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RHAMZI AHMED – WORLD-CLASS CLASSIC CAR RESTORER

Dyan: Just walking around your yard and also checking out your classic car photo album where you have pictorially captured the most amazing transformation from hopeless metal heap to strikingly captivating classic, restored to its very minutest detail is really mind-blowing! As the cliché says: Seeing is believing! As a motoring journalist I have seen literally hundreds of ‘restored jobs’ in the past so many years but the perfection, the finish and precision is simply staggering! Rhamzi, when did this passion take root?

 

Rhamzi:  As a school boy, perhaps 25 years ago the habit of frugality ensured that I had saved just enough money – some five thousand rupees, to buy a clapped out Peugeot 203; being a naive kid and buying a car meant that I had a ‘rust-bucket’ on my hands! Reality hit me hard when I realized that I didn’t have a penny to get on with the lengthy, ever increasing list of ‘must do’s’ towards restoration! And just as when I was scratching my head and wondering what to do next, a lady relative popped in at home to meet my mom. When she saw the ramshackle 203 the look of amazement and then the sheer delight in her eyes and indeed her whole look was staggering as she started hugging the Peugeot and shrieking with delight! Apparently this Peugeot 203 was her father’s ‘family car’ that had been sold years ago; they had been pining its absence since its ‘departure’ and so when she saw their 203 right before her eyes, she pleaded with me saying, “son, you must sell this to me”! And So I did. Promptly! Along the way I made my first positive, worthwhile sale: having made the first profit of a few hundred rupees, giving me enough courage and confidence to go in for my second car-purchase, a Triumph Herald. Having burnt my fingers with the first buy – the 203 I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice! In my innocence with the 203 purchase I thought that all cars with 04 wheels were the same!! I was now slightly wizened and careful of what to be wary!

 

Dyan: What do you look out for when buying an old car to be restored; MOTOR readers want to know!

 

Rhamzi: Well after so many restoration jobs now, I keep an eye on a ‘straight car’, meaning the bodywork should be okay requiring minimum tinkering to sought out dents and imperfections needing ‘straightening’. The most difficult job is to correct a mistake made in the bodywork; I would rather prefer to have an un-spoilt car to work on. If there’s some rust on the body requiring work, then the engine should be in running order; I don’t go for cars where there’s too much to attend to at the same time. At least one area, such as the body should be relatively okay, otherwise you spend far too much time & effort unnecessarily. I actually don’t go for engines in perfect order; in fact engines could have been blown or in bad shape – that’s not a problem as engines can always be repaired or replaced but a body if it’s completely messed up – unless you have a reference car next to you to get your contours right, is not easy, as I go for literally – perfection in every sense of the word! I would do and re-do a contour until perfection is attained. In short until it reaches its original form. Restoring bodywork is quite subjective as it depends on who is doing the tinkering. So I prefer taking on cars where the contours and lines, you know body, regardless of tolerable rust you may notice, are in fair shape, needing like I said, minimum tinkering!

 

Dyan: Talking of rust, that was the Achilles ’heel of older cars; how do you go about treating a rusted car?

 

Rhamzi: Sri Lanka’s weather with its high humidity means rust is inevitable; so it’s essential that you don’t keep your car exposed for too long after tinkering, for instance – you need to have your primer on as soon as possible. Having said that there’s no point in applying your primer if you have not 100% cleaned the metal since inter-granular rust can go unnoticed but would reappear later: a costly mistake!

 

Dyan: For sake of MOTOR readers, I shall Endeavour to define ‘Intergranular corrosion’ [IGC] also known as Intergranular attack [IGA] which is a form of corrosion where the boundaries of crystallites of the material are more susceptible to corrosion than their insides. This situation can happen in otherwise corrosion-resistant alloys, when the grain boundaries are depleted – known as grain boundary depletion of the corrosion-inhibiting elements such as Chromium by some mechanism. Rust treatment is not easy!

 

Rhamzi: Absolutely! So one needs to clean the surface to perfection; also there is no point in applying primer when weather conditions are damp; in short – one needs to treat the base material properly.

 

Dyan: Rhamzi, you have been restoring so many vehicles, say in the past ten years or so; could you – for interest of our readers let us know of  some of the more exciting, pleasing, memorable restoration jobs?

 

Rhamzi [smiles] Well some of the unforgettable cars would be the 3Sri 7610 Sunbeam Alpine, which had a few areas to be attended and later It ended up a beauty!  I also restored a Ford Anglia Popular aka ‘Pop’ – 8HP side-valve, which I drove all the way to Kandy for a Classic Car outing; a Mark 3 Ford Capri (Motor – December 2011) restoration also was truly memorable as it came out very well; then the Porsche Allgair diesel Tractor was absolutely challenging, yet so much of fun to restore! I found this Porsche tractor accidentally in Wennappuwa when I was scouring that area for a Pontiac with a car-broker! We didn’t find the Pontiac but found this rare and I would consider, priceless Porsche Allgair Tractor which I promptly brought home for restoration! This Porsche Tractor was featured in both your MOTOR magazine (October 2012) as well as the Classic Car Motor Show. I got many offers from friends and car-enthusiasts who wanted to buy it outright; a few expats too were keen on exporting it but then I received a very good offer from Dr.Anton Jayasooriya and sold to him. I realized that only a few are surviving in the world! Thankfully this classic now has found a home in Anton Jayasuriya’s Museum at the Plantation Hotel in Kitulgala. So it’s safe!

