DRIVING: West Vancouver man’s ability to fix cars took him across continents

Published: December 30, 2013

Joginder Singh and Chander Bali with the rally-winning Volvo during early shakedown testing. Submitted photo

BRENDAN McALEER
POSTMEDIA NEWS

On a lonely, rutted road in Kenya in 1965, a battered Volvo lies dead.

Insects buzz in the silence, and there’s a rustling in the thorny underbrush – perhaps a warthog rooting for its supper. In the distance, a hyena cackles and heat waves blur the acacia trees. There are two men standing by the car, eating sardines and bread. They are two days’ walk from any outpost, and no one else will be along this road for at least a week.

Both men are of Indian descent, the first wearing a pure-white turban that identifies him as a member of the Sikh religion. His name is Joginder Singh, and in a few short months he will drive this way again, battling the heavy, muddy clay of the rainy season to take his place in the history books. They will call him Simba, the Flying Sikh, the Lion of Kenya; he will be possibly the greatest African rally driver of all time, possessed of near superhuman empathy with the machinery he pilots.

The other man is taller, clean-shaven, with a rakish grin. Today, seated on the glassed-in balcony of his West Vancouver apartment as a pale, wintry Canadian sun sinks into the sea, he tells me how the sardine tin was cleaned, clipped, and shaped to repair the stricken Volvo’s cracked carburetor float.

Chander Bali with car-customize George Barris, as well as an early Citroën 2CV, a Mercedes-Benz 600 in the Bahamas, and his son.

His name is Chander Bali.

He was, and is, a proper bush mechanic.

Chander Bali was born in Kenya on Christmas Day in 1937. His father came from the north of India, the part that would become Pakistanafter the partition in 1947. Bali Sr. worked as a Marconi dealer. His son was a born mechanic, and by 15 was fixing and selling old CitroĂ«ns as a side business. The turmoil following the partition of India would throw Bali’s extended family into some confusion, but in the 1950s, a long-lost uncle would be discovered living in England. Chander travelled to London, where he received training as a Volvo and Mercedes-Benz mechanic. In Germany, Bali found work at a Ford dealership, but it was not for him. Reaching for a crescent wrench to loosen a drain-plug, he was berated by the shop foreman. “This is a German garage!” the man shouted, “We use only the correct tools!” He moved further into Europe, finding employment at a Volvo dealership in Malmo, Sweden. Here, his skills at repairing things on a shoestring found favour among the rally-obsessed Swedes.

Returning to Kenya, he worked for various garages before opening his own shop, repairing everything from Land Rovers to Humber Super Snipes. When a young Joginder Singh moved in next door as the very first patrolman for the Royal East African Automobile Association, the pair found a kinship. Bali helped Singh establish his own repair business, and began joining the nascent rally champion on his reconnaissance runs.

Joginder Singh in an early rally with a Volvo Amazon. Chander Bali is in the onlookers, second from right. Submitted photo.

As Singh began winning local rallies, Bali continued lending a hand as a mechanic, and eventually helped rebuild the history-making Volvo PV544. Left over from a hard season of rallying, the car was battered and bruised, with nearly 71,000 km of abuse on the chassis. It was a tired old horse, but in the hands of Singh and Bali, it would go on to beat the world’s best fully supported factory efforts.

However, Africa in the 1960s was not just a place where a pair of skilled hands could make history. In 1967, Bali found himself in Montreal. He felt an immediate affinity for Canada, and found an old Volvo 144, fixed it up and drove to Vancouver. He soon found himself ranging further up the province, heading for Alaska.

Alaska became a gateway to Seattle, as a result of the flooding in Fairbanks, and the subsequent evacuation, and Bali found himself heading south to Los Angeles. He found a place to work on Volvos and Benzes, and charmed his way into the Polo Club. There, the tall, handsome Indian would enchant his well-heeled clientele with tales of the African jungle, the savannah, the wildness of the landscape.

But Bali’s greatest adventure was still ahead. Feeling the urge to travel again, he walked into a travel agent and, seemingly at random, chose the Bahamas. Forty years later, he still spends a third of the year there.

He landed without friends or work prospects. By the end of the year, he was fixing rich tourists’ cars in their garages, making house calls with a briefcase filled with tools. As the tiny island had no proper servicing centres, Bali’s ability to repair almost anything with hardly any spare parts was indispensable.

His charm, too, had its effects, and soon he was caring for mansions while the owners were away, and was well known around town. He fixed Major Holt Renfrew’s limousines, took the squeaks and rattles out of millionaire financier Sir John Templeton’s old Lincolns.

