Three Sharjah brothers have themselves hooked on classic car restoration.
Classic cars keep Sharjah brothers busy
People react differently towards cars and, in a country like the UAE, where fancy supercars are found on practically every street corner, finding an old classic can create an unexpected scene. When it comes to turning heads in a country that has seen and done it all, sometimes an old timer is what it takes.
Classic cars make their owners stand out as individuals. They're a talking point, a reflection of their personalities. And this is obviously not lost on three Sharjah brothers, who have become so obsessed with them that seemingly every minute of their spare time is now spent tracking them down, buying them and restoring them to their former glories. And their efforts definitely go down well with onlookers in the Emirates who catch sight of their immaculate motor cars.
"People go crazy, they want to take many, many pictures," laughs Faisal Al Mubarak, 33, one of the brothers. "Once we were in JBR and a bunch of tourists asked a man driving a brand new Bentley to move away so they could take our pictures with the cars. That man was furious!
"I was happy, because to me, the Ford Zimmer [a neoclassic car that looks like a 1920s Duesenberg driven by Jay (The Great) Gatsby, but has modern Ford mechanicals underneath] is more valuable than a Bentley. I have a car with both sentimental and substantial value. When it comes to classic cars, it's hard to find, unlike a Ferrari or a Bentley that I easily can rent," he adds. "We worked on the car with our bare hands. We enjoy when we go out on parades and we enjoy the reactions more. Many people join the parade as well because they appreciate the classic cars, and they ask many questions about them."
The courtyard of their Sharjah house is filled with colourful classics, each a different model and size. Stationed perfectly in front of the house, six of them gleam under the afternoon sunshine, while another four sit at the end of the courtyard. Three more are around the back of the house, in the final stages of restoration, while there are yet more in other properties or at the paint shop.
"Of course, we have to keep them covered. We don't want the sun or sand to ruin our masterpieces," laughs the youngest of the brothers, 29-year-old Jaber. The Al Mubarak brothers became interested in the mechanics of cars - always carrying out repairs to their own vehicles - before acquiring their passion for classics. They began their journey by watching mechanics working and, with the help of the internet, they were able to find out more information on engines, parts and technicalities of the old cars they have such affection for.
"We learnt how to fix the cars and the mechanics by practice," Faisal says. "We would observe other mechanics working on them and we would ask many questions. It was hard at first, but then it got easier." He also explains that, whenever they came up against a seemingly insurmountable problem, they would call in a mechanic to sort it, while talking them through the process so they could fix it themselves next time. The brothers spend time on tracking the cars they wish to buy and trying to find spare parts. Together they work on the cars mechanically and technically, but leave the paint jobs for another garage, as they don't have the necessary tools.
They have a vast collection of more than 20 cars, including a 1977 GMC, a 1977 Caprice Coupé, a 1978 Zimmer kit car, a 1966 Mercedes 280, a 1964 Ford Thunderbird, a 1964 Lincoln Continental, a 1962 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia and a couple of old Alfa Romeo Spiders.
In 2001, when Jasim came home with a convertible Cadillac Eldorado that he bought from the United States, his son, 21-year-old Abdulla, was surprised with his father's decision to begin repairing it. After three years of hard work, the Eldorado looked brand new with a fresh paint job and new interior. "I don't know what made him think of wanting to start fixing the car," says Abdulla. "Now we are always working on them too, after school and even in summer."
The Cadillac was sold soon after its restoration was completed and it took another four years before Jasim's two younger brothers, Faisal and Jaber, joined in with his hobby and bought their own cars to renovate.
"We were busy, we didn't think about such a hobby, until we each found our dream car," says Faisal. "And suddenly we were deeply into it. At first it was just the mechanics and we would work on our regular cars before we began with the classics. After the first try with the Cadillac, we saw how popular it was and that was it."
Jasim also teaches his sons how to repair the engines, and has promised each his own car to fix. "It is my way of encouraging them," he says. "At least this teaches and benefits them. What will they get from going to malls?"
