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Luxury refit for Dhaka's o

Luxury refit for Dhaka's old bangers

By Alastair Lawson
BBC correspondent in Dhaka

"I do to cars what the fairy Godmother did to Cinderella before she went to the ball," says Leepu from the depths of his garage in Dhaka, one of the world's most congested cities.

"Only, none of my vehicles will turn ugly again by midnight."

Leepu, whose real name is Nizamuddin Awlia, converts rusting Toyotas and Hondas into imitation Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

His market is the burgeoning Bangladeshi middle class - recently enriched, but still not rich enough to afford the cars of its dreams.

In his specially converted garage, Leepu works with four mechanics, stripping down Japanese cars and replacing their bodywork with metal cut in the form of a sleek Italian sports car.

The sheet metal they use comes from the same stock used to make the bicycle rickshaws on Dhaka's streets.

Italian inspiration

Leepu insists that the two cars he is converting to resemble a Lamborghini and a Ferrari - which will each be worth about $40,000 on completion - are not direct copies.

"Although this car may have a little more than a passing resemblance to a Lamborghini Diablo, in fact there are a lot of differences," he told BBC News Online, pointing to a highly polished, streamlined vehicle.
"The body panels are designed by me, and have their own unique features. The only genuine Ferrari parts I have are a pair of rear lights and a few emblems and monograms," he says.

"To be honest I have to say that my inspiration comes from the great Italian sports cars.

"While the bodywork may be similar, the engine is Japanese and the seats are made out of 100% Bangladeshi leather.

"I would say that this is my homage to the Lamborghini design," he says, "which will never be surpassed anywhere in the world."

The Lamborghini 'Leepu'

Leepu's passion for cars began when he was a youngster growing up in the Middle East.

The 35-year-old says that he can remember going to a motor show in Saudi Arabia and seeing the most exotic and eye-catching vehicles.

By 1989 he had already made a version of his dream car, the Lamborghini Countach.

"It has always been my dream to own a car like a Ferrari, even though I was unlikely to ever earn enough money to buy one," he says.

"So I decided to make my own sports cars instead, and you can take it from [me] that it's a lot cheaper!"

He says that while he wants to keep a few of the cars that he converts, he hopes that he will earn a living selling the remainder to Bangladeshis who always dreamed of owning a sports car.

"Soon after setting up business in Dhaka a few years ago, I made a loose copy of another of my dream cars, a Lamborghini Diablo. My version is called a Leepu."

Pothole peril

Pride of the fleet though is Leepu's 22-feet-long limousine - made by welding together several cars, and powered by a 2.8 litre diesel engine.

It took him 40 days to make, and contains a drinks cabinet, on-board TV, intercom and stereo. He estimates that it would be worth more than $50,000 if it was sold.

"Most people in Dhaka have never seen such a huge car," he says, and it is quite amusing to see the mouths of rickshaw pullers drop as we drive by.

"The only trouble is that the ground-clearance for some of my sports cars is not too good so we have to be careful to avoid the potholes."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/10/22 09:01:43 GMT

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