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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 17:39 GMT
Eastern lifeline for Morris Minor
Morris Minor in Sri Lanka
The vehicles are ideal for Sri Lanka's terrain

A small company in southern Sri Lanka is keeping alive a British car.


You don't have to write it off as scrap after five to 10 years - it's a lifetime investment

Durable Car Company
It's more than 30 years since the last Morris Minor rolled off UK production lines, but demand for these classic cars is still high.

That's where the Durable Car Company has found its niche market, manufacturing by hand the 95 Morris Minor body panels in its metal workshop outside the southern town of Galle.

"You don't have to write it off as scrap after five to 10 years - it's a lifetime investment," says the Durable Car Company owner, Dhanapala Samarasekera.

"You feel very good driving a Moris Minor. You feel you are the boss of it - rather than the slave of it," he adds.

Morris-mad

Mr Samarasekera's metalworkers spend their days hammering out new doors and bonnets, welding strange shapes required to replace parts of the Morris Minor.

Sri Lankan metal workers
Sri Lankan metalworkers make the parts by hand
Chief engineer Mr Somasiri had to invent the moulds first and then train the local villagers to make the individual pieces.

"It has stood the Sri Lankan weather for the last 50 years," he jokes, adding that the Morris is low-cost to maintain compared to Japanese vehicles.

Its sturdy frame and simple engineering make it the ideal car for the rough terrain of a developing country.

The Morris can still be repaired in any village in Sri Lanka, where there are thousands in use.

Worldwide sales

In Britain, there are thought to be 70,000 Morris Minors still running - and at least half of them are now sustained by spare parts manufactured in Sri Lanka.

Around the world there may be anywhere up to half a million Morris Minors sedately conveying passengers in old-fashioned comfort and style.

Old car parts
Sri Lankans make the most of old parts
A British company imports the parts made by the Durable Car Company and then distributes them to markets abroad.

Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Malawi, even the United States, still boast Morris drivers who now look to Sri Lanka to keep their cars on the road.

But if the Morris Minor is still king of the road anywhere it must be the northern town of Jaffna, which has been at the heart of two decades of civil war.

Conflict kept Jaffna isolated - cut off by road for many years.

That meant modern vehicles could not be brought in easily and perhaps that helped save the Morris Minor.

Drivers in Jaffna even adapted the 50-year-old cars to run off kerosene when there were petrol shortages, and they salvaged parts from abandoned cars.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Frances Harrison
"Built for comfort, not for speed"
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27 Sep 00 | South Asia
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