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Sunday, March 20, 2016

My struggle to own a brand new car!

By Lakshman Abeyagunawardene

My brother Ananda who is based in California had sent me this e-mail recently. It reminded me of my own struggle to own a brand new car some day. It was not easy for those of us who opted to remain in our country of birth, particularly during those days of austerity, barriers and restrictions. I have described here, the history of that epic battle.

His e-mail:

Ananda Abeyagunawardene

02:47 (6 hours ago)
An Austin A35 destined to be given the last rites!

When I bought my first car in June 1968 (An Austin A 35 Reg. No. 2 Sri 185) as a newly graduated doctor, it was about 12 years old. But it looked much older and behaved like one. Today, a 12 year old would be much better looking and better behaved. My modest Mitsubishi Lancer Sedan is already 7 years old, but it looks almost new (having done only 50,000 km).

In the days when the import of brand new cars was prohibited, my second car - a Ford Prefect (EN 2359) was 15 years old at the time of purchase in 1969. Then came the Volkswagen Beetle (EN 4142) which was 21 years old (bought in 1975). The reconditioned bronze coloured Lancer 1200 (12 Sri 6548) was 5 years old (bought in 1983) when I imported it through Uni - Walkers. After nearly two decades with used cars, I was finally able to own my first brand new car which was a Nissan Sunny (12 Sri 5789) when I imported it through Associated Motorways following the usual formalities such as opening a Letter of Credit etc. It was bought in 1985 and I had to wait for two months for it to be delivered (bought for Rs 154,000 and sold for Rs 325,000 in 1995). Incidentally, my friend Senior Neurologist Dr. J.B. Pieris also ordered a Nissan Sunny which too came in the same shipment and had the Reg. No. 13 Sri 5790. Then I bought a Maruti Esteem (also brand new 19 Sri) for Rs 875,000 in 1995 and sold it for Rs 675,000 in 1997 when we "emigrated" to the US. I was able to walk in to the AMW showrooms in Kollupitiya and buy it paying "spot cash". In 2009, I bought my present car for which I paid Rs 3,995,000! Times had certainly changed by that time. There was a choice of brand new cars in Colombo showrooms. Visiting the showrooms to shop around was part of the thrill.

I have not included here, the used Peugeot 504 that I imported from the French Embassy in Hong Kong on my return from the US in 1975 and the cars that I owned in the US from 1997 to 2008. I used the 504 only for a brief two month period and sold it right away as it had a ready market. Interestingly, I spent only a mere Rs 16,000 to import the car and sold it for Rs 108,000. Around 1976, I was building my first house in Kirillapone and I needed the money. It was better to have a roof over one's head than to run around with a lakh on wheels! In fact, most government servants who went abroad on scholarships and dutifully returned, sold the cars that they were able to import.

So you see what an epic battle some of us staged to own a brand new car, not only after struggling for five years in medical school, but even after working as doctors in Sri Lanka for two decades. It was a heavy price to pay for opting to serve our motherland!

After almost a half century, this is what I now use to get about in this land like no other.


  1. Lucky, your story of your first car reminded me of the first car that we bought in Sri Lanka shortly after I got married. It was a red Austin Mini (an original) and we were the 6th owners. The reverse gear was not working when we purchased it and we had to be very careful where we parked the car. Luckily, the roads and parking areas in Sri Lanka were not as congested then as they are nowadays. If we needed to turn the car around when we were traveling somewhere, we had to find a driveway entrance which was sloping up, put the car in neutral and roll down while turning the steering wheel. We did get it fixed eventually and drove it for about two years until we sold it to the 7th owner, before leaving for USA. It was a car with personality!

  2. It looks fab! Worth waiting all those years for.
    Wish you miles and miles of happy motoring, happy changes of scene and hours of enjoyment with your family and friends while driving through beautiful scenery!
    from Zita

  3. Who can forget the Austin A30, the Hillman minx, Ford Anglia and Prefect, Triumph Herald (my very first car in Sri Lanka), the Morris Minor, Opel Rekord (Cigar Jayanetti had one), Morris/Austin mini, Vauxhall wyvern and velox, The Holden (Dawn used to come in one),The Riley, the VW Beetle-- the list is endless.
    One of the things we saved for when we came on No-pay or schol, was to buy a car. Another popular item to save up was to buy a Denby Dinner set, and a Food mixer.

