THE BLACK BEAST

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By Shanuka Kadupitiyage

A person’s first car is special. It’s part of an individual’s growth to become more independent. It’s almost a rite of passage for some. For Aadhil Marikar, his first car turned out to be one of the rarest vehicles known to Sri Lanka’s roads in the modern day. 

I met Aadhil thanks to a mutual friend who introduced him to me. Although having a somewhat busy schedule, we managed to find some time to meet, where he introduced me to his Mitsubishi Colt Turbo.

Aadhil’s Colt might not be of much interest for the uninformed when seeing her cruising on Colombo’s busy roads. There’s hardly any flair or visual pizzazz to the vehicle’s design. The Colt can blend in well with the many cars on the street, perfectly camouflaged. 

Climbing into the Colt that was exactly the case as we cruised. At the low rev ranges, the engine was quiet, tame and docile.

A wolf in disguise

However, the façade broke easily when Aadhil decided to step on the accelerator a little heavier when the road cleared up. The engine broke its stupor and growled to life, the slight whine of the turbocharger faintly audible above it. 

“I’ve been in Starlet GTs before, and I can easily say that this car can beat one in a quarter mile drag race, once properly built” he quipped with a smile. 

‘Bred’ to race

Aadhil’s statement wasn’t empty words either. His Mitsubishi is a vehicle built and bred to be raced. You might have heard of rally races; a form of automotive races that are run on open roads and off-road (legally, with the roads being used, closed off and under protected circumstances of course).  It’s usually in these races where automotive manufacturers experiment with new ideas in engineering and technology to gain a competitive edge over others. Audi’s proprietary ‘quattro’ system is a great example. 

In order for a manufacturer to have their car become eligible to participate in races, it needs to be ‘homologated’. For Group A rally racing; a special race series introduced by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), this meant among the many regulations, a car was only allowed to participate if they had manufactured a certain number of street legal counterparts. During the 1980s, this number was 5,000 cars at minimum.  Group A races were for ‘production derived’ vehicles. Manufacturers couldn’t participate with race cars built specifically for these races. Instead, only modified versions of street-legal vehicles were allowed to participate. 

Manufacturers had no choice but to push the limits of automotive engineering in their road-legal cars in order to be eligible. The result was some amazing vehicles such as the BMW (E30) M3 and Subaru Impreza WRX which were a cut above the regular commuter car.

To keep costs low, manufacturers would produce only the bare minimum of these cars to meet the homologation requirements. Later on, these street-legal race cars would be coined the term ‘Homologation specials’.

Aadhil’s Colt perfectly fits the specifications of the Mitsubishi Mirage Colt 1400 Turbo, which was homologated in 1983 for Group A racing. Which means it most likely is one such homologation model; a true street-legal race car. 

Unique engineering

Popping the hood open, Aadhil later showed to us the 1.4 Litre turbocharged Orion engine that powered the Colt. “What’s special is the fact that this engine uses a carburettor, and is turbocharged,” he explained. 

“Normally, turbocharged cars have an ECU (Engine Control Unit) to electronically control everything. But here, every part of the entire engine is mechanically controlled. No electronics, sensors or processors at all. It’s an engineering marvel to me.”

“There isn’t a blow-off valve for the turbo either, meaning you don’t get that iconic whizz you would normally hear from a turbocharged car. But you will still hear the turbine and the turbo unit’s trademark whine.”

But that’s not the only unique piece of engineering that the Colt possesses. 

“This car came during the era when Mitsubishi wasn’t afraid to experiment with new ideas,” he said while pointing at the gear shifter, which had a peculiar lever next to it.

“Each gear can be broken into a low and high ratio using this lever. If I ever need to accelerate fast, I can quickly switch to a low or high range using the lever and pick up speed, meaning I basically have an eight speed gearbox in this car,” he explained, even giving us a demonstration, shifting through all eight gear ratios on the drive back. 

A chance encounter

Aadhil agrees that it certainly was a stroke of good fortune that led to him purchasing the Colt. “I had no idea how special this car was when I bought it,” he recounted. 

A massive fan of classic Japanese cars and project builds, Aadhil dreamt of the day he could own a car of his own. Then came finally the day when he had the chance to buy his own.

