Jeep modifier racer

At Border Thottam in Royapettah, E. Mohamed Ali is standing in front of his workshop, filled with posters and jeep paraphernalia. It should be, after all, Ali is one of Chennai’s few jeep-only mechanics. “My father had a workshop in Pudupet; it was called Ebrahim Auto-works. I spent many evenings there, after school, and in 1994, I too got into this line, and decided to specialise in jeeps. When I opened this workshop, I named it Ebrahim And Sons, as my father and cousin also work with me.”

In 2004, Ali joined the group Jeep Thrills. “I used to service Arka Datta’s jeep, whose hobby is off-roading. Once, he asked me to join them, as only then, he said, will I be able to understand the conditions in which they drive.” The experience was eye-opening; and Ali not only became an ardent jeep enthusiast, he also began participating in races; since 2008, he has won the first prize thrice. “I would like to participate in outstation competitions too. You need special skill, besides confidence, to drive off-road,” Ali says, showing me a video of a jeep negotiating a challenging path.

Ali’s passion for jeeps sees him converting vehicles that are in near-scrap condition to mint. Flipping through photo-albums, he shows me the jeeps he has restored — nearly 60 jeeps, since 2008 — and a decades old model particularly stands out. The jeep, in the ‘before’ picture, looks fit for the junkyard, but in the ‘after’, it’s trim and white, all miraculously spruced up. Old vehicles cost about Rs. 1 lakh, Ali says, and after spending another Rs.1.5 lakh, they look as good as new. To drive off-road, the vehicles need to be a four-wheel drive. “Then, we do the body tinkering, painting and installing a roll-bar (to prevent the soft-top from collapsing, in case the vehicle topples),” he says.

Ali also services racing vehicles. “Since 2006, the Palar Challenge has taken place in August; it’s a three-day event, and the vehicle has to be in very good condition.” And so, a month before the event, Ali gives out appointments and readies the vehicles. Outstation clients too seek him out; and although they get small jobs done locally, they bring the vehicles to Chennai to get any major repair / servicing done. After the event, the vehicles undergo another thorough check, says Ali.

The highly specialised nature of his work, Ali believes, is an advantage, although he feels he would’ve had even more customers had he started a regular workshop. “But the income is good,” he smiles. “I have two sons, and the older one — in Class I — is very interested in vehicles and wants to be a racer. I will definitely continue working until my sons take over the business.” In the weekends, he takes his family on off-road trips on a beach along the ECR. “They enjoy the beach-ride, but my wife is scared of racing,” he smiles.

(A weekly column on men and women who make Chennai what it is)

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I am... S. KumarJune 23, 2013