Out with the new: Here’s a one-stop-shop in Dubai for classic cars
Think of James Bond and many of us – male or female – remember the cars. The enduring British superspy – in Daniel Craig’s incarnation – has thrilled in various Aston Martins, but it is arguably the vintage curves of the DB5 recalled above the modern muscle of the DB10. That’s not to say both aren’t desirable, but classic stands out. And deserves to be “out”.
Former investment banker Mazin Al Khatib concurs. It’s a motivation behind his “dream come true” business in Dubai. Nostalgia Classic Cars, which opened in Al Quoz on Monday, is a first in the GCC, according to the Jordanian founder and chief executive – a one-stop-shop for classic cars.
Part of his mission is to make ownership in the UAE easier and less risky and to empower existing owners to be more visible and drive their treasured wheels, albeit as part of organised runs in less volatile traffic.
“We have a long way to go with the culture of owning a classic car,” Al Khatib admits, flanked by millions of dirhams of motors. “We have collectors in the UAE. I know most of them and most keep the cars in garages and don’t even drive them. It’s just for the fact that ‘I own it, I have it, I see it’. Even with a piece of art, though, sometimes you rent a gallery and have people see it.”
It’s an apt analogy, acknowledging Nostalgia’s location, in Alserkal Avenue. At first glance a controversial addition to a neighbourhood dominated by fine art galleries, all are within Al Quoz, a gritty Dubai district largely populated by factories, industrial units and vehicle service centres.
Arguably, some cars at Nostalgia’s 1,000-square-metre unit are art. Anyone left cold by the dynamic lines of his AC Cobra is unlikely to get much from Al Khatib. The Anglo-American model was his first vehicular love as a boy, and student “unable to afford even a Honda Civic”. Now he has two and plans to spread the joy they evoke.
“I look at my collection as pieces of art,” says Al Khatib. “When I decided to establish this business I’d been coming for a while to Alserkal Avenue, the art hub of Dubai. People who appreciate art will appreciate this.”
He stresses Nostalgia is not a dealership or an agency, however, more a crucible for a community “by opening our lounge and library and inviting collectors, making an event on a Friday morning where we drive for coffee somewhere and come back”.
The latter is something frequently seen in Europe and some GCC countries, such as Kuwait, says the chief executive who regularly drove his 1971 Corvette Stingray while based in Bahrain. “My classic cars were my daily cars, since I started collecting,” says Al Khatib, who claims there are thousands of “hidden” classic car owners in the UAE. “For them to have the guts to say ‘yes, I want to drive my Austin Healey’ … it takes time.”
Al Khatib believes many others here have dreams and means, but not the knowledge or confidence to take the plunge. Hence, Nostalgia’s 100-car stock ranges in price from Dh183,000 to Dh367,000 for entry-level hobbyists to Dh1 million for serious collectors. It also has a finder service, via worldwide contacts established while sourcing cars from Japan, India, Europe and the United States.
Crucially, through its specialist parts, repairs, restoration and servicing centre, Al Khatib seeks to inspire confidence in classic car ownership and usage. “Without our dedicated service I would not have opened the business. I thought of the misery I went through, a lot of issues, difficulties and obstacles.
“So, if someone has the interest I will try to develop it further until I convince them. To own a classic car, a lot of people think you have to be a millionaire; on the contrary. Of course there are extremes, but in general it’s not difficult to own the ‘dream’.
“Some people fear a classic car will be a ‘cash pit’. Talking from the investment banker point of view, look at it as an asset. If you invest in the right car, right model, for the right amount with the right restoration work, it will end up a good investment.”
Beyond status and fiscal appreciation, though, what type of person acquires a classic car? Passion is key, says Al Khatib. “In general people raised on culture. Someone who saw his grandfather or uncle drive such a car. Part of it is in our name, nostalgia; it reminds us of something.”
In a country with a voracious appetite to own and show off the newest, flashiest sports car or rev fuel-guzzlers, older could soon be bolder and ruling the road if Al Khatib succeeds in unlocking fresh demand for the enduringly iconic. That said, you sense a palpable attachment to all his vehicles, like children.
“I’m not giving them away,” Al Khatib concludes, glancing at an immaculate E-Type. “They are going to a good foster home.”
Updated: February 2, 2017 04:00 AM