ISRO engineer’s labour of love turns old car into backhoe


Old car means quick disposal for most people. Not for Ben Jacob. Rather than consign his old hatchback to the scrap heap, the young scientist with Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) here chose to convert it into a backhoe/excavator.

Ben, 34, managed it all by himself over several months of COVID 19-plagued 2020. Now, the transformed Daewoo Matiz, with the metal arm with a digging bucket at the end extending like a small crane, sits in his yard ready for work.

“I had to seek the help of a local workshop for punching 44-mm holes for the hinges. That aside, I constructed it all by myself,” says the Scientist/Engineer-SF at LPSC who is a resident of Choozhattukotta in the district.

The car-turned-backhoe weighs 1.1 tonnes. The backhoe has a vertical and horizontal reach of 14 ft and can exert a digging force of six tonnes. The maximum lifting capacity is 500 kg. Technically, it would fall in the mini excavator category. Commercial excavators in this category cost upwards of ₹20 lakh, says Ben. His home-made machine cost just ₹70,000 to put together.

“The conversion took two months,” recalls Ben who graduated in mechanical engineering from the College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram (CET).

He had purchased the 1998-make car second-hand for his wife Jeeja a few years ago. Though the vehicle is more than two decades old now, Ben simply didn’t have the heart to see it scrapped. “I wanted to convert it into something useful. I checked out several ideas and finally settled on the backhoe,” he says.

It helped that Ben had a reasonably equipped workshop at home. He started work on the design aspects of the backhoe in May. Still, he had to order many of the components from Gujarat. The parts were slow in coming due to the COVID-19 restrictions, but he managed to kick off work by July-August last year.

The machine can find everyday practical use in farms or for digging ponds, says Ben. But more than that, he insists, his project is an example of how old vehicles can be transformed into something useful at a low cost.

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