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DHARSHANA AMARASIYNGHE  Dyan speaks to an ‘original article’ and MINI aficionado

Dyan: Dharshana, you are the proud owner of two magnificent Minis – one a saloon and the other, a ‘Convertible’ or what the French would call a ‘Cabriolet’ – these two charming classics, many would trade an arm or a leg! Before we get on to ‘Your Love’, do let us know the genesis of your passion.

Dharshana [smiles] I would describe myself as a ‘Car Lover’ – my roots of this passion goes back to when I was 12 or 13 years of age; my father was the first owner of an Austin A55 Cambridge – I used to drive it up and down our driveway and sometimes down our street; I loved washing, cleaning it up and even attending to the odd repair. I always observed cars on the road, checking on the minutest detail. And so this love of cars, especially classic cars – because there’re different, became an obsession from my latter school days.  Yes, the latest Mercs and Beemers are great, yet a Classic Car- I love them all - gets that second look; then, even amongst Classic Cars – well, a 1950 model would remain a 1950 car; the same would apply to a 1960s model – it remains a 1960s car. Conversely a 1965 or 1970 Mini is timeless! It would still retain that same ‘look and feel’, yet it’s modern. For instance a 1965 Mini would look the same, or run as better as any new sporty compact car! And don’t forget that it would even outrun a new 1000cc Nissan March; so a Mini is unique – it’s ‘old’ yet it blends with today’s ‘sporty wheels’! Let me drive this point Dyan: most’ Classic Cars’ are lovely to look at – they are polished to look simply brilliant yet they are hardly run; conversely Minis are old all right yet they are run, raced and are on par with daily runners on the road. So much can be done with Minis; that’s why they are unique and timeless!

 

Dyan: You have made your point lucidly on why owning & driving a Mini is a wonderful pastime. So when did you actually own such a Mini. You developed a passion from your school days after all…

Dharshana: I followed the natural sequence from boyhood to manhood; from studies to, well getting a job and earning; yet what I earned then was inadequate to buy that Mini I yearned for! And so I started to dream; I am a staunch believer that if one dreams big, he or she gets what they dream about constantly; I used to pretend to be a ‘genuine buyer’ by responding to advertisements. I used to go there, look, gaze, actually at the subject of my dreams; sometimes take it out for a ‘test drive’ and so on – if only those sellers knew that I didn’t have the cash to buy! Yet, more importantly I kept dreaming on and through my earnings, the savings grew bigger over the years – after all there was a motivating factor to save too – with the Mini constantly in my thoughts and dreams, I now even started visualizing owning and driving a Mini and one day – some five years ago, my dream turned to reality: I bought a 1000cc Mini saloon of 1970 vintage. 1970 is special as that was the year I was born! I decided that I would make it as authentic as possible with all original parts going in my quest to restore it. I picked the best automotive engineer in the business who is also passionate about Minis: Mr. David Todd. On my bidding David Todd stripped the Mini to its floor board, to its very nuts and bolts; the 1000cc original engine was replaced with a Mini 1275cc. It took one year of ‘Love & Labour’ to restore the Mini to its original best but each day of toil was well worth it! I used to visit David’s Workshop every day to check on the progress and if David said ‘T\today nothing happened’ I felt very sad! I used to ‘eat, drink and sleep’ the Mini that was being restored and then finally when all work was complete, the joy and satisfaction I derived – I don’t have the words to describe it! It was an absolute high and that passion still remains!  I love and trust this Mini of mine more than the other two vehicles I use, as my Mini is simply flawless!

 

Dyan: I could feel the passion in your eyes when describing this ‘love of your life’ – the Mini saloon! Dharshana you also have an unbelievably classy Mini convertible. How & when did you get that beauty?

Dharshana: I was also interested in the Mini-Moke but realized that it was way beyond my budget; but I kept on checking the Internet and looked at all possible Minis and their respective and accompanying stories. I also used to share my longing with David Todd too. Then one day I saw this beauty of a Mini Convertible on the Internet. And so I decided to buy one – not a convertible but to buy another saloon and convert it to that of a ‘Convertible’ after double-checking with David Todd – the most trustworthy, reliable, absolutely thorough automotive engineer one could ever have – who gave me the green light to go ahead and make my purchase of a Mini Saloon as he could build it as a convertible. It’s not simply ‘removing the roof’ as once you, yes, remove the roof, the structure gets weak; doors don’t close etc so much reinforcing of the structure needs to be done systematically, and David Todd aka Mr. Mini proved to be the master-craftsman to build my Mini from scratch, once again – this time it took two years!

 

Dyan: Can you repeat this matter of ‘doors won’t close’ as for sake of my readers, we need to be clear.

Dharshana: When one removes the roof of a saloon car to make it a convertible, one needs to reinforce the body, you know the structure all round. So the Acid Test is to hoist it up and see whether the doors close with that familiar and effortless ‘Click’; if not properly reinforced, the doors – although they would close when on the ground, would not do so if jacked up! So when David Todd did the reinforcing strictly according to prescribed Mini specifications, the Mini doors closed with that reassuring ‘Click’ – heavenly! Incidentally my 2nd Mini which I converted to that of a ‘convertible’ first had an ‘original’ 850cc engine; it was replaced with a Mini 1000cc engine; whatever parts I replaced, vitally, were ‘original Mini’ spares.

 

Dyan: so you visited David Todd on a daily basis when ‘doing up’ the Mini Convertible too, Dharshana?