Like many who were looking for their first car, Aadhil too frequently browsed advertisements on various websites, and had seen the Colt for sale, even saving screenshots of it among the many other old Japanese cars saved in his gallery. 

Although Aadhil was interested in buying an old Toyota at first, the car he was considering wasn’t what he was looking for. Disappointed, he and his mother were on the way back home when he was suddenly reminded of the Colt which was on the way back home. 

“I was interested in looking at an old Toyota to buy. It was within my price range, but it didn’t feel right to me. My mother and I had said no to the offer and were on our way home when suddenly, the ad for the Colt popped in my mind midway, and I pulled over.”

Fortunately, the car was on Aadhil’s route home, and the owner was available to be met. 

Love at first sight

“It was dark because it was late in the evening. It was raining as well,” Aadhil recounted. 

“But when he took us to the car and I saw it, something just clicked, and I knew this was the car for me.” “In hindsight, I really should have been more careful with what I was doing,” he admitted. “I bought the car without even knowing anything about it. I had no idea what she was or how significant she was.”

Aadhil didn’t sleep that night, both excited and nervous about the car. What if parts weren’t available? What if he had just spent all of his savings on a ‘lemon?’ What if maintenance of the car was a nightmare to handle? Restless, he began to browse the internet for information on the car, only to find almost nothing at all. 

“When I realised the internet had barely anything on the car, I began to panic,” he shared. “I called the owner first thing in the morning, cold sweat on me.” Aadhil was a little calmer once the owner gave him some reassurance and answered his questions.

The big day

“I’m not always good at remembering things, but I clearly remember every moment of the day I became the owner of the Colt,” Aadhil shared.

“After everything was done, the owner who sold the Colt to me asked if he could have one last drive with the car. You could tell he really loved the car. He had recently had a baby and needed some money which was why he was selling it.”  “I’ll never forget the look he had as I pulled away, saying goodbye. This Colt was his first car, just as it is mine, and you could tell he had a lot of memories with the car. It was part of his life. For him, it must have felt like a part of him was being taken away. Seeing that, I made a promise to myself that 

I would give a good home to the Colt and take good care of her.”

Going viral

After an emotional and exciting day, Aadhil decided to share a few pictures of his first car in a random classic car group on Facebook, telling how happy he was to be the owner of the car. 

Turning in for the night that day, Aadhil woke up to a big surprise. 

“I’d never seen that many likes or comments on one of my Facebook posts ever before,” he chuckled. “Everyone was asking where I found the car and how rare it was in Sri Lanka.” 

It was only then that Aadhil realised the true significance of the Colt Turbo he owned, which very well might be the only Colt Turbo of its kind on the streets of Sri Lanka.

The undying beast 

Aadhil has since gained a reputation for himself for being ‘the guy who daily drives a Colt Turbo.’ “I believe cars are meant to be driven, and this is the only car that I own,” he shared. 

“She’s had a few battle scars. There was this one time the engine caught fire and then there’s the minor hiccup every now and then. Otherwise, the Colt has been an amazing car. It has never given up on me and to be honest, she doesn’t feel her age at all.”

Aadhil was generous enough to let us experience driving the Colt for ourselves, and I can confirm that he is right. The Colt handles itself phenomenally. It is a very well built car. The engine is nippy and loves to rev high. It almost begs you to let loose with an eager growl every time you touch on the throttle. The boost from the turbo is linear, with barely any lag. The only way you could tell the car’s age is from the registration number.

Simply priceless

“I have a lot of plans for this car. First of all, I want to give her a full restoration and bring her to the best condition she can be in. And I want to keep her alive for as long as I can.”

Aadhil owes more than his daily commute to the Colt. It has been the spark to the beginning of lifelong friendships. This includes one of Aadhil’s closest friends. “I was parking somewhere along the jogging track near Independence Square, when Azeem approached me after seeing the Colt. That was the beginning of many years of friendship,” he recounted.  

“This was also the car I used to go and meet my now fiancee, driving sometimes daily all the way to Kadawatha. She even helped me build it to what it is today as well and now, it’s the car we use to go to work.” This car has brought me so many friendships, so many memories,” he said. “I’ve travelled long distances on many occasions. I drive her everyday and she hardly ever gives me trouble. She really has become a part of my life. This car is priceless to me.”

(Pix by Venura Chandramalitha)