It's fair to say that we, in the UAE, are spoiled when it comes to car spotting. When I was a young boy growing up in North Wales in the UK, the occasional glimpse of a Porsche 911, or even a Mercedes-Benz SL, was enough to get me reaching for the box Brownie. But the thrill of seeing an exotic car has long since vanished. One need only spend a few minutes on Dubai's JBR Walk to see more flashy metal than most get to see in a lifetime. But there's much more to the car scene here than the latest offerings from Maranello, Stuttgart or Woking.
Irrefutable proof of this was last week's Emirates Classic Car Festival, held on the 3.5 kilometre-long Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard in Downtown Dubai. As the fifth such event, it's entirely obvious that the UAE's classic car scene is utterly vibrant, even if we don't get to see these precious cars and motorcycles during the daily slog on our congested roads.
Organised by property giant Emaar, the festival takes place in one of the world's prime locations, not only because of its proximity to the Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Mall, but also thanks to it being so easily accessible to motorists and pedestrians alike. And this year's event was the best yet, with enough rare classics to keep even the most cynical car hater entertained.
Don't think for a moment that the festival was simply made up of old Ferraris or Porsches. Here was a collection that spanned an entire century of motoring history, and that's the thing that makes shows such as this truly special. It's nothing short of an education and this year proved to be so popular with visitors that it was extended by two days, ending last Monday instead of on Saturday as initially planned.
Far from being nothing more than an outdoors museum display, the festival is highly interactive, with visitors able to vote for their favourite cars, and this year the owners of 17 cars and bikes were presented awards. That might sound excessive, but consider that there were 212 cars and nine motorcycles on display and you might start to see what a big deal this is becoming.
Exhibits included some of the best-loved classics of all time and highlights were a DeLorean, a pre-war Rolls-Royce Phantom II, a 1920s Bentley, a rare ISO Grifo, classic Americana and a small collection of adorable Fiat 500s. And while the awards recognised originality (something very desirable when it comes to classics), there were several highly modified cars and trucks that earned trophies for their meticulous owners.
The Best of Show award was won by Imtiaz Shaikh for his utterly perfect Aston Martin DB5. Resplendent in metallic green paint, it served as a reminder of what timeless design is all about and it was gratifying to see a DB5 that wasn't painted silver, a la Goldfinger.
The selection of cars, trucks, bikes and even military vehicles was so varied that it's practically impossible to single out individual examples of excellence. And while we're more than used to posturing displayed by drivers in the Middle East, this was nothing like that. Most of the owners of these historic vehicles simply enjoy sharing them with the public, getting their kicks by answering questions and waxing lyrical about restoration jobs, parts-supply problems and the occasional breakdown. Their enthusiasm shines through and, though it's a cliché, it's a passion that shows no sign of dying out.
Classic cars can be a pain in the neck for all sorts of reasons. They need constant attention and maintenance, they're difficult to work on and, often, spares are non-existent. So it takes a special kind of affection to persist with owning and looking after them and you might be wondering why anyone would bother. Just make sure you pay a visit to the next festival and then you'll understand. In a sea of shiny and often mediocre metal, classic cars capture the imagination, cause memories to come flooding back and are almost always a reminder that car design used to be incredibly diverse and individual. They don't make them like they used to.
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