Today, Bali is involved with several biofuel projects, including small-scale refining of cooking oil, as well as the growing of Jatropha seeds in the Philippines. He has started and sold a transmission servicing shop in North Vancouver and travelled around California in a self-serviced bus converted to an RV. He has been married three times, the third being the charm.

The picture of a gleaming white Volvo PV544 parked on the shoulder of an African road. Submitted photo.

Opening a cupboard, he shows me pictures of cars he has owned: a Ferrari 308 GTB, a stately Bentley Series III, a Lotus Esprit Turbo.

Finally, there’s a picture of a gleaming white Volvo PV544 parked on the shoulder of an African road. After Joginder’s David-vs.-Goliath win, Volvo shipped an entirely new body to Kenya, and the rally car was fully restored. When Bali returned to Kenya in the 1970s, Singh handed him the keys.

For a whole month, he drove around the country, the car’s well recognized KHT 184 licence plate drawing waves and cheers.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,





Featured

raju main

Vancouver PR firm joins campaign to keep India’s ‘crying elephant’ away from abusive owner (w/ gallery)

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI A Vancouver-based public relations firm has joined an international campaign to keep an Indian elephant safe from an owner who kept…
Continue Reading »

MINOR ATACKED

Surrey RCMP to announce development in investigation into sexual attack on 9-year-old

VANCOUVER DESI Surrey RCMP plan to release “significant” details Tuesday afternoon on the sexual assault of a nine-year-old girl six days ago. A press release…
Continue Reading »

kabaddi

Vancouver Lions win first match in World Kabaddi League, beat Sonakshi Sinha’s United Singhs

VANCOUVER DESI Man of the match : Gagandeep Singh Sabrawa (Vancouver Lions) Best Raider: Gagandeep Singh Sabrawa, Vancouver Lions (18 raids) Best Stopper: Sandeep Singh…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

raju main

Vancouver PR firm joins campaign to keep India’s ‘crying elephant’ away from abusive owner (w/ gallery)

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI A Vancouver-based public relations firm has joined an international campaign to keep an Indian elephant safe from an owner who kept…
Continue Reading »

MINOR ATACKED

Surrey RCMP to announce development in investigation into sexual attack on 9-year-old

VANCOUVER DESI Surrey RCMP plan to release “significant” details Tuesday afternoon on the sexual assault of a nine-year-old girl six days ago. A press release…
Continue Reading »

education

Gallery: Ten schools you need to see to believe

ASHLEY CSANADY CANADA.COM It’s back to school for kids across Canada on Tuesday — well, except in B.C., but they can still drool over these…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

education

Gallery: Ten schools you need to see to believe

ASHLEY CSANADY CANADA.COM It’s back to school for kids across Canada on Tuesday — well, except in B.C., but they can still drool over these…
Continue Reading »

carleton-university-phd-student-selvan-mohan-is-trying-to-ra

International student in Ottawa launches campaign to raise money for new prosthetic leg

MEGHAN HURLEY OTTAWA CITIZEN A Carleton University PhD student from Malaysia has launched a fundraising campaign to replace his worn-out prosthetic leg. Selvan Mohan, 24, was born without a…
Continue Reading »

jail sex

B.C. Supreme Court to decide if Kamloops Mountie watching women have sex in jail is a crime

THE CANADIAN PRESS KAMLOOPS, B.C. — A judge wants to hear arguments from lawyers about the legality of the charge against an RCMP corporal accused…
Continue Reading »

Rice Bucket India poverty

India’s Rice Bucket Challenge gives a ‘meaningful twist’ to ALS ice bucket challenge

VANCOUVER DESI India has created its own “desi” version of the ALS ice bucket challenge that has swept the globe. While the original icy cold…
Continue Reading »

India

Man proudly wears world’s largest turban weighing in at 100 pounds and 645 metres long unwrapped

VANCOUVER DESI A 60-year-old devout Sikh in northern India appears to be the proud owner of the world’s largest turban – weighing in at 100…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Bollywood sex

Gallery: Shreya Ghoshal, Shiamak’s dance team rocked Bollywood fans in Vancouver

VANCOUVER DESI Shreya Ghoshal, the singing sensation of Bollywood and Shiamak Davar’s dance team thrilled their fans with popular numbers and the latkas and matkas…
Continue Reading »

Desi boobs Sonakshi SInha

Gallery: Top 10 Bollywood celebrities who own sports teams

VANCOUVER DESI India’s love for cricket and Bollywood is world famous. When you try and bring the two together, you find the Indian Premier League…
Continue Reading »

Ranbir Kapoor-sports

Ranbir Kapoor: Bollywood’s link with sports is great

IANS Mumbai – Actor Ranbir Kapoor, who has stakes in the Mumbai City Football Club (FC) franchise of the Indian Super League (ISL) football tournament,…
Continue Reading »