Before the jeepney-style multi-cab body was built onto its basic truck chassis for the Philippine people-mover version (see the related story–Riding the Elephant: Tata’s surprising Ace micro-truck), the passenger variant of the Tata Ace in India had been the Magic. Though it hasn’t yet been introduced in the Philippines, Tata has brought in a Magic for market testing, and I got to drive it for a few days, and for a good cause.
Rugged and bohemian at the same time, the Magic is all about utility, and that’s what makes it, well, rather sleek. The tarpaulin covering at the rear actually hides a light but strong-sounding sheet-metal roof atop a frame of big-bore steel tubes—a roll-cage extending over what would’ve been its cargo bay. The body sitting atop the robust frame is fused into a single structure, there being no seams between the front cabin and rear bay, with all body panels having been stamped into shape for a refined, curved-edges finish. The inside is a single cabin space, no partition between the front and the back except for a horizontal frame member behind the driver and shotgun seats.
In addition to the side-swinging tailgate, there are vestigial side doors that made sense with the front and rear facing benches that had originally been installed (like the seating arrangements in stage-coach and hansom-cab horse carriages). But the version they brought here already featured the side facing benches made familiar by public utility jeepneys. The bench on the left is one single fold-down piece, negating the use of the door on that side. The bench on the right is made up of two segments—a fold-down rearmost segment and a fixed foremost part—bridged by a fold-down section that can be stowed to clear the doorway on that side.
Grilled on a gig
So, even with the Magic being an India-specific configuration, its modification with jeepney-style benches expands its capacity, from the 6 who could sit on the original front and rear facing benches, to the 8 to 10 who’d fit on the side-facing benches in back. Most importantly, the foldable side facing benches could be stowed individually to create large, contiguous areas for cargo. It was this cargo-hauling feature that proved all-important on the real world mission that Tata let me take their Magic on.
On June 12, a hot Independence Day Friday, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the RockEd volunteer group held a concert to launch Batang Malaya, their campaign to raise awareness for just how wrong child labor is despite the family needs that seem to justify it. And, to add color to the occasion, the RockEd volunteers of The Raya School in Quezon City, had built a giant pinwheel to liven up the stage set in Luneta, Manila.
Micro-truck that could
The pinwheel itself measured more than four feet across, and the pole on which it was to be mounted, eight feet tall. The installation had to be transported knocked down, with three of its creators coming along to assemble it into final form at the concert venue. That made it four people including me, the driver, and oversized cargo that otherwise might have to be carried in a two-seat, single-cab pick-up truck. Not a good scenario, not with our climate-changed weather.
So, enter the Magic. The giant pinwheel and its pole fit nicely on the left with the single-piece bench folded up on that side. And, with all the bench segments on the opposite side unfolded and set up, there were enough seats front and back for at least half a dozen volunteers, let alone the mere four of us.
At the event, among the rocker dudes milling about, a surfer friend came up to me and gave testament to how good the Ace looks. He sized up the micro-truck and very frankly asked if and when we can take it to Baler for some days of sun and surf, the truck serving as home to gnarly blokes and their waxed up boards.
Market testing is done, in my book, and Tata should bring the Magic here to become an overnight classic. Weighing in at just 1,000kg and powered by an amazing 2-cylinder 16hp diesel engine, the Magic comes across with tons of character.
The only thing I’d want to add to the micro-truck is a loose mesh wall to cage up the front of the cabin. This, to have some part of the Magic that can be locked up, some place for gear and gadgets that surfers and the adventurous may want to leave behind on dry ground. After all, it looks good enough to take on safari, sure, but it’s also so elegantly frugal on fuel and on frivolities that even city-slickers are sure to want a Magic for roughing it on urban pavement.