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‘I am not crazy about cars anymore’: Nizamuddin Awlia Leepu

Recently, Afghanistan’s first supercar took up the internet by storm. This made us think of Nizamuddin Awlia Leepu, the Bangladeshi car enthusiast, expert, engineer, and designer who built his own versions of limousines and more. We take a stroll down the veteran’s four decades of love for cars

January 31, 2023, 05:55 am

Last modified: January 31, 2023, 06:04 am

Leepu realized his love for cars from a young age and for the last 40 years, he has transformed, designed and customized hundreds of cars. Photo: Collected


Leepu realized his love for cars from a young age and for the last 40 years, he has transformed, designed and customized hundreds of cars. Photo: Collected

Recently when social media netizens stumbled upon the Afghan sports car ‘The Black Swan’ they became transfixed. A sleek and low-slung black model with a throaty exhaust note and a Toyota Corolla engine — it stirred up a lot of enthusiasm and awe.

But as I followed the frenzy online, an old memory tugged at me — the memory of a similar low-slung black car built from old Volkswagens, that too on the streets of Dhaka in the late 1990s. I remembered Leemobil, Leepusine, and all those car conversions on the History channel; and I remembered Nizamuddin Awlia Leepu, a Bangladeshi car automotive engineer and designer, who is currently residing in the United States with his family.

The first thing that makes a striking impression is perhaps Leepu’s mutton chops on his wide face, similar to that of the iconic Elvis Presley. And as it turns out, Leepu indeed has been inspired by the king of rock and roll. He wanted to be the Elvis of Bangladesh, not with music, but rather with the art of his automobile designs.

The connection might be slightly stretched, but once you get to know Leepu and his extraordinary talent for turning old junk cars into gorgeous luxury duplicates, you could understand the link with Elvis. You see, while Elvis was popular in multiple music genres (including pop, country, rhythm, blues, gospel, etc), a maestro of music, Leepu’s expertise in cars is vast and wide, making him a virtuoso of cars. For instance, he can turn a Toyota Sprinter into a Ferrari, a sedan into a sedan, and a Volkswagen into a Lamborghini.

Leepu realized his love for cars from a young age and for the last 40 years, he has transformed, designed and customized hundreds of cars. Essentially, Leepu gives a new look to the old four-seaters.

Then finally, in 2012, Leepu made his own four-seater ‘Suruj.’ “The day I finished making it, I felt as if a boulder was taken off my chest, [it felt] as though the storm inside my head calmed down and I became as light as a feather.

Photo: Collected

“> Photo: Collected

Photo: Collected

“And now I am not crazy about cars anymore. I have achieved everything that I wanted,” a proud Leepu told The Business Standard.

Well, I thought he might be entirely correct. Following a passion for automobiles, being featured on AFP and BBC at the age of 35, having a show on Discovery, co-hosting a show with Pitbull on the History channel, and then finally acquiring the E11 visa (immigration rule that offers green cards to individuals who prove to be the “best of the best” in their field) to the US — if that’s not a lifetime achievement for a veteran car enthusiast and expert, then what is?

‘I had my first car at the age of 16’

Leepu was born in 1968, to a well-to-do family in Dhaka. His father was an officer at the US embassy in Bangladesh and then in Saudia Arabia. Leepu grew up in Jigatola and Dhanmondi. And he studied at Dhaka Residential Model College.

“I failed my matric final exam in mathematics. I was never good at it and I didn’t want to copy from my friends. My father, who had never stood second in his academic life, got frustrated,” recalled Leepu, adding, “It wasn’t like my father didn’t try. He hired the best maths teacher [for private tuition], and paid Tk6,000 back in the 1940s. But I never paid any attention.”

In 1986, Leepu was taken to Saudi Arabia with his family and he was admitted to the Bangladesh International School in Jeddah, where he passed the secondary certificate exam with seven letter marks.

At the age of 16, he became fully invested in cars.

In Riyadh, Leepu first saw the luxury cars that were owned by the Saudi princes. Rows of dazzling branded cars with never-seen-before dents and models. Italian sports cars were his favorite — Lamborghini, Ferrari and Limousine.

“The color that those cars had were customized and the rich princes bought the copyright for millions of dollars. That’s where I first had my eyes on a red Lamborghini Countach and I just fell head over heels for it,” reminiscenced Leepu, with a hint of glee rising in his voice.

Later, when Leepu got admitted to college for higher secondary studies there, his father got him a driving license and a Japanese Mazda. “I wanted to buy that Countach but my father had said that he couldn’t even buy the tires, let alone the car itself. I didn’t mind as I was the only 16-year-old in my class who drove his own car,” he continued.

Photo: Collected

“> Photo: Collected

Photo: Collected

From there, Leepu’s father wanted him to study abroad in the US. But Leepu wanted to make that Countach for himself and he knew he wouldn’t be able to in the US. As the Awlia family returned to Bangladesh, Leepu took over the garage of their Jigatola home and started working on his project.

Without any higher education or academic training, Leepu taught himself the anatomy and physiology of cars.

“For the next three years, I bought six to seven cars — old Hondas, Toyotas, and even Volkswagens, dismantled them and studied what was inside. I used to roam around the city and found motor workshops to see how they work, the kinds of tools they used, and where they sourced those from. I ordered motorcar magazines and books, and read all about cars.”

Although his father did not approve of Leepu’s interest, he still financially sponsored it. “I had the luxury of having a garage to myself and a father who gave me the luxury to play with cars at the age of 17,” said Leepu, admitting his privilege.

In 1989, he had already made a version of his dream car, the Lamborghini Countach, using the chassis of an old Honda. Leepu named the car Leemobil (Leepu Mobil)

From 1991 to 1997, Leepu was in the US where his father enrolled him in the General Motors education program to study automobile engineering, but Leepu was not interested. Instead, Leepu enrolled in a vocational training center in Los Angeles where he garnered practical experience in handling cars.

Later he established his own workshop in LA where he repaired and customized automobiles.

“By this time, my father had stopped giving me money and left the US. I was all alone and I was missing what I wanted to do — making cars of my own designs.

“In 1998, with just $2,000 in my pocket, I returned to Bangladesh. My family was not happy with whatever I had been doing all these years,” said Leepu. This is also the year when he went to his maternal grandparents’ home in Brahmanbaria, where he married the girl chosen for him by his grandfather.


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