Adil Jal Darukhanawala, the man who eats, sleeps and drinks automobiles!

Circa 1983, Nehru Stadium, Pune.  A couple of days before the start of Pune’s first ever International Motocross event. The roar of the dirt-track motorcycles, clouds of dust and the inimitable smell of 93 octane enveloped us. Swedish riders on their extremely light, yet powerful Yamaha YZ 125s were flying over the whoop-de-doos, berms and camel backs, as if these obstacles did not exist. One moment the riders and their bikes were twenty feet in the air and the very next, they were at your feet zooming away in a cloud of dust. Just then, a stocky, bespectacled, moustachioed man by the name of Adil Jal Darukhanawala shook hands with me and said, “You have seen nothing yet, young man. Just wait for the opening day!” and walked off to meet the Swedes.

Article by Rahul Chandawarkar | Pune 365


Later, in the Poona Automotive Racing Association (PARA) office inside the stadium, Adil, who was PARA secretary, was busy making phone calls to Mumbai to confirm the arrival of more foreign riders and their machines. He then pored over papers, documents, shouted orders to his assistants and made more phone calls and worked for  20 straight hours, eating and sleeping in the office. This is the quintessential Adil for you. Eating, drinking, sleeping automobiles.

A few years later in 1991, I was covering the Indian Formula track races at the Sriperambudur race track in Chennai for a national sports magazine. Maruti Suzuki was about to introduce their latest sedan, the Maruti 1000 in the market. In a country then starved for phoren cars, this good-looking sedan was like manna from heaven. We could not help drooling over the enticing hoardings. Hence imagine our surprise, when a Maruti 1000 raced across the track and came to a screeching halt in front of us. Out stepped Adil Jal Darukhanawala. Beaming from ear-to-ear, he patted the car on its hood and said: “Good girl, good girl!”

Adil was one of the early auto journalists who test-drove new cars before writing about them in auto magazines. He was also one of the pioneers who started the trend of excellent, reader-friendly auto magazines, starting with the popular Car and Bike International, Overdrive and then ZigWheels. The list of young auto writers who have been trained and groomed by the man could very well read like the who’s who of Indian auto journalism today.

Adil has been known to spring surprises. Recently he called me up one evening and said in his usual hurried style, “Hello, young man, how is Goa? Just text me your home address phata-phat. I have to send you a book.” Little did I know that he was sending me his latest magnum opus, the 402 page tome on Mercedes Benz. The book titled ‘Winning’ is a veritable treasure trove of information on the iconic car, replete with 970 pictures, a majority of which are directly sourced from the Benz Archive in Stuttgart. It is the work of a master craftsman, who has spent a lifetime following this car. The passion and feelings show on every page.

My favourite section in the book is on how he started his auto-journalism career. The year was 1977 and the London-Sydney car rally was passing through Pune, his hometown. Adil then a 19-year-old had positioned himself strategically with his camera on one of the bends in the Katraj ghats. However, just before the cars were to whiz past, the then Poona Herald newspaper team of senior reporter Taher Shaikh and photographer Bal Pulee came and stood right in front of Adil blocking his view. Adil remembers getting into a massive argument with the newsmen explaining that he knew more about automobiles than them.

This is when the late Taher in an act of great magnanimity invited Adil to come and write the report on the car rally for the newspaper the same evening. Adil remembers hammering a 1000 word report in record time on the Herald typewriter. The next morning, an eight column, front-page lead story on the rally appeared with Adil’s byline. This was Adil’s first big media contribution and he has never looked back. As he jokingly remarks, “The Poona Herald created a Frankenstein monster in the shape of me. A monster who can only eat, sleep and drink automobiles!”

He is right. Adil arguably has the country’s largest collection of 7,000 model cars in his home. Every landing, staircase, window sill, cupboard in his Viman Nagar bungalow in Pune is full of these cars. If that is not all, he owns three vintage cars  and as many as 16 motorcycles besides of course the BMW and Toyota Innova which he drives every day.

Adil’s knowledge of cars is immense and he likes to keep enhancing it. In August 2003, Adil along with fellow drivers, Sam Katgara, Hari Singh and Harish Samtani set the National Centre for Automotive Testing (NCAT) track at Ahmednagar  on fire when they drove the small, Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 cc car non-stop for a total distance of 3,082 kms in 24 hours at an average speed of 128 kmph. Basically, they proved that you could travel in the small car from Pune to Delhi and back at speeds of 125 kmph plus in just 24 hours. No wonder, the little Alto dominated  Indian high-altitude rallies for several years.

In recent years, as a consultant to Force Motors, he has helped them beef up their Gorkha SUV for the Malaysian Rain Forest Challenge (RFC) rallies. At the Goa rally a couple months back, Adil showed off a souped up Gorkha SUV to me.  With its almost three-feet tall shock absorbers and many other changes, the SUV looked more like an armoured car. Patting a Gorkha SUV on its hood, Adil said, “These beauties will continue to win the RFCs. We have left no stone unturned!”  I am not one bit surprised!