    Srianee, your non-reverse car story was a scream!

    Good luck with your pride and joy Lucky!(No disrespect to Mangala!)

  4. Lucky, you've found patriotism comes at a price-
    So do the Lamborghinis those of us who abandoned the "sinking ship" have been racing around in!! JUST JOKING!!!
    The photo of the A35 is a classic! thanks for sharing it.
    Your memory for vehicles,their owners and number plates, and now their prices continue to amaze me.
    Your present car is very chic- I join Zita and Mahen in wishing you MILES of happy motoring in the land you love .

  5. I like Rohini Ana's comment! Can't help going into verse.

    Patriotism came to you at a price
    But your car does look so very nice
    Long may it serve you Lucky
    Love and cherish it dear buddy

  6. I like your verse too Mahen-thanks

  7. Lucky, how can you have such a good memory for cars and car numbers? I can't remember the number of the car I sold 6 months ago!
    When I passed out as a doctor, my father bought me an MG TD (can't remember the number!)and I used to drive down to Galle in this, accompanied by Chitra and Dharmini. Chitra used to sit on a cushion over the hand brake, as the car was only a 2 seater. Often, when the rail gate was closed at ?Alutgama, I had to "pull up" the handbrake, dislodging poor Chitra! Rohini might remember my green MG, for we were all doing our Internship at Galle.
    Sriani B

    1. Strange you mention this today Sriani-
      Just a few days ago,as I was doing a stroll,I saw an MG the same green as yours parked by the roadside and thought of you!

    2. Rohini,is it just a coincidence that the 3 "girls"(I prefer that term to 'women')who contribute regularly to our Blog,( you, Bunter and yours truly)all come from the same school? 3 Cheers for Ladies' College.
      Sriani B.

    3. I am sure this is more than just a coincidence. Hey you girls from other ladies' schools, here's your chance to prove yours was no second! There's a story in us all. We only have to put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard to say the interesting things in simple language. We don't all need keyboards and mouse and internet. What's wrong with pen and paper and good old snail mail?

  8. I am happy to note that Sriani is back with her humour! I knew that the four of you were in Galle because my close friend Sunna was also there. I can understand why it always had to be Chitra (and not Dharmini) who occupied the centre covering the hand brake!

    If your MG TD was in Galle for a few more months, it would have been similar to the A 35 in the picture. The sea spray would have seen to that.

    1. Lucky, you mentioned Sunna in your note. I remember Sunna always answered back in monosyllables when we spoke to him. He also had a "quaint" sense of humour. Sunna's sister Nela has just gone to Adelaide, and spent a week with my sister. Nela had a son who was a child prodigy, and who went to Oxford University when he was 14 years old.
      Sriani B.

    2. Sriani, yes Sunna was rather monosyllabic in Med School and used "bloody" and "bugger" very generously in his conversations! I got to know him quite well when we were all in Brooklyn, NY, at the same time. He was a wonderful person, and often dropped in spontaneously when he was passing Norwalk (where I was doing my residency) on his way to Pittsfield, Mass, where he was working. I still remember how hard it hit me when I heard that he had died in a horrible accident. I'm glad to hear that Nela is in touch with Nim. I had been wondering about her.

  9. Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle. See the link below for more info.


  10. Looks like we have an unknown visitor!

  11. Sriani, I loved your story about the MG TD! Lucky, like everyone else, I wish you many more years of happy driving in your Lancer. Somehow that name conjures up an image of a knight riding fast on a horse holding a lance! I doubt that you feel that way when you are driving at 10 mph in Colombo! Anyway, enjoy the Lancer!
    Mahen, I don't think I want to click on the link that our visitor has posted.

  12. Great story, happy for you that you now own that car to get around. I am sure it is very reliable and has given you many miles of joy. My first car was also one of the most characteristic cars I have ever driven. It wasn't all perfect, there were a lot of faults, but it always got me to my destination.