Suraj Bhalla, automobile engineer and owner of Team Motor Works, talked to The Sherp about his vast experience about working with cars and bikes, his own workshop called ‘Craftsmen’, the relevance of India Bike Week and why he chose to showcase his work at the festival.
Craftmen 6037 ( once known as Team Motor Works), a garage right at the beginning of bandh road in Santacruz, Mumbai ought to catch your eye because of it’s gleaming muscle and old school cars parked in and around it. What’s different about this garage – is it’s work on the restoration of cars. The owner, brain and man in charge Suraj Bhalla is an unassuming, energetic and extremely knowledgeable guy known in the circuit for his work in car restoration. Festival Sherpa managed to have a chat with Bhalla, because we heard he’ll be showcasing a Hillman he worked on at India Bike Week and because we’re interested in the stories and gyan he has to share.
Firstly, what made you decide to do the showcase at the bike week?
It was when I heard this bike fest was such a huge success, last year. The fest had more than 50,000 people present and about Harley and Bullet and their contribution towards the fest. Suddenly an event which i didn’t attend happened to be one of the amazing events which an engineer or a mechanic has been waiting for to happen in India. Also, thousands of people showing off their cars & bikes can’t happen in Bombay. It’s a Goa scene. So this year, I got the bike fest’s magazine and I was going through it for like a month and thought, “Man! This is like Woodstock happening in this country”, you know live bands, good bikes and good people – it was just something I missed out and since I’m a Goa boy I decided to work on showcasing some of my stuff at the festival. Ever since i read that article, i spent every waking moment preparing for the bike fest. I built the car in 3 months which would’ve taken me six months, I built the bike in 3 weeks which would’ve taken me 6 months. All just for India Bike Week.
Tell us about the bikes and cars you’ve restored and what your showcasing at IBW?
I’m taking some of the most amazing cars I’ve made in the last 13 years. One of them is a candy orange color car, which is such a super hit with kids and chicks and old people and the like. A Hillman, which i’ll be driving to IBW. We are also taking a Contessa, which has been made into a muscle car. And also a Harley Davidson Super Glide 1600 cc – one of the coolest bikes in the country & a Shiva Chopper – my 1st production chopper bike – what I’ve designed in the last 6 months. So that is the excitement. I wanna take my Yezdi which is a 1978 model bike, which has been hand made by Rigajiniswaraj.
You were talking about the Shiva Chopper. For how long have you been working on it?
It was a concept thought about 6 years back. To get it working, what happened is, I do cars and there was never time to do a bike. So, I actually destroyed 2 bikes to make a Shiva Chopper. With the bike fest coming up it was only apt that i work on it. Apart from this i’ve never worked, restored or made bikes which is why had to study the bike technology quite a bit. I think i know enough to make more.
What was the reason for calling it the Shiva Chopper?
A very close friend of mine, he and I have known each other for 20 years. He’s a guy from Chicago, he’s a MBBS guy, very intelligent so we were just sitting and Goa was just emerging with foreigners and choppers and local guys making choppers. So my friend just told me, ‘Dude, we should make our own company called Shiva Choppers and make bikes’ and I just looked at him like ‘do you know what you just said? You just said shiva choppers!’ We immediately decided the bike will have to reflect it’s name, it will have to look like a Shiva Chopper, you know. Something extraordinary. It cannot look like regular bikes in the Indian market.
What is the most challenging part of restoration in India?
The biggest problem? Getting a hand on particular parts. Also, having the right technicians is a very big problem. Patience too because people here only work on cars for 2 or 3 days. And restoration is about time. There is no ‘yeh abhi khatam hoga yeh kabhi khatam hoga‘. It is just the patience because the best looking bike, could fall apart when riding it. So again there’s knowledge, lot of money, parts availability, right crew, right set up. Clean and good work are looking up in India. Now there are thousands of guys who doing unbelievable restoration work therefore contributing to the bike culture. Today 21-year-olds are making bikes, racing and doing stunts as good westerners. Although the cutting & chopping part of restoration isn’t so big right now. So I thought i might as well start it, just so I can be with the biker league and the car league. That was the balance I was trying to aim at playing .