Dharshana [laughs] yes, not only that – as you know I am a very busy person, I work almost 365 days of the year and usually work daily till 9pm or even later; yet whatever time I get back home I make it a point to drive each of the two Minis at least two kms each evening before I go to sleep; it’s my love! 

 

Dyan: With so much of ‘mini-passion’ running through your veins, could you please give us some Mini tips?

Dharshana: You may have a car or two that you own – the Mini may be in fact your third car but it must be your first love; it’s as simple as that. The other cars you simply own & run; the Mini you possess & LOVE! That’s Tip number one. Let me get on to tip number two: many who go in for Minis, do the outward ‘beautification’ first and inevitably they run into problems. My advice:  Be thorough with the mechanicals initially– it should run perfectly first before the cosmetics are done; that way you won’t get frustrated! If the mechanicals are literally first-class, then you’ll be motivated to run it as often as possible without fear of breaking down; so please don’t blame your ‘beautiful’ Mini if mechanicals inside are not sorted. Third tip: Never let anyone touch your Mini unless by a proven Mini expert; there are not many around in the country; do look out for them. I was of course really fortunate in finding the best out of the best in Mr. David Todd – he’s a qualified engineer plus a Mini enthusiast; he knows Minis inside out and most importantly he has a passion for Minis – so never let ‘any guy’ meddle with your Mini if not an expert; My fourth tip: Run your Mini as often as possible; never just keep it parked! Remember that they are 1960-1970s models so if simply kept unused over a long time, its brakes can bind plus other issues can crop up; I am not saying that it should be a daily runner; but don’t keep it parked for months on end! My final word of advice: don’t let anyone else drive your Mini! I say this because “Driving Minis is an art” – you need to know and understand that and more importantly, you need to enjoy driving a Mini; if you’re a Jap car driver with ‘Auto-Gears’ you won’t perhaps enjoy driving a Mini; fundamental question here: Do you want to be driven or drive it? As for me I WANT to DRIVE it! I don’t want to be driven in ‘Autos’!

 

Dyan: Obviously all about having Minis is the fun factor! A first time user may not appreciate the shakes, rolls and the bumpy ride; but in the end when one acquires a taste for it, it’s simple fun…

Dharshana: So true! Many ask if I race my Mini. I reply saying that I love my Mini too much to race it as I know what racing can do to a car. How on earth could I even think of abusing my love – my Mini? Surely! My Minis are being maintained with so much of TLC and so not a speck of dust or dirt – leave alone, God forbid a scratch to mar its appearance! I have one of my old faithful domestics who’ll call over twice a week to clean up and polish the two beauties – first under my supervision but now he could manage on his own. He loves doing it and does a perfect job in fact! He is such an asset!

 

Dyan: Importantly your Man Friday loves doing it! How far have you driven your Minis out of Colombo?

Dharshana: To Galle and back many times; to Avissawella also. I am a member of the Mighty Mini Club and make it a point to drive around and join them on their outings. I once even drove it at a Members’ Day Race at the Mirigama Track; not serious stuff, so that I brought back the Mini back home safely! I affirm that both cars can go anywhere in Sri Lanka and are even fit to race as all systems are A1, really!

 

Dyan: Dharshana, have you done any modifications to your Minis? How would you confirm ‘originality’?

Dharshana: Well whatever I replaced I ensured that they – parts I mean - were original Mini stuff. For instance the ‘Convertible’1965 model like I said earlier had a 850cc engine with 10inch wheels; it has now a Mini 1000cc engine with 13inch wheels. Similarly the 1970 Mini Saloon came with a 1000cc engine and also 10inch wheels; it now runs on a Mini 1275cc engine with 12inch wheels. I have also fitted an AC in my Mini saloon, but that too is an original Mini Air Conditioner. So to answer your question: yes, I have modified them to an extent but all replaced with genuine Mini spares & accessories

 

Dyan: I could feel the passion in your eyes as you speak and clarify whatever re your Minis that you obviously love and care for with so much of unbridled passion; you are indeed a real Mini aficionado!

Dharshana [smiles] Thanks Dyan! I don’t compromise on anything towards their perfect maintenance – the slightest unusual squeak or rattle or if brakes are ‘pulling to the right or left’ or whatever, it heads straight away to David Todd’s Workshop at Kohuwela. It’s my passion; you see it reflected in my Minis!

 

Dyan: That’s the indefinable love between a – usually male – with his car; not many understand this!

Dharshana [laughs] In fact when I park at a Keells or a Cargills when I get back to my parked Mini there’ll be invariably a 2 or 3 people hovering around the Mini gazing admirably and then popping the inevitable question: Are you selling this Mini! Same scenario when stopped at a Traffic Lights or wherever I need to slow down – drivers put their power shutters down – I cannot do so because I need to roll my windows down! Same question when I do reach out and manually lower the windows: “Are you selling this Mini?”

 

Dyan: Dharshana – that says it all! I rarely interview Classic Car lovers with such passion as you have!

Dharshana: Thanks Dyan. I must also say that I have been a faithful and enthusiastic reader of the MOTOR magazine for years. I think that those who are passionate about their cars love to read the MOTOR magazine which provides many insights to car-lovers. I for one have gained much knowledge about numerous aspects of motoring, different cars, models and about maintaining them; of course your timely and interesting ‘Snippets’ over the past decade or so and of course the ‘Profiles’ where you interview and bring out the passion and character of the many personalities involved in lively motoring!

 

Dyan: That’s very kind of you to express these encouraging sentiments which I am sure will be greatly appreciated by our wonderful Editor and the hardworking staff of the unmatched MOTOR magazine!