that the police should be concerned about.
60 years since the world first saw the jeep but it still
continues to hold the hearts and minds of the automobile
The story starts in 1930, when
the pride of English automobiles, Austin of England, founded the
American Austin Car Company in the US. Austin made small cars,
famously the Austin Seven i.e. with 700 cc engines. The
Americans loved big cars and had no use for a small car. By
1934, the American Austin Car Company was almost bankrupt. Roy
Evans, chairman of the company, took over the company and
renamed it Bantam Car Company. The company wanted to make small
In 1938, Bantam
realised the potential of a small, light and fast vehicle for
military use but the military was not interested. What spurred
the military into action were reports by the U.S Intelligence
that Germany was planning a Volkswagen for military use for the
German army. This was 1940. The Germans had occupied France in
just three weeks and the reason was the high mobility of the
The Americans saw the need for a
light-weight car or truck which should have 4X4 capability. The
obvious choice was the Bantam. The weight limit of 590 kg was
considered impractical so traditional truck manufactures like
GMC and Dodge stayed out of the race.
Bantam was too
small a manufacturer so Willys was also given the contract. Ford
came in at a later stage, after all they were the country’s
largest auto manufacturers. Ford was making a car a minute,
thanks to Henry’s genius in manufacturing methods. It was Ford
who introduced the pressed grill, which gave the jeep its
distinctive look. It was Ford who came up with the term G.P.
Ford had its own designations for
cars i.e. A for passenger cars (remember the Ford Model A?), B
for bus, C for commercial, and G for government. P was the
80-inch wheel base, the government demands for the length of the
vehicle. W was added to denote that it was a Willys design. So
the designation GPW was born, even though manufactured by Ford.
In 1942, Ford
introduced the GPA. A stood for Amphibious. If the jeep could do
everything on land, why not in water? Ford took the jeep and
enclosed it in a watertight hull. A power take-off shaft drove
the propeller. A rudder was added. The Ford GPA retained its
four-wheel drive capability.
The GPA was not terribly
successful. It rode too low in the water and sank easily. Only
about 12500 were built while the GPW was churned out by the
hundreds of thousands.
service in the US Army, the jeep could tow a trailer, a field
gun or a water tanker. It could accommodate a stretcher across
the rear, it could carry all types of communication equipment
and be a commander’s vehicle.
One of the most amazing points of
jeep’s versatility was its ability to run on railway tracks.
If the tyres are removed and only the rims are fitted back on to
the jeep, the width of the rims was 4 feet and 6 inches. That is
the width of a broad gauge railway track.
the Dakota and the landing aircraft were the three tools that
won the war", said General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the
supreme commander of the allied forces who went on to become
president of the US.
A World War II correspondent,
Ernie Pyle, who drove around Europe covering the war in the
jeep, said of the vehicle, "It goes everywhere, it does
everything. It is as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule and
as agile as a goat! It carries loads twice as heavy as those it
was designed for, and it keeps going. The jeep is a divine
instrument in military locomotion!"
The great Enzo
Ferrari said of the jeep, "America’s only real sports
And, of course, one of the
greatest tributes to the jeep was an ad, which said, "Paved
Roads — just another example of useless government
Old favourite: The original Ford jeep of WW II