x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

In search of a classic

Vintage cars are not common in the UAE, but that may soon be about to change.

A 1972 Ferrari 246GT Dino Coupe and a 1931 Lincoln Model K Rumble Seat Roadster are displayed at the Royal Mirage in Dubai.
A 1972 Ferrari 246GT Dino Coupe and a 1931 Lincoln Model K Rumble Seat Roadster are displayed at the Royal Mirage in Dubai.

Much like the UAE itself, most cars you see on the road are shiny and new. Even among younger drivers, few can be seen getting from A to B in the rust-buckets and rattle-traps that populate university student car parks elsewhere in the world. This point was hammered home at the launch earlier this year of the new Mercedes CLC, a Dh130,000 car that was described at the event as an "entry level vehicle". But if you have Dh130,000 to spend on a car, you could go down an alternative path and look for a set of wheels with a bit more history.

A classic car will surely stand out in UAE car parks that are invariably full of chunky and usually dirt-less SUVs, Ferraris that are so commonplace here that they end up going unnoticed and the ubiquitous Nissan Sunnies. When you're inevitably asked by a new acquaintance what you drive, you're surely going to come across as more interesting if you say "a red 1955 Ford Thunderbird" rather than "a white Toyota Prado".

James Knight, international managing director for collectors' motor cars at Bonhams auction house, is relentlessly optimistic about the ability of most people to be able to afford a classic car. Speaking at a Dubai presentation on buying and selling classic cars, he says ,"There's a classic car for most budgets - once you've worked out how much you want to spend on a classic car, you can then research what you can get for your budget."

At Knight's presentation last month, the cars on display outside were testament to the fact that there are classic models to cater to a wide range of budgets. The most affordable classic car on show was a 1955 Ford Thunderbird. At auction, it would be sold for anywhere between Dh190,000 and Dh245,000. The T-Bird on display belonged to an anonymous UAE collector - "I could tell you whose car it is but then I'd have to kill you" laughs Knight - and he says it would sell at the cheaper end of the spectrum. "If it had the continental kit with the rear-mounted spare, it'd be worth more."

Other factors that make a classic car a bit cheaper on the auction market include it not being a limited-edition model or the first or last of a model line and the fact that it was never owned by a celebrity or involved in a major event. "But it is a very nice example of the T-Bird, it is a hard top with a porthole, which is a nice little touch" says Knight, and the fact that it is registered, roadworthy and in excellent condition makes it a joyous automobile to own. "And it's red - you can't go too far wrong with a T-Bird in red," he adds.

One of the display cars that would sell to a buyer with slightly deeper pockets was the saucy 1972 Ferrari 246GT Dino Coupe. Mr Knight said it was worth anywhere between Dh435,000 and Dh655,000. Whether an auction house such as Bonhams will start selling classic cars from a UAE location remains to be seen. Knight describes his visit to Dubai as a "fact finding mission". There are plenty of considerations to take into account before Bonhams sets up shop here. To transport a car to the UAE for auction costs the owner around US$10,000, and if the car fails to sell it's another US$10,000 to ship it home. "Basically the owner has to take a US$20,000 gamble and the car has to make enough money to make it all worthwhile," Mr Knight explains.

The other obstacle to a classic car collection boom in the UAE may be the pending car registration regulations that would make it difficult or nearly impossible to register cars older than 10 years of age. However, unlike plenty of cynics and naysayers who have decried the new regulations as the death knell for classic cars in the country, Mr Knight is far more positive. "I'm confident there'll be special provisions for classic cars," he says. "There may be special plates for classic cars, I'm sure the authorities here will work something out."

If he feels there is sufficient interest in classic car collecting in the UAE, Mr Knight says there may be the possibility of a local classic car auction sometime in the future. "We like to be pioneers in our field, but we also like to make money," he says. In the meantime, Mr Knight says UAE car lovers are more than welcome to attend auctions held in other countries and can log on to the Bonhams website to receive alerts whenever a car that matches a model they are looking for or fits into their budget comes up for sale.

Alternatively, if you don't mind the legwork, there are far-flung car yards in Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai where you may come across a hidden gem at a rock-bottom price. Just mind the fine layer of sand that will most likely be covering the car - and if you're no backyard grease monkey, be prepared to spend a bit extra on repairs to ensure it is more dream machine than scream machine. glewis@thenational.ae