The meticulously refurbished Austin in Ashok Leyland’s Corporate Office, where I work, triggered a flood of fond memories as I had first learnt how to drive in an Austin A40.  The 4 – door Austin A40 Devon was originally manufactured by a British car company – Austin Motor Co. Ltd in the late 1940s and early 50s.  It had a 4 cylinder, 1200 cc engine that produced a whopping 40 hp.  These cars were so popular that Austin later went on to make or issue license to assemble these cars in other countries like Australia, India and New Zealand with a local partner. In India, the chosen partner was Ashok Motors in Ennore, Madras.

The Austin A40 was the first car in the family and belonged to my great grandfather Rao Sahib Koilpillai. It  reliably transported our family from the late forties to 1987 when my dad sold it and got a new Premier Padmini.

It was among the first batch of Austins manufactured by Ashok Motors that later evolved into Ashok Leyland (AL). The car was so sturdy that as children we used to jump on its roof and it would not buckle. I remember my mother standing on the car roof to clean the portico, so, I know  firsthand, the robustness that is inbuilt in the AL DNA. It had features way ahead of its time, like the direction indicator lamps that were neatly integrated in the B pillar which

would come out like a rail signal arm to blink. We at AL are continuing this tradition of being innovators par excellence.

Egged on by my cousin, my first drive in this car was when I was fifteen and in high school. I took the car from my home, off Edward Elliot’s Road (today’s Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai), to the Marina Beach parking lot. My adventure ended rather dismally, as I did not know how to reverse the car and still remember the earful I got from my dad.

My tryst with AL goes even before I was born. My maternal grandfather Mr. Karunakaran (grandmother’s younger brother) was In-Charge of Engine testing in Ashok Leyland, Ennore.  A pre-condition for my parents’ wedding was that my dad should be  employed in AL. So, my grandfather pulled some strings and got my dad, Mr. Francis Koilraj placed in AL in 1967. He served AL faithfully retiring from the Production Planning and Control (PPC) department of AL, Ennore in 1998, after an illustrious career. He is leading a contented retired life now and it amazes me that he is still able to recall part numbers of all the pipes used in chassis assembly.

After graduation from Karunya in 1991, I joined Madras Cements as a Graduate engineer in Training (GET), but my mother was apprehensive of the dust and wanted me to follow in my father’s footsteps. I joined AL in 1993 as a lateral entrant in the Quality Department at Ennore. I cherish the five years when  my dad and I used to go to work together. In 1996, I was  pleasantly surprised, to meet my future father in law, Mr. Livingstone Isaac who was in AL Service Promotion department. He was keen to get a bridegroom working in Chennai for his daughter & as I was from AL this tilted the scales even further in my favor. I am forever grateful to God for my happy married life and to AL for bringing me & Anitha together.

I still fondly recall a college day picture, where I playfully sat in the driver seat of the college bus, an Ashok Leyland of course, egged on by my dearest mother (God bless her Soul). It is a matter of pride and

honor that I am now the Head of Intermediate Commercial Vehicle (ICV), in Ashok Leyland with school, college & staff buses, in my purview.  That our first college bus, a 1986 model Cheetah was still in active service when we visited Karunya for our 25’th anniversary get-together speaks volumes of the AL’s product quality.

My elder son, in spite of my coaxing, would have nothing to do with Mechanical Engineering and chose Biotechnology. But I am still hopeful that my younger son, who is now 15 years old, follows in our family tradition of working  for AL.


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