Born as part of a project to cope with the 1956 Suez Canal fuel crisis, the Mini has since undertaken a long historical journey. Despite its utilitarian debut, the classic Mini shape earned fame across the globe and turned into a cultural icon, appearing in movies such as The Italian Job/i> and the TV comedy Mr Bean. These days, the Mini cruises around most cosmopolitan cities and Dubai is no exception. Mahmoud Chemaitelly, a Dubai-based Mini owner, has lived a life as cosmopolitan as his car. Born in Lebanon, his family moved to Greece due to the conflicts, and then London and Texas before finally settling in Dubai, where he graduated as an IT engineer.
It was the cute shape and style of the Mini that attracted Chemaitelly, but only after some parental persuasion. "[The design is] the first and finest quality that attracted me to this superb car. Though fascinated by its look, at the beginning I shied away from the idea of owning one. My relation with Mini came out of an arranged marriage," confides Chemaitelly, an account manager at an advertising company.
His long-lasting love for the Mini grew only after his parents encouraged him to consider a Mini for his first car. "On my graduation from the George Pompidou high school in Sharjah in 2004, my family offered to buy me a Mini Cooper, because it is German-made, and most importantly is safer. But then my heart was for a cheaper car: the Hyundai coupe, plus I had that perception that the Mini was very girlish."
But once he tested it on the motorway, he realised his parents were right to set him up with the Mini. "I immediately experienced how reliable it is, and I fell in love with her in no time. From then on, I felt that this was the right car I would love to drive for years on end," Chemaitelly says. His happiness, however, ended tragically when he had an accident in the same year, and lost his cute loveable car. "I was downgraded to a VW Golf," he laments.
But Chemaitelly's desire to own another Mini had never died. "No sooner had I graduated in 2007, and once I landed my first job, I went straight away to buy this time a Mini Cooper S, an upgraded model." Since then, it has become a focal point in his life. "It is a lifestyle for me," Chemaitelly says. "The grip and the handling is as nearly good as a Porsche, and it manoeuvers so remarkably in sharp double curves. It is just phenomenal."
Although Chemaitelly's job requires him to travel quite often across the UAE for assignments, he insisted on using his Mini, believing that it is reliable even in such a harsh and dusty climate. He is also happy that an increasing number of drivers in the emirates are opting for smaller cars, as the road infrastructure had become so helpful to drive safely. A recent rise in petrol prices may keep the numbers of small car drivers on the increase here too.
Working in a creative environment, Chemaitelly loves the customable character of the car, saying, "It is easy to add outside accessories without making it look tacky. You can put on extra features to look just like you, or replace existing ones, and still your car would look original." Chemaitelly's passion for his car prompted him start a forum so Mini owners in the UAE can share their experiences, and thus came the idea of setting up Mini Club Dubai. The club has more than 380 members, and brings Mini owners together for social activities such as organised group drives, the last of which was to Jebel Hafeet last year.
Now Chemaitelly is pleased that Minis will soon be re-entering the arena of motorsport. "I really feel proud that the Mini Cooper will soon enter world countryside rally racing, which will bring up the performance of the Mini brand." In the future, Chemaitelly concedes he may need to upsize to a bigger car, such as an American SUV when he gets married and has a family. "But for now, my Mini is my free-time and my own space."