x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A man with a vision: Herbieland

Graham Henderson wants to build a theme park to rival Ferrari World, a museum dedicated to the lovable Herbie.

Tucked away in the far end of the motor show displays, past the flashy cars and pretty women, sits a man with a dream. A very cute and lovable dream.

Graham Henderson is an architect from Scotland living in Abu Dhabi. Through a recent and unexpected contact, he has formulated a plan for another theme park here to rival the newly opened Ferrari World - a museum dedicated to the Herbie film franchise he will call Herbieland.

"We have an opportunity to purchase the Herbie collection of Doug Kaufmann," explains Henderson. "He's an American gentleman who has a private collection of seven original Herbie cars, including the original car from Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo; Horace, Herbie's nemesis; Gisele, who is the little Lancia Stratos that Herbie fell in love with; and all the cars from the most recent Lindsay Lohan film. And the pièce de résistance is the Nascar Herbie, the car that Lohan drove in the Nascar sequence in the last film. These cars are all going to international sale, by the end of December. But the owner has given us an option to raise a purchase of the vehicles, and it's our plan to include the vehicles in a specifically built custom museum, hopefully near Ferrari World on Yas Island.

"Kaufmann would prefer to keep them in America, but he's seen what we've come up with here and he's willing to hold off for a month for us."

Henderson is no stranger to the Herbie phenomenon. He runs a drag race team, Herbie Henderson Racing, that has a Herbie-type Beetle with a modified engine and suspension that he races at events in the UAE. The team would be the company behind the museum, but Henderson needs an investor to help buy the car collection and get the museum started.

It's been just four weeks since he was contacted by Kaufmann ("They were attracted by the publicity of the Yas Marina racing," says Henderson), but in that short time he has come up with a plan for the building. It would be shaped like a giant baseball cap, housing a museum, a car workshop, a cafe and memorabilia from the films. There would also be a Herbie in which children could pretend to drive in front of a movie screen and take home a video of themselves on a USB drive.

"We think it will be as much an attraction as Ferrari World; it's a speculative project.

"Part of the idea is we would have a fleet of miniature Herbies that children can drive around a small track as a mimic of Monte Carlo. We'd also love to offer guests a hot lap at Yas Marina in the Nascar Herbie. We'd have a professional driver taking them around; we'd also like to let the Herbies and the Lancia out for some exercise every day on the track.

"Ideally, we'd like a joint venture with Yas Marina or its developers, Aldar."

Disney, the hugely powerful media company that overlords over its property with an iron fist, owns the rights to the Herbie name and franchise. But Henderson doesn't see this as a problem. "The number 53 (Herbie's number) is a subprime number, and no one owns a copyright on that. If it comes to it, we can just change the name to Herbert Henderson Racing."

Despite potential problems and a lack of investors, Henderson sees the museum as a sure hit with families in the UAE.

"Without a doubt, Herbie is an international brand. And children are attracted to it on a psychological level. The round shapes are loveable and cute, and kids who either know Herbie or don't know Herbie all are drawn to the car. It's got a personality, a cult following and a history. Everyone finds something attractive, and there's something of the underdog becoming victorious that's attractive."

With the odds and time against him, Henderson will need every ounce of that underdog attitude to make his lovable dream a reality.