Zen And Carburetor Dust

Images: T.R. Raghunandan, Pradyumna Rajasekhar & Yashaswini D.

First, a disclaimer, addressed to Maruti fans. This article is not about Zens of any age. It is about the deep philosophy of dealing with annoying breakdowns.

It is also a little about Srinand and Yash, and their young children.

Srinand is a classic car collector who suffers all the symptoms of someone totally smitten. Ask him how many cars he has, he turns shifty eyed and changes the subject. We shall merely presume that he owns some, of which Yash is aware and some of which she is not. We shall draw a veil over the latter.

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The roly-poly Hindusthan 14.

Suffice to say that Srinand and Yash own a 1950 Hindusthan 14; regrettably a rather unloved classic. Though it broadly resembles the Morris Minor (as it’s the Indianised version of the Morris Oxford), the latter wins the cuteness contests. Inexplicably, the Hindusthan lacks the mystique of its successors, the Landmaster and the Ambassador. Yet, Srinand’s Hindusthan is an endearing animal, if you know her well enough.

Srinand and Yash once had a Morris Minor that he restored and drove often and long. One such drive from Bangalore to Goa took over 24 hours, during which everything that was prone to breakage, broke. But babies grow up and they needed something that possessed classic allure, whilst accommodating child seats, pillows and enabling infants to stretch out and nap. Out went the Morris, in came the Hindusthan.

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A familiar sight; open bonnet and overheating.

The Hindusthan’s previous owner treated the car as a workhorse. Over the years, the original engine gasped and died after trundling along for many miles, and was replaced with an Ambassador engine. It made the car even more durable and extended its workhorse life.

Those familiar with the old Amby engine know its failings only too well. The mechanical petrol pump is fitted just below the exhaust manifold and the carburetor sits within kissing distance of the latter. This is delightfully designed to facilitate that classic breakdown scene, an overheated car with its bonnet open by the roadside, smelling of burning paint, oil and petrol. Fuel starvation has been the bane of Srinand’s Hindusthan. Often I have watched as she pulled up on the roadside and Srinand’s expression indicated what one needed to do next.

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There is plenty of space in the engine bay.

Srinand is untroubled, because he is prepared for fuel starvation. Preventive measures includes a coconut shell that covers the fuel pump and insulates it from engine heat. I chide him that it is not an original ‘Lucas’ coconut shell, but he says those are out of stock. Sometimes, a cloth soaked in water—more often than not, a child’s pair of shorts—is stuffed underneath that shell to cool the pump down. The outlet pipe from the pump leads to a standard issue plastic filter, from any Maruti. Then comes a diesel priming pump from a Tata Indica, which, to the untrained eye looks like a rubber bulb, purloined from a blood pressure meter. This is a most useful fuel line accessory. A few squeezes are enough to augment and revive the efforts of a heatstroke affected fuel pump.

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A new coil and a bottle of water. All necessary precautions.

But on our eve-of-Independence-Day drive, the usual steps did not work. The coconut shell was lifted, infant child’s clothing inserted and water poured. The filter was bypassed and the Indica bulb squeezed, but the car continued to stutter and stop, till it gave up altogether.

‘It could be an overheating coil,’ said Manjunath, our senior expert on Ambassadors. Decades of experience could not be wrong, we surmised. A tiny sock was taken from the family suitcase, soaked in water and the hot ignition coil was inserted into it.

No effect whatsoever.

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A coconut shell heat insulator for the fuel pump.

‘I have a spare coil,’ said Srinand, and extracted a ‘Bosch’ one from the Hindusthan’s commodious boot. We overlooked the sacrilege of using one on the very British engine. Still no improvement. Manju worked his way down the electrical line; the points were checked, the condenser fettled. Still, the engine was silent; nary a cough.

It was Manju who discovered that the bulb squeeze was meeting with stiff resistance. Must be something fouling the jet in the carburetor, he said. Off came the air filter, and the dashpots. The rich smell of warm petrol filled our nostrils. A hand covering the carburetor intake in lieu of the choke, a crank of the engine, and the response: nothing at all.

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Zoom in to see the tiny cup-shaped dirt plug that blocked the fuel access.

Could it be the float chamber? Manju quickly unscrewed its cap. There we nailed it; the float chamber was empty of petrol. Manju blew air into the cap’s inlet, till he turned blue in the face. There was a block.

It took about a minute to conjure up a rough connection from the Indica bulb to the inside of the float chamber cap. One brisk puff, and out popped the offender. A plug of dirt, less than a couple of millimeters in diameter, perfectly shaped to clog the inside of the float chamber cap, and to force the float needle to seize shut.

Before one could say ‘Hindusthan 14,’ the dumpy car coughed to life. We drove 150 kilometers without mishap.

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Arteries unclogged, the Hindusthan cruises serenely.

And that is the moral of the story, pals. Vintage cars are an allegory on life. Most quandaries have logical solutions, if we care to look for them in sequence. I’m not sure about the philosophical significance of a coconut shell, but pouring cold water on most things—in a figurative sense, I must admit—could solve problems. And finally, when you get down to fixing something, it’s the 2mm-sized plugs of dirt that causes the most trouble.

Happy driving in your classics, and no more freedom struggles with nasty fuel and electrical gremlins.

T R Raghunandan

Classic car and railway enthusiast, tireless driver, model scratch-builder, broken old machinery hoarder, teacher, raconteur, author and accountability and decentralised governance consultant.


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