Nizamuddin “Leepu” Awlia was born in Bangladesh and developed a passion for cars at a young age.
As a teenager, he made his own version of the Lamborghini Countach. He eventually started a business in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, in which he converted old Hondas and Toyotas into imitation high-end sports cars. His talents have earned him attention from international car magazines and television networks.
Now the 46-year-old, a resident of Coeur d’Alene since 2013, is launching a new reality series, “Leepu & Pitbull” tonight on the History Channel.
“Pitbull” is Steve “Pitbull” Tromboli, a master mechanic from New York. Together, Awlia and Tromboli will take run-of-the-mill, mass-produced cars, often junkers, and turn them into what Awlia calls “affordable custom cars for the average Joe.”
Tromboli will handle the stuff that makes the cars go. Awlia will make sure they look good.
“We turn scrap into gold,” Awlia said last week in a telephone interview from Long Island, New York, where he had just wrapped production of the eighth and final episode of the season.
The show is “about my life. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve done with my life, chopping cars and building new designs,” he said.
In creating those designs, Awlia is notable because he doesn’t make a sketch. Or draw a design. Or create a computer model. He gets an idea, then he grabs some tools and some metal and starts cutting. It’s all done freehand.
“All my life I’ve been doing it this way,” he said. “I start there with my inspiration and start the metal and this is how I flow all my lines and designs.”
While Awlia and Tromboli have developed a good rapport, Awlia does say there is a source of conflict in the show. “He’s a fun guy to work with, but one thing that’s a little tough is he keeps his workshop very clean, like a lab,” Awlia said. “My work is messy. My work is a little bit messy because I chop metal, I cut cars. He would sweep it right away, but I can’t because once I’m in the process, I have to finish the process. I cannot look around at what’s going on around me.”
After doing television shows in Bangladesh (“Bengal Bashers”) and the United Kingdom (“Chop Shop: London Garage”), he’s gotten used to working in front of a TV crew.
“Since I started doing this with a camera and designing my cars in front of the camera, it’s really, really easy,” Awlia said. “It’s my life. I love it.”
His producer Sam Maynard, overhearing this, chimed in: “It’s not quite so easy for the producer.”
They’ll do seven cars over eight episodes this season, with the final car, a race car, split into two episodes. Awlia can’t say which was his favorite.
“Every car I make is individual,” he said. “It’s very hard for me to pick one. I can’t.”
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