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The age of refinish technology has yet to
dawn in India. With a population in excess of 900 million, labor
is cheap and plentiful and money is scarce. Needless to say, specialized
collision-repair equipment is virtually nonexistent.
Although India has only 5 million cars and
CVs, the demand for collision-repair shops is high. The roads
are crowded and shared by cars, lorries, ox carts, cattle, pigs.
multipassenger motor scooters, push bikes and pedestrians. Street
lights and road markings other than in the large towns are largely
nonexistent, and driving tests – if the natives are to be believed
– involve demonstrating the candidate is able to drive a car 100
yards in a straight line without hitting anything. (Could this
lack of driver expertise be a reason there’s a high demand for
shops? Just a thought.)
Most Goan body shops fulfill a variety of
functions, including mechanical repair, servicing and engineering
fabrication. Fabrication facilities are a vital element of the
body shop’s skills, with replacement panels or even structural
parts either nonexistent or too expensive – the only options being
to patch, cannibalize or simply manufacture from scratch as needed.
The exact number of cars in Goa is unclear,
but in proportion to the size and number of roads, it’s a lot.
Because of the Indian tax system, there are very few imported
cars – the country’s motor manufacturing industry depends on importing
surplus tooling from outdated European models. The most notable
of these is the old 1950’s Morris Oxford, which is still produced
as the Ambassador. The Japanese, however, in the shape of Suzuki
and Toyota, have a strong and growing presence in India.
P.S. Mandrekar Garage Arpora, Goa
The largest of the Goan body shops visited
on this trip was P. S. Mandrekar Garage, situated just south of
Old Goa, once the capital of the country and even today notable
for the impressive architecture of its 17th-century churches.
Mandrekar Garage is, according to the business card of its proprietor
Suka P. Mandrekar, "specialists in spray paintings, accidental
repairs, body tin works, mechanical and electrical repair of all
types of vehicles."
The body shop itself comprises a corrugated
roofed unit about 40 feet by 40 feet, with palm trees and a bare
earth apron (dirt) between it and the road. Because of the heat
(about 90 degrees F during this visit), most of the work seemed
to be carried out on this dirt, on which sat a variety of vehicles
– mainly Ambassadors and Pals (an Indian manufactured derivation
of the late 1950’s Fiat Saloon).
Mandrekar has eight workers – three painters
and five denters, including a couple of helpers who learn their
skills from the experienced craftsmen. There is, says Mandrekar,
no formal apprentice scheme, but "the helper learns from
the master and will one day become the master himself."
Both painters and denters earn about 150 rupees
a day (about $4.40 in American dollars), and a complete three-coat
respray using Duco cellulose paint (an ICI product, I believe)
costs 6,000 rupees (about $177). Spraying, using a Pilot gravity-feed
gun with an Indian-manufactured compressor, seems to take place
either inside or out – as weather, space and comfort permit.
Color matching poses few problems in India,
since the majority of cars appear to be painted either off white
or light blue. Minor color adjustments are made simply by mixing
and matching from the various cans of cellulose at the painter’s
Equipment at most Indian body shops is pretty
basic, with pulling – as likely as not – carried out by looping
one end of a stout rope around a tree and the other around the
damaged part of the vehicle, then tightening the rope using a
marlinespike. Unlike most body shops in Goa, Mandrekar’s has its
own basic pulling equipment: mobile winches and power jacks.
As for jobs, Mandrekar carries out a lot of
insurance work. In India, an insurance company sends a surveyor
to the garage to agree on repair costs. The motorist pays the
bill once the repair has been completed to his satisfaction and
then claims the money back from the insurance company.
Throughput is slow, and the average repair
can take up to four weeks. Courtesy cars, however, are not a problem
for Goan body shops – they don’t exist.
Chari’s Body Shop Salsete, Goa
Eknatha Chari’s body shop is situated by a
picturesque bridge at Salsete just outside the town of Margao,
Goa’s second largest city after its capital Panjim. Chari has
been in business 14 years and specializes solely in body work
for cars and commercial vehicles.
Chari employs one painter, two denters and
two helpers. The painters earn 75 rupees a day (about $2.20),
denters 75 to 100 rupees per day (about $2.20 to $2.95) and helpers
40 to 50 rupees a day (about $1.18 to $1.48).
Here, too, equipment is extremely basic without
any specialized collision-repair tools or pulling equipment. Again,
Duco cellulose paints are used and sprayed with a gravity-feed
Pilot gun that’s powered by a small mobile compressor.
A complete respray can take eight to 15 cans
– depending on the size of the car – using red oxide primer, wet
flatted with "polish paper" and then sprayed with two
or three topcoats. An Ambassador respray costs around 4,000 rupees
To its credit, the shop does have a well-equipped
machine shop and both electric and gas welding. "We cannot
buy repair panels or parts so everything has to be made on the
premises," Chari says.
Funchuss Engineering Varca, Goa
Funchuss Engineering in the village of Varca
is an altogether smaller business run by Francis C. Rodrigues
from a small (750 square foot) workshop. Unlike the other two
shops, Funchuss also carries out a lot of fabrication work, manufacturing
grilles, roller shutters, gates and more.
Rodrigues employs just one painter and one
welder plus a couple of helpers, while a number of local youngsters
are also on hand to provide assistance and encouragement – mainly
the latter. During this trip, an Ambassador was being rebuilt,
while behind the main workshop, a VW Beetle had been stripped
to bare metal awaiting a repaint.
Motor scooters are a common form of travel
in Goa, and inside the workshop an ancient Vespa was being given
a new lease on life by the Funchuss team. Here, too, painting
was carried out inside or outside depending on the mood and, despite
the dirt floors, the paint finish appeared remarkably good.
Once again, the popular Duco cellulose was
evident, and once again, it was applied using a Pilot spray gun.
Despite having to work extremely hard in difficult
conditions for wages that, by Western standards, are laughable,
all three shop owners and their employees clearly enjoyed life.
Their equipment may be primitive, their turnaround
time slow and their repair standards suspect, but their customer
care and their enthusiasm for their trade is equal to anybody’s.
Writer Chris Mann is publisher of Great Britain’s
Bodyshop Magazine. Article reprinted courtesy of Bodyshop Magazine.
A Rich Heritage
Goa is one of India’s most prosperous states – its economy is
based on rice production, iron ore and a rapidly developing tourist
market – and is located on the West Coast, south of Bombay. For
300 years, until 1961, Goa was ruled by the Portuguese who left
behind a rich cultural and culinary heritage. Goa may be one of
India’s richest states, but rich is relative.
A small state (3,496 square kilometers), Goa has a population
of about 1.2 million made up mainly of Hindus but with a large
Catholic and smaller Muslim element. All three, together with
a multiplicity of minority religions, get along in complete harmony
– celebrating each other’s festivals and demonstrating a mutual