The cars are mostly ordered from the United States and shipped in special containers on their own to prevent damage. Some are imported from Kuwait, since car ownership there predates many other Gulf countries, meaning there's a significant number of vehicles that are now considered classics.
Faisal ordered a special trailer, customised to transport the heaviest of their cars, to safely bring them into the UAE after their many trips to Kuwait, but still the expenses for shipping, customs fees, and often the cars themselves, can be very high.
"Depending on what car we are getting and where from," adds Faisal, "the rate we pay increases. We sometimes have to pay for insurance, as well, and the shipping can cost more than the car itself."
Some cars take two days of repair, while others take months and maybe years, but that doesn't stop the brothers from finding more cars to add to their growing collection. Their new goal is to track down a 1960 Rolls-Royce and a Mercedes-Benz SL Pagoda.
"I chose the 1977 Lincoln Mark V, imported from the United States," says Faisal. "I liked its body and even though it is old it has specifications like cruise control and is very comfortable, which helps in highway driving when I go to Abu Dhabi or Al Ain. It was pink. I chose to repaint it to burgundy since it's one of the original colours. Currently, I am working on a 1978 Nissan 280Z, and I'm hoping it will be complete in the next few days. I only want to renew the engine to turn it into a daily use car."
Faisal also worked on a 1953 Chrysler New Yorker for almost a year. "I fixed it from A to Z, started with the body kit and paint, to the new engine and gearbox. The engine was not suitable for daily use which is why I fixed it, and we do that to all our cars," he adds.
Another of the family's long-term projects, a 1958 Dodge D100, took almost two years to complete. "Most pick-up trucks in the UAE are either GMC, Ford or Chevrolet; the Dodge is rare in this part of the world," Jaber says. "When we got it from the United States it was in a very bad condition; the windows were broken so we had to replace them. We had to repair it completely, as it hadn't been moved for five or six months, so we started with the engine and overhauled the brakes before attending to the paint and the interior upholstery."
Having such a hobby is hard work, as the three brothers all have different government jobs that take up their mornings, and in the afternoon to late at night they spend their time either locating spare parts or under the bonnet, repairing their latest purchases.
"The biggest problem is that the cars are hard to find, especially in the UAE, since classic cars aren't well known," says Jaber. "We need to fly to Kuwait for the parts, and even if they are expensive we still want them."
As the brothers explain, spare parts are not always expensive, but shipping them from one country to the other takes extra money and more time. "We sometimes have to go get the parts ourselves, so travelling also has its own expense," adds Faisal. So why, you might ask, do the brothers incur all this expense, and spend all their time fixing up old cars, if they're not for sale? Without a healthy financial return on their investments to look forward to, what is it that spurs them on? The answer lies in the opening paragraph - it's the effect that these wonderful vehicles have on the people who see them.
"In 2012, we participated in more than 10 exhibitions, supporting breast cancer awareness and national day activities," Jaber says. And this simply adds to their already heavy workload. For National Day, the cars need to be sorted to fit the hectic schedules, since many organisations wish to have some on display. "We send three or four to each organisation, and we need to spread them in different emirates. Some to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah," adds Faisal.
The next step for the family is to establish their own garage, with proper storage for the spare parts, tools and tyres, as well as a working area, instead of having all the items scattered in the courtyard. "We want to broaden this hobby and be able to train others," Jasim says.
"We have planned a miniature museum and are just waiting for the final statements from the municipality. There, we will have the classic cars on display and anyone who is interested can come inside, take a look around, and enjoy," says Faisal. "We want to be there to help and explain, too. Maybe try to encourage others to start in this hobby."
So the next time your head is turned by a beautiful, rare, old classic car instead of a new Ferrari or Lamborghini, perhaps it is worth remembering that, if it were not for the efforts of specialists and enthusiasts like the Al Mubarak brothers, we might not get to see them at all in the UAE. As with historical buildings or works of art, it's important that these old cars, which provide such a fascinating glimpse into the history and evolution of the automobile, are restored, maintained and preserved for generations to come. For these three Sharjah men it was a simple hobby that turned into a way of life, and they're willing to help anyone with an interest to do the same.
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