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Car Doctors In Bangkok: Can Restore, Cannot Buy


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Car doctors in Bangkok: Can restore, cannot buy

IT'S THEIR CAR-MA

BANGKOK: -- Temples are where Thai Buddhists go to in search of a new life.

But at one quirky temple in Bangkok, it is also a place where old, discarded cars get a new lease of life.

At Wat Huakrabeu in Bang Khunthien district, which is located around 20km from downtown Bangkok, close to 100 classic cars of various makes have found a new home and new purpose.

Previously unwanted and discarded, they've become the object of desire for people who have been flocking to the temple just to see them.

Temple abbot Vibul Pattanasak, 58, said the idea started seven years ago when the 31-year-old temple started a car workshop to create mechanic jobs for the nearby villagers.

'When some owners of these classic cars started to leave them here without retrieving them after the repairs, we decided to keep them,' he told The New Paper in Thai.

'These are rare cars seldom seen on the roads today. We want to keep them so that future generations will have a chance to see them.'

Today, the temple has become a classic-car haven packed with cars of various makes and models, ranging from Chevrolet, Ford, MG, Land Rover, Peugeot, Toyota to Nissan, although most of them are Mercedes-Benz.

The abbot explained: 'Mercedes-Benz are the most durable. They can be kept for a long, long time, unlike the other makes.'

MONKS HELP OUT TOO

The cars were mostly donated or sold to the temple at low prices, the abbot said.

He added that Wat Huakrabeu has been able to employ more car mechanics to restore and maintain the fleet of classic cars, though the monks sometimes help out too.

But he admits that most of the cars remain in their unrestored, unsightly condition, due to a lack of funds to restore them.

Still, the eclectic mix of classic cars and a Buddhist temple has attracted droves of local and foreign tourists to Wat Huakrabeu, whose name means buffalo's head in Thai.

As a result, food-sellers and souvenir shops located near the temple have been enjoying brisk business.

Wat Huakrabeu is now listed as one of the major tourist attractions in Bang Khunthien district and even has its own website at www.wathuakrabeu.com.

More impressively, Bangkok newspaper The Nation reported that the temple has been awarded a certificate by Mercedes-Benz in Thailand and made a permanent member of the Classic Benz Club there.

The abbot said the commendation was given in recognition for the rare collection of Mercedes-Benz 300 models that the temple has painstakingly restored from junkyard status to showroom condition.

One of them is the green-coloured Mercedes-Benz 300D with a six-cylinder diesel engine - the same model used by Thailand's Queen Sirikit on her travels in the past.

Parked next to it is the cream-coloured 300 model - the same used by Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Both cars are also in roadworthy condition after a complete overhaul of the engine and body. Said the abbot: 'When they first arrived, they couldn't be used at all. But we have spent a lot of money to restore them.

'We won't sell them because these are precious national treasures.

'But if we do, each would cost easily at least 5 million baht ($205,000).'

For the same reason, the abbot said he always rejects propositions from classic-car merchants who want to buy the vehicles, only to sell them later for a handsome profit.

EXCHANGES POSSIBLE

He said: 'But if there are owners of classic cars who want to exchange theirs with those we have here, we may consider doing that.'

Taxi driver Ngampol, who's in his 40s, said he's impressed by the collection of classic cars at the temple.

He said: 'It's good that they're doing this. They're giving us a chance to see the old cars of the past.'

--Agencies 2004-11-13

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