Women and vintage cars: What it takes to restore one

What you need to know:

For these three women, vintage cars held so many memories that leaving them to ruin was not an option. They share their restoration journeys.

Laura Nsangi

She drives a Land Rover Defender 110. Nsangi’s love developed when as a nine-year-old, her parents would drive her to school in the car. She admired how swiftly her father engaged gears, and how easy it was to manoeuvre through any terrain. 

After some time of inability to maintain the car, Nsangi recalls her father parking the 1985 model at his home where it stayed for about 10 years, until August 2019 when she decided to restore it. The first journey of restoration ran from August 2019 to November 2019.

 “I would check on the progress twice a week, spending a considerable amount of time in the garage to appreciate how the different systems worked. In the dead of night, I reminisced about my garage experiences and anticipated my next visit with pleasure. I would also imagine how my first day of driving the car, including my first ignition would be,” Nsangi recalls.

However, after spending Shs13m for the first restoration, Nsangi noticed that the car was still not as smooth while driving. She, therefore, started replacing some parts that had not been changed. For example, because she had not mastered driving manual cars, she burnt the clutch plate four times. Each time it got burnt, she spent Shs320,000 to have it replaced.

On another ocassion, she burnt the pressure plate and the release bearings. Replacing the three parts cost her Shs1.2m. 

Second restoration

After the first restoration, Nsangi says the engine did not run smoothly, the reason she embarked on the second restoration phase, including replacing the engine. The car, initially run on a 2500cc petrol engine that was overhauled for a 2500cc diesel engine.

It also meant that the gearbox, fuel, brake and exhaust systems had to be replaced.

Many other parts were also overhauled. The body was stripped bare and repainted right from the engine to the top most part of the body. The second restoration phase cost her Shs55m. 

“I ultimately mastered the skill of maintaining the car. After driving, I am supposed to let the engine run for some time. I was not sure of how long to let the car run so I installed a timer. I also learnt to service the car myself and I can do simple repairs such as replacing the self-starter. Since it is my daily car which I drive to work and the farm, I also installed a wire mesh in the rear windows since I sometimes sleep in the car when I go to the farm,” Nsangi explains.

Restoring her Ford Anglia

Angella Ssemukutu recalls her parents acquiring the Ford Anglia registration number UVK 684 in the 1970s. Then, it was also popularly known as the Ford Kakokola.

When her father died in 1983, the Anglia remained in her mother’s hands until 1994, when she also passed on. The Anglia was one of the treasured possessions Ssemukutu’s mother left to her.  

But prior to her mother’s passing, Ssemukutu often drove the Ford Anglia. She kept on driving it until she went abroad for studies in late 1994 and did not come back until 2012. Upon returning, the Anglia had been parked and because of bad driving by a few family members, it was in bad shape.

“When I returned, it had been parked for more than 20 years. Grass had grown in the interior, dogs slept in it and most parts were rotten. I started restoring it 2014. Unfortunately, the mechanic I hired to oversee the restoration moved from Industrial Area in Kampala to Bakuli, a Kampala suburb from where he could not work on it anymore. I had it towed back home and I parked it for two years. Again, I had it towed to a garage in Industrial Area in 2018 for the second phase of restoration,” Ssemukutu says.

The first step was to start the engine, and ensuring that the gearbox was functional. Ssemukutu says her mechanic worked on the axles and the suspension, brake drums and the lower parts. However, some of the spare parts were hard to get and needed improvisation. The engine started but Ssemukutu noticed the carburetor and radiator were not in the best condition.

The original engine was replaced with that of a Nissan 1200. Because the body was rusty, it needed a lot of repairs. Although she had solicited original parts such as the tyres, wheel caps and indicators, she did not like how old it still looked.

“I bought new light emitting diode (LED) lights that run during day and side fenders, bumper and customised the fuel tank. I removed the original seats and gave it nice sporty seats with a headrest. There are few things you lose when you restore such a car. When the newer Mercedes Benz sliding seats were installed, I lost the back seats and the car became a two seater instead of a four seater. I also replaced the radio with one that has Bluetooth. It has a modern auto sound system and a modern dashboard with a wood trim to give it a vintage feel,” Ssemukutu explains.

She also replaced the steering wheel for a sporty one with a horn in the middle, instead of one that was a press of a button away. The cranked up and down windows, door handles and openers remained the same because she did not want to lose the car’s vintage feel. The colour was also changed from pearl white to metallic grey.

“I sourced for most spare parts from Kenya and the United Kingdom. Ford Anglia is a product of Ford UK and spare parts do not come cheap. I have so far spent approximately Shs20m to restore the car. It is hard to record every penny spent because of the many processes involved. I also hired several mechanics because each specialises in a different part of the car,” Ssemukutu says.

More works

Running on a 1200cc engine, with a fuel tank capacity of 20 litres, Ssemukutu avoids driving the car for long distances since it still needs a lot of work done. She, therefore, only drives it around the city centre since without an air conditioner, it is prone to heating up. 

“I will not lie, restoring a vintage car requires a lot of money. However, the end product is worth it. I recently took the car for a vintage drive on a car carrier and it was the only Ford Anglia among more than 70 vintage cars. Enthusiasts who came by were amazed. To start this journey, you must love vintage cars,” Ssemukutu advises.

Restoring her Volkswagen Beetle

Unlike Nsangi and Ssemukutu, Deborah Akol has been restoring her Volkswagen Beetle 1964 model for the last one year. She says restoration is an unending process as there is always something new to add to the car.

Her love for the Beetle started when as a 17-year-old, one drove by her 10 years ago.

“When I acquired the car, the engine had rusted and was not running. The exhaust system was equally rusty and had developed holes. None of the parts of the brake system was functional. The car roof and floor had also rusted and the seat frames were hollow. The interior was all mouldy. The car did not have any accessories and some parts such as the fuel gauge and door lock were defunct. I had to build it from scratch,” Akol says. 

It took overhauling the engine, replacing the exhaust system, getting a new steering wheel, side mirrors, logos and designing new seats that the Beetle eventually got on the road, though, like the Anglia, it is also still undergoing restoration. She sourced for spare parts from Kenya and the United Kingdom.  

Akol’s bigger picture is to have a collection of vintage cars to be hired for functions and social events. She was recently named this year’s best car restorer during the Vintage Collectables Rotary Fellowship awards held at Uganda Wildlife Education Centre.

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