It’s an unusually mild midweek afternoon in Dubai and I’m driving a McLaren MP4-12C Spider, sans roof, the way its maker intended: hard. I’m on an arrow-straight stretch of desert motorway and in front of me is a Ferrari 599. I’m keeping a healthy distance between me and it, so I can revel in the breathtaking acceleration of the McLaren every now and then, without the danger of running into the back of the Italian.
Behind me, another Ferrari – a white 458 Italia – is keeping pace and, behind that, a vividly orange Lamborghini Gallardo is sounding its fierce war cry. Four of the finest supercars of the past few years, all being driven with gusto by people with passengers at their sides. Passengers who, from time-to-time, swap seats with the drivers, who in turn swap cars with the others at preordained stopping points. The only thing that isn’t altered is the position of the pack leader, Chirag Shah, who, as the chief executive of the luxury supercar club, écurie25, wants to keep Dubai’s inaugural “Drive and Dine” event as safe and organised as possible. The rules are simple: respect your fellow participants, don’t overtake the leader and have fun.
The others, who have taken a few hours out of their working week, are here for the same reason. They want to try out some exclusive cars, chill out together, talk business, swap stories and perhaps meet new and fascinating characters that might otherwise pass them by in this most transient of cities. All of them are what you might term “financially secure”; some are self-made millionaires and entrepreneurs, some are fairly new to the region and others have been here for many years – something that becomes apparent after just a few minutes once we’ve stopped for a drink and a chat at the fabulous Bab Al Shams resort.
There are eight of us (including Shah and myself), and only a couple of guys have met before, but it’s remarkable how quickly we all gel together, first by comparing notes on the cars we’ve just been driving.
There’s something about living beings, whether human or not, that makes them stick to their kind. Birds of a feather flock together, as the saying goes, and both human society and the animal kingdom are awash with examples of this behavioural pattern. We tend to seek out, and spend our time with, people who share our own interests.
What, though, of these exclusive members clubs? Wealth is able to open up untold avenues of interests to those with sufficient means. Yachts, jets, supercars, private island resorts and round-the-clock concierge services have become the norm for many, so it’s perhaps obvious that residents of the UAE would be privy to these things, too. Seemingly there is no shortage of establishments willing to take huge chunks of cash from you in return for certain membership benefits, the most precious one usually being exclusivity. We like to belong, yes, but we don’t want everyone else to join in the fun.
And now the longest established supercar club in the world has opened its doors in Dubai. For the UK’s écurie25, supplying this region’s most discerning and demanding clients was a no-brainer and Dubai is now the club’s permanent home. This event that I’ve been invited to is just the first of many planned that will bring these people together to forget their daily pressures and unwind with good company in extremely pleasant surroundings. The appeal is easy to see.
Beginning life in 2005, in a warehouse in Central London in the UK, écurie25 was not the first members club of its kind. Supercar clubs have been popping up for many years now, offering the chance to drive rare and stupendously expensive automobiles on demand, without the many hassles associated with actual ownership. But this one managed to weather the worldwide recession better than others, picking up new members as other clubs went to the wall. “We were basically the last man standing,” says Shah. In 2009, the first international offices started coming on stream, and this year, the Dubai operation started in earnest, with Shah relocating to the city with his family. He’s evidently happy with the move and excited about the opportunities on offer in the UAE.
“I’m an entrepreneur, first and foremost,” he tells me between sips of an elaborate-looking orange juice, “and I’ve known for years that this region was right for our club. But we had to wait for the right time to make the move and that time is now. There’s a buzz about this place, a positivity that isn’t seen anywhere else. And what we have to offer our members fits in perfectly with their lifestyles in the UAE.”
He’s keen to play down the “supercar club” label because, he says, the horizons have shifted somewhat in recent years. “This is a lifestyle club,” he says. “Yes, the cars are a big draw but there’s much more available to members. Take today, for instance. We’ve come out to the desert to have fun in the cars but that makes up just a small percentage of what we’ll do. Later, we’ll head for the Habtoor Grand in Dubai Marina and enjoy a late dinner and who knows what else? This is the part that our members really love: the social element. You really can’t buy this sort of networking.”
Of course, he’s bound to say this, isn’t he? So while he’s out of earshot I start to quiz the rest of the guys around the table. All are passionate about luxury performance cars but not all are interested in owning them. They like the fact that they can avail themselves of the different facets of club membership, such as the Rolls-Royce Ghost that can be chauffeur-driven to pick up visitors, clients or family, and drive them to where they need to be in total luxury. Some of them enjoy the monthly yacht cruises that are laid on (members have two yachts at their disposal for use as and when required), as well as the preferential treatment received when it comes to attending certain events and making use of exclusive hospitality options. Some make more use of what’s on offer than others, but it’s clear that all view membership as a positive thing in their busy and sometimes highly stressful lives.
The premise is simple. You pay a one-off joining fee and choose a membership plan from the six on offer. Fees start at around Dh4,500 per month. Depending on what you choose to pay, you are allocated points, which are then redeemable for whatever you want to use them for. Today’s “Drive and Dine” event will have set participating members back 65 points each, as well as Dh300 to cover dinner and refreshments. Non-members could have joined in if there had been available spaces, too, which would have cost Dh9,995 per head – a significant chunk of change, granted, but then how else are you going to experience two Ferraris, a Lamborghini and a McLaren without actually owning them or doing what I did and becoming a motoring journalist?
You may well be thinking that there are other clubs out there that do the same sort of thing but, in the main, these are known as “fractional ownership” schemes, where members buy into cars, yachts and all the rest, as kind of shareholders; écurie25 differs in that there’s no ownership element to most of what’s on offer. You pay money in exchange for points, which can be used with any of the company’s worldwide locations – something one of today’s group intends to avail himself of when he’s on a business trip to the UK next week, where he’ll take delivery of a Ferrari 458 Italia for a couple of days.
Incidentally, this same guy owns the McLaren I’ve been enjoying this afternoon, which highlights another, lesser-known aspect of club membership. A motivational speaker, he spends most of his time out of the country. “My car used to spend months on end just parked up,” he explains, “but now I allow the club to access it. It’s used more now and, in return, I either get paid for each kilometre it’s driven or I get points added to my account – either of which goes some way to offset the cost of actually owning the car, which, at the end of the day, still belongs to me. So far, it’s worked incredibly well, this arrangement.”
The club intends to expand its range of cars over the next few months (apart from the McLaren, all belong to écurie25), as well as the variety of services and events on offer. “There will come a time, soon, when we put a lid on the collection of cars,” explains Shah, “as well as the membership numbers. It won’t be long, either, because we have healthy numbers already, and that has been purely by word of mouth.”
As we head back into the city in the direction of Dubai Marina, I take the wheel of the white Ferrari 458 and Shah settles into the passenger seat. It’s been a great afternoon for him and he’s happy with the mix of personalities that joined in. “Everyone is unique,” he enthuses, “and the networking that goes on during these events has to be seen to be believed. While it’s great to do what we’ve been doing so far today, it will be when we settle down for dinner that the true value of the membership comes to light.”
By the time I arrive home, it’s 2am; I have a pocket full of business cards and several numbers have been added to my phone’s contact list.
The rest will be up to me.