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Pristine performances

Behind every classic car stands an owner who has lavished countless hours of attention on it, those in Dubai are no different.

A row of white tents lined the Emaar Boulevard last weekend for the inaugural two-day Burj Dubai Classic Car Show. Looking a little like an urban campsite, those awnings provided much-needed protection for the fleet of pampered, polished metal that had been assembled by the event organisers. The show had been blighted by a squally sandstorm on Saturday after a sunny opening day, and while the weather may have put off some of the more casual observers, it could not quell the enthusiasm of the cars' owners.

Jamal Salam, a Dubai resident, had brought his pride and joy, a 1959 Cadillac to the exhibition. The car, a piece of pure American heritage, is finished in deep red paintwork and is all fins, chrome and Fifties cool. Endearingly, Jamal refers to his Caddy in terms you would normally use to describe a member of your family. "I have had my Caddy for 23 years. It's really my baby," he said. " She is all original, and in good condition. She is always pushing me to be polished. She is naughty though, because she does not like to stay in the garage. But I only drive her once a week in the winter and the rest of the year she stays at home.

"I bought her from America and I have to say I spend too much on her. But this car is my dream. It has a big history. This generation of Cadillacs were the cars of JFK and Elvis, and this," he said pointing towards the back of the car and its extruded, exaggerated fins, "has the shark fins, the tallest of all Cadillacs. But my wife gets jealous of the car. She told me 'you spend more time with the car than with me'."

It is exactly this mildly obsessive behaviour which binds all classic car owners together, each spending thousands of hours rebuilding, remodelling and refining their objects of desire to bring them to peak condition. And then, just when it should be time to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labours, most restorers have their eyes on their next project, their next acquisition. Simon Crispe is one such enthusiast. He began his association with his red 1961 Daimler SP250 in the mid-1970s, buying the car from its original owner for the equivalent of Dh3,700. Three years later, in 1979, he sold it on for Dh14,750 to help him raise enough money for a deposit to buy a house.

By chance, the sale was to a buyer who worked for Ballan Motors in his native New Zealand. At that time, Crispe was training to be an architect and worked part-time at Ballan's garage to help fund his studies. For the next few years he would regularly work on the SP250 for its new owner until, in 1983, it was sold on again, this time to Byron Ballan, who happened to own the aforementioned workshop.

Sixteen years later, when Ballan had tired of the Daimler, Crispe was reunited with his first love, buying it back for Dh59,000. The car has been completely refurbished since Crispe imported it in 2004 and, as a stunning piece of 1950s British design, it clearly impressed the show's judges, who named the Daimler their Best Post-War Classic Car. He now plans to source and restore a 1961 preproduction Jaguar E-Type.

Not far away from Crispe's delicate Daimler, Amr Saeed Rashid Mohamed was happy to expose his ageing 1921 Ford Model T to the ravages of the elements. After acquiring his vintage car in Hawaii six months ago, Amr has undertaken a three-month intensive rebuild to bring the car up to its current pristine condition. So why did he pick a Model T to restore? "Because it was relatively cheap to buy," he said. "It cost me only US$5,000 (Dh18,365), but I have spent a further US$30,000 (Dh110,000) sourcing original parts for the restoration. It is also a great car. They made 15 million Model Ts and this car made Ford the strongest brand in the world. My aim now is to establish a Model T club in the Emirates."

Amr's Model T scooped the show's People's Choice trophy. Top prize, however, went to a Canadian art teacher and his 1960s muscle car. Robert Jarmson has been teaching at the American School of Dubai for the last six years and appropriately, given his profession, describes his 1967 Mustang as "a rolling piece of sculpture." Jarmson said he comes to these events "to meet other petrolheads and share stories," although he is planning to put the pony car up for sale soon, not to capitalise on the car's award- winning status, but for a more personal and unconventional reason.

"The car is a little difficult for me to handle now. My daughter and I were involved in a terrible motorbike crash back home in Canada in the summer. I was almost killed and was in a coma for 11 days before eventually leaving hospital five weeks after the accident. "I remember 10 minutes before the crash and two weeks after it, but nothing in between. We were just cut off by a guy on the road. He didn't use his blinkers and we didn't stand a chance. But we survived, I am crawling back this year and I don't mind moving on to owning something else. A Porsche 993, maybe."

And with that Jarmson climbed a little gingerly back into his award-winning Mustang with its low, leather bucket seats, heavy clutch and manual gearbox. You sense though, even after such a traumatic year, he'll be back next year, maybe behind the wheel of that Porsche. nmarch@thenational.ae

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