 

Dyan: Well Rhamzi you showed me how you converted a Suzuki 1300cc ‘Super-bike’ from that of an unwieldy two-wheeler to that of a distinct 3-wheeled ‘Trike’ painted in Ferrari red – awesome, really!

 

Rhamzi: Yes, the ‘Trike’ was an exceptional job! It was originally the famous Suzuki Hayabusa aka GSX1300R – it won acclaim as the then world’s fastest production motor cycle with a top speed of some 303 to 312 km/hr. The owner found it difficult to manoeuvre in SL traffic as he found it hard to keep his feet on the tarmac each time he was stalled by traffic! So he gave it to me to ‘do’ this conversion! This ‘Trike’ was such a hit that I even got international enquiries and exposure. People now call me from big Workshops to small timers – all wanting my opinion on this or that. I gladly offer my advice. In the meantime I restored a few rare classics for individuals who know the true value of restoring cars to their very original look and feel; and the secret for a beautiful restoration is that I attend to only one car at a time and try my level best to delegate whatever specific jobs to the relevant specialists simultaneously so that the car finishes up fairly quickly. I hate to wait for one car-related job to be done to start the other task as it’s time-consuming and unproductive! As a result I could give off my 100% for that particular car in attention and focus – after all that’s my real passion which I attend with zeal! I should also mention how I restored the legendary Sir Arthur C. Clerk’s Sunbeam Alpine Mark V 5 Sri 505.

 

Dyan: Is all this fantastic restoring jobs you do so deeply, lovingly - a passion or a commercial business?

 

Rhamzi: I was employed in a corporate set-up; I prematurely retired and wanted to do something that was hugely satisfying, yet relaxing. I started restoring cars as a hobby initially which became a passion! Many have suggested that I go ‘big-time’ by doing customization of cars and more cars in a specially built Workshop with all the associated tools and work-force etc; that would bring in more stress and take away the joy and passion I derive by restoring one-car-at-a-time, so to speak. So it’s a passion! Of course I work as a Consultant on Communications, so restoring cars is not my main source of income.

Dyan: I am absolutely impressed with your sheer attention to detail, Rhamzi – you’re the genuine article!

 

Rhamzi: Thanks Dyan – once I complete a restoration job painstakingly done, I want the future owner to feel so great about the car that once they take out the newly restored classic care for a spin and relate to me the sheer joy that they have had, both driving and to see admiring glances and hear positive comments they have received from many: that is the true satisfaction. And that says it all in a nutshell!

 

Dyan: What particular brands or models do you favour to be considered as classics? Some do ask that!

 

Rhamzi: Actually any old vehicle – car, motor cycle, scooter if it can be restored as to be a classic. As a matter of fact even a not so-called desirable classic such as a boring car can be admirable if restored beautifully, with passion.  Recently I spied a beautifully restored Fiat 500 in the Kandy area driven by a young lad with another youngster seated by. As I saw this superb Fiat 500, I fell in love with it; I had never even thought about Fiats until then and promptly offered much more than the market value whilst enquiring whether they would part with it. But the young chaps respectfully declined! I am so proud of them since that car was simply amazing! I could really empathize with them as I know first-hand how much of effort would have gone for that restoration and careful maintenance of that car! You see, Dyan the idea is to restore any car to ‘concourse level’, meaning to bring it to absolute original order in every sense of the word. Any such potential classic restored to its ‘concourse standard’, would demand its rightful price

 

Dyan: I am also aware Rhamzi how you built your own Lotus 7 some years ago. Care to comment on this?

 

Rhamzi [smiles] Yes, I built my own Lotus Seven – with much encouragement and advice from people like Waruna Gunatilleke, Michael Muthumani, Dinesh Jayawardene and the famed builder Anura etc. Finally I got it registered by the RMV as a locally built car. Such a procedure and practice is now sadly not possible! By the way Dyan some say that there are no classics to be found as all have been taken away by the Classic Car Collectors – I beg to differ as still there are barn-finds. It only needs a bit of effort and persistence and you could find that dream car to fit your budget to restore. As much as possible, do it yourself and get involved; don’t outsource everything to others, you should be the ring-master and get it done the way you wish, after all you are the guy who’ll be driving it anyway!  So my advice to all budding enthusiasts it to get your hands dirty – nothing wrong with that; spend time searching for that elusive part; do not rest until excellence in all aspects is reached; do your restoration step by step – you’ll then intimately know every nut and bolt as you joyfully restore your dream classic to perfection – with time you’ll know how to reach ‘Concourse Standards’; you will, as long as have the passion in every sinew!

 

Dyan: Rhamzi, it has been an absolute revelation to locate a car restoring genius like you! Marvelous!

 

Rhamzi: Thank you Dyan and MOTOR magazine for taking the time and effort to chat with me. I enjoyed doing so. Magazines like MOTOR have done and continue to do so much for the automotive industry!