This trend of restoration that you are a part of. Do you think its going in the right direction?
It’s all because of a show called Turbo Discovery on the Discovery Channel, which actually started the awareness of restoration in India. Regarding the culture, what you see today is actually a reflection of what airs on the show. It showcases cars, equipment, that kind of setup, that kind of money which you’ve never seen in this country. The culture is moving forward because thanks to this show people have managed to easily duplicate and copy. A lot of them are in that process of consuming and reflecting what they’ve watched in restoration work. A culture which i thought would pick up in 2 to 3 years has picked up in just one !
Have you had a favorite car or bike which has taken a considerable amount of time to work on?
My favorite car which took me the most amount of time was 1966 Ford Mustang. It is my personal car. My favorite bike was gifted to me by Hrithik Roshan – a Harley Davidson.
So, the ideal time-span for restoration would be like 6 months?
For a bike it would be 3 months and for a very good restored car where the client gives me all the money for would be 5-6 months.
A little bit about the workshop you have started? Any idea behind starting it?
Actually my dad used to run this shop for 45 years which i renamed Team Motorworks. I killed that name when I realized everybody i working for me was a craftsman of sorts, thus calling it Craftsmen 6037. I thought it was time to respect people who are part of building and working on cars because nobody respects them in India. Abroad we get paid a 1,00,000 dollars to work in a garage or in car restoration . In India, it’s all ‘chal bhaag, chai la, cigarette la, pani la, yeh la woh la.’ So I’m very anti that, I believe in a very disciplined system. It’s very a high-precision job so I wanted to change the name of the garage.
So do you have module, does it run like that?
Yes, I’ve got a whole school thing going on which is called ‘Craftsmen’ also. It’s a 1 year course. You don’t need any certification or education. It’s a trade school concept where paths were divided to engines, gearboxes, brakes, suspension, wiring, body, upholstery, tires, air conditioning, electrical and 20 other things. So where the students want to come and learn I started building them in to module 1, module 2 and so on. So module 1 is parts, location, components. Module 2 is the functions of it and module 3 is the parent diagnosis. I constructed the course based on what i learnt in Australia (as a student). Now I’ve got engineers, doctors who have seen my work. You should check this school called ‘Craftsman Automotive School in India’ that depicts what my students are learning. The whole module is in there.
So India Bike Week, how important do you think the relevance of it is?
This community is so huge that when there’s a 3-day festival, there’s a lot of time to communicate. In Bombay our issues are there, we are always running out of time whether we are going for here and there. It is a gathering for every bike and car enthusiast in the entire country. So what happens is I’ve got 3-4 days from my hometown, I’m here to see the show and I know that the focus is on cars, bikes & music and that’s the math of it all. A great platform to show foreigners’ how far we’ve come in the bike culture. The festival also brings together people from Bangalore, Bombay, Pune interested in everything to do with bikes and cars. It’s tons of fun – you make connections, business, and meet brands that can lead to higher platforms.Who knows? Maybe my bike will get an international order. That’s what I am looking at.
Do you have the man power for that?
Once they have the money, I have the man power to that. So money is the power I believe in.
Have you ever got such an offer?
Yes, very much. A lot of times, I’ve told these boys, I was going to make a thousand cars for Tata Sky, a thousand for Reliance, these were Maruti vans which were made with the whole dish and they came in funky cartoon colors. So that was my concept and I created a car and they loved the car so much that they gave me an order a thousand cars. But by the time I figured the mass production, pricing & break up the whole project had got scrapped because these guys from Hong Kong came and said we love the van but we won’t use it. but that put my and my work on the map. Now my clients appreciate my work and ask me for a quotation and I give it to them and that’s how smooth the process has become.
So do you plan on building more workshops here?
I have plans on getting out of Bombay and I want to move my whole set up to Goa because in Goa I’m going to get 20,000 sq ft for 1/10th the price of what I’m going to get out here. Over there I’ll be working with less people and won’t have a walk in walk out kind of a concept. It has to be very locked. That’s the difference.