The winged lion on the bonnet and steering wheel of Mohsin Raza Malik's Toyota Soarer expresses how he feels when he's behind the wheel. This Pakistan-born business and marketing graduate, who has lived in the UAE since childhood, is proud of his mercurial creation which was imported from Japan three years ago. "The car cost around Dh10,000 to 12,000. A friend in Al Awir has a showroom and he found and transported it for me", he says.
Back then, it was a stock 1993 right-hand-drive model only sold in Japan. The major operation, says Mohsin, 22, was converting it in to left-hand drive as the air conditioning system can be compromised in summer in the UAE. "But the last three years, no problem," Mohsin says. "Everything is perfect; the AC is fine." The interior, though, isn't yet finished. The ill-fitting dashboard - which features the Soarer's original digital speedo - is from a Lexus SC400. Looking behind the reclined custom-made orange and black leather front seats, Mohsin admits "in the back is my home", excusing the bags and rubbish that clutter the rear. But he plans to completely re-trim the cabin to make his Soarer into an all-out show car.
The outside, however, is a different story. "From childhood I used to think that I'll buy a car and modify it myself. Then I saw The Fast and The Furious and I thought 'I have to modify the car'." His 17-year-old Soarer was fitted with performance body parts, including carbon fibre Vertex front bumper and wide front wings, Do-Luck side-skirts and rear bumper, a carbon fibre rear wing, 18-inch BBS lightweight rims and an orange, black and chrome paint job. Thanks to his friends at many of the garages, Mohsin has so far only had to spend a few thousand dirhams on the cosmetics. "The wings were Dh3,000. The front bumper cost me Dh2,000, and the back bumper and side skirts cost Dh3,000," he says.
You'll see very few cars with an appearance quite so vibrant on the roads of the UAE. There are only around a dozen Soarers in the UAE and his, says Mohsin, is the only one with the Vertex body kit. "This car is registered in Um Al Quwain. The problem is here no one can register this car because it has turbo specs and left-hand drive," he says. "Before they used to, but now they've stopped. It's good for me that I converted it in time. In my registration it's also three colours: orange, black and chrome."
Unfortunately, customisation of cars is often associated with street racing, and vehicles like Mohsin's tend to attract the attention of the authorities. But he says, "Even when the police stop me to check how you're driving and all the stickers and everything, they then say 'can you sell the car?' I've become friends with so many." Mohsin limits his excessive driving to the track. "This car is for drifting," he smiles. "In Ras al Khaimah, they've made tracks. You just take your car and drift. Even the police are available - it's all legal."
Explaining his drifting technique, Mohsin says: "You just put one hand on the steering and rest your chin on the other. Then just press the gas or the brake. It's very easy to control." A 320bhp, turbocharged, 2.5L six-cylinder engine with racing plugs, an Apexi racing intercooler and HKS intake system give Mohsin plenty of power, and the engine has so far been extremely reliable, even after he drove it to boiling point one day when returning from Fujairah after fitting the intercooler.
"When I was coming back, I didn't check the water in my radiator. I was doing 180kph. The temperature [gauge] hit 'H', and the car switched itself off. So I pulled over and when I opened the bonnet there was steam and smoke," Mohsin says. Fortunately, a change of head gasket and a refilled cooling system resolved the problem. He also switched the manual gearbox with an auto to survive the traffic in Dubai. "I needed a comfortable car for daily use. I got fed up that my legs were really painful because the clutch was very heavy," he says. And in spite of the daily commute, the treks up to the Emirates Motorplex for drift nights, the drives to RAK and Fujairah for spare parts, as well as the evening cruises along Jumeirah Beach Road and around the Marina with his mates, the Soarer has needed very few replacement parts. "For the past two years, I didn't change anything to the car except for the tyres because of drifting," he says. "It did have a performance exhaust but the police stopped me so many times for noise pollution."
Mohsin is obviously someone who takes pride in his car and works on it himself, which is why he is sticking with the 20th century technology. "Nowadays all cars, if you need to check anything, it's all electronic sensors", he complains. "I do my own [maintenance]. Most people prefer to fix old cars themselves. You can do anything on them." The plan now is to give the Soarer a new coat of paint for the regional tuning and car shows, which he is frequently asked to attend. "I'll maybe paint it the same colour or similar to the Murcielargo and Porsche Carrera GT - they both have an orange, but I'll make it custom and metallic," Mohsin says. But behind the ostentatious paintwork and stickers is someone who likes to appear understated and "cool".
"I drive laid back with the tinted window only slightly open so no one can see me," Mohsin says. He lets the Soarer do the talking. firstname.lastname@example.org