The duo that makes impractical practical

One of the interesting road trip holiday ideas I have come across is that of Sam Glover and Ed Hughes. The idea appeared peculiar when Sam first emailed me detailing his plan for South India and asking for recommendations. So much so that I had to check out Sam Glover and the magazine he claimed to work for, to ensure that I was not being drawn into an elaborate scam.

The world is not as bad a place as the pessimist in me thinks it to be. In fact, Sam is the Technical Editor, and Ed the Technical Guru of Practical Classics, a popular British classic car magazine that focuses on ownership and maintenance of affordable classics for the man in the street. Sam and Ed’s road trip idea is to travel to different corners of the world, acquire a rare classic, work their magic to make it road worthy, tour the country in it and drive it back home. Though both Sam and Ed are classic car aficionados and collectors, their road trip holiday is more about the joy of working on a exotic car and the experience of travelling through a foreign land in a medium they most enjoy, rather than the acquisition of the classic itself.

The duo’s exploits have carried them as far as Russia and the United States and a whole lot of countries in between, including Mongolia, Iran, The Gambia and Western Sahara. Sam and Ed do not always travel together. But they almost always do to the former countries of the USSR, because of what Sam calls a “shared predilection”.  One of their most unbelievable acquisition, I believe, is the 5.5 litre, V8, 1989 Volga 31012 from Moscow. Why unbelievable? Because the ownership can be traced back to the central department of the Moscow KGB. So, the duo’s trips are never the under ambitious – pick up the car and hit the road type.  A more recent trip from Moscow to England involved  five days of painstaking restoration work on a mummified 1991 Ukrainian Zaporozhets 968M (lovingly called Zapor) in a Moscow suburb. This was followed by more improvements and swift servicing along the journey to get Sam and Ed on time to the Beaulieu Autojumble in England. Another trip that Sam fondly recollects in conversations is the one he made with Ed in a Tofaş Serçe (Turkish version of Premier 118NE) from Turkey to England. This one was even more adventurous because they decided to take the lady car owner along to bypass the agony of going through bureaucratic dramas at border crossings. The fond recollection is not because of the lady passenger, but because of some of the breathtaking parts of Europe they passed through in the former Yugoslavia. Sam swears that the serpentine mountain roads through the Balkans are a driver’s paradise offering unlimited opportunities for high speed thrashing.

Ambassador Mark 1 in Panjim
Sam and Ed’s classic ride outside the Republica in Panaji, Goa.

Last December Sam and Ed planned to travel through South India, and started looking out for a Hindustan Ambassador Mark 1 (Morris Oxford Series III in England) or a Hindustan Contessa (Vauxhall VX Series in England). The English versions – Morris Oxford and Vauxhall VX sold fairly well in the 1950s and 1970s respectively. But these machines have become a rarity now in the UK because only a few owners bothered to preserve them. Sam’s pursuit on the online marketplace OLX led him to a 1961 Ambassador Mark 1 in Calicut. With the help of a resourceful friend in the area, Sam was able to get a preliminary evaluation done, make the purchase and get the required paperwork in order. The plan was to pick up the Ambassador from Calicut, drive North through Kerala, into Karnataka, Goa, and finally  turn around and head to Chennai, from where, the car would be shipped to England.

Classic Cars - Hindustan Ambassador Mark 1
The Ambassador on a winding ghat road, taking a breather.

The duo arrived in Calicut to find their Ambassador in reasonably good shape, but nevertheless in need of a round of repairs and servicing for the journey ahead. The Indian Mark 1 according to Sam is unique compared to its English counterpart. This is because the Mark 1 was composed of components and assemblies from other siblings of the Morris family. For instance, the gearbox and axle were borrowed from the Hindustan 14 (Morris Oxford MO); the engine was an Austin B-Series type, and the carburettor was a local copy of the Solex 32 PBI commonly found in the UK on Land Rovers. It is not uncommon to encounter classic cars that have been subject to botched maintenance regimen and adulterated with make do parts. But in case of the Ambassador, Sam and Ed were all praise for the ingenuity with which the previous owner and their mechanic had given life to worn out parts, especially the brake assembly.

With a host of tools and spares they carried all the way from England, the magicians began to unleash their mechanical genius on the engine, carburettor, electrical system and brakes. They finally departed Calicut on day 4, with the hotel manager in the rear-view mirror, fuming over the artwork left behind by the Ambassador’s fluids.

The Duo is known not to take easy routes and shares an aversion towards highways and big cities. So they naturally gravitated away from the main coastal highway towards a more circuitous route through the mountains and jungles of Wayanad, Chickmagaluru and Shivamogga. Soaking up the scenic tropical wilderness, the duo rumbled along the snaking ghat roads finally hitting the west coast again near Gokarna.

inspection
Sam investigating the final drive to find the source of grinding noises that were adding to the Ambassador’s rumbling melody.

All along the Ambassador never failed to entertain the duo with its unusual and unending  melody of vibrations, growls and grunts. At times when Sam generously stomped on the gas pedal, the melody would appear to reach a menacing crescendo foreboding a nasty explosion. But the mighty Ambassador didn’t budge one bit and continued to rattle and rumble onward through the quaint colonial towns of Goa. Slowly and steadily the spirited Ambassador carried the duo through the ruins of Hampi, cultural processions of Tumkur, urban mazes of Anantapur,  the little TASMAC netherworlds of Vellore, and the charms of Pondicherry. When I finally met Sam and Ed in Chennai, I realised how much fun they were having just by looking at the Ambassador. Dressed in slush and dirt, she looked like a tough old bird that had finished a cross country off road rally.

inspection_hampi
More inspection for rattlers under the hood.

It was an enriching experience to hop restaurants and exchange insights with the automobile wizards over curd vadais, appams, mutton samosas and Kingfisher. Sam and Ed said they liked the beer from microbreweries in Bangalore and thought the Kingfisher was an awful drink, though they guzzled down several bottles at dinner. After each bottle of Kingfisher, Sam would proudly claim that if the British had anything to offer the world of cuisine, it was their fine beer. What the duo found most interesting during their journey is the urban cows. They were surprised at how the cows maintained a calm and content character despite the the maddening human chaos around them. Sam wishes that these cows could be imported to the UK, where they could do a lot of good bringing some sense to crazy motorists.

After a surprisingly hassle free send off for the Ambassador the next day, I had the pleasure of indulging my new found friends in a bit of British Indian heritage along the Marina and in the the drool worthy bone yard of the Railway Museum. Besides getting a good taste of the local heritage and delicacies, Sam and I were in for a bureaucracy treat at the post office, where, after being directed to two different waiting lines in two different departments, we finally found a way to buy stamps for postcards Sam wanted to send abroad. Often tormented at border crossings, Sam was probably delighted that he had  gotten away with bureaucracy when sending off his Ambassador. But the devil appeared to have come out with its far reaching hands, reminding us of its omnipresence. But thanks to the export agent who was introduced by the Curator of Relics Mr Srivardhan, Sam and Ed didn’t have to deal with a higher level of bureaucracy to ship the Ambassador off to England.

Sam and Ed at the finish line
Sam and Ed at the finish line in Chennai.

Sam and Ed found this trip so enjoyable that they don’t mind coming back again for a Part 2 that covers Northern India preferably in a Sipani Badal (rings any bells? ever heard of the fibreglass bodied Dolphin?) or an equally eccentric classic car. So if you have word about an adventure worthy classic, you know who to get in touch with. Sam and Ed’s story will be published early in 2019 in the Practical Classics magazine, check out their website practicalclassics.co.uk for more details.


Photos reproduced with the kind permission of Practical Classics magazine.

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