x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

My car: Donald Starkey's Bentley Continental R and Buick Riviera Boat

Yacht builder Donald Starkey has a passion for unusual cars, and oceans won’t stand in his way to get them.

Donald Starkey imported both his 1973 Buick Riviera, top, and his 1998 Bentley Continental to the UAE, where he can afford to drive them with the low fuel prices.  Pawan Singh / The National
Donald Starkey imported both his 1973 Buick Riviera, top, and his 1998 Bentley Continental to the UAE, where he can afford to drive them with the low fuel prices. Pawan Singh / The National

What does a Porsche 977 cabriolet, Mercedes E320 cabriolet, Bristol Brigand, Citroen DS 21, Citroen DS 23, Chrysler Crossfire, Maserati Quattroporte, Maserati Khamsin, Toyota Previa and an NSU Ro80 have in common? They have all been owned by Donald Starkey - a world-renowned superyacht builder based in Dubai.

Born in Birmingham, UK, where he studied architecture before spending most of his life working in west London, Starkey is something of a celebrity among the global superyacht industry. A winner of 26 design awards, he has, according to www.superyachts.com, been designing some of the world's finest yachts since 1989. "I design large yachts and interiors for yachts and high-end residential projects, but have always had a passion for unusual cars that have a bit of personality," he says.

Starkey, who moved to Dubai four years ago, is captivated by the unique and has recently hit global headlines with the launch of the "Ome" floating homes - designed in partnership with Scottish architect Graham Henderson as a solution for owners of Dubai's The World islands. "I've dedicated my life to creating unique things and this is reflected in the many cars I've owned," Starkey says. "There have been many, but I have two current favourites - the '98 Bentley Continental R, which is still one of the manufacturer's best-looking efforts before Volkswagen created the hippo-like Continentals from 2003 onwards. The other is my most recent purchase - a '73 Buick Riviera Boattail. I also own a 1970s Cadillac Eldorados and Lincoln Mark 4s and 5s, which I am very fond of," he lists with visible pride.

And Starkey will not hesitate to ship a car that tickles his fancy across the globe to add to his burgeoning collection: "I imported the Bentley from Miami in late 2009 with around 45,000 miles (72,420km) on the clock for around Dh180,000, then in May 2011 I bought a Buick from New Mexico for Dh60,000, which had clocked 88,000 miles. However, the shipping costs bumped these prices up significantly. The Bentley has always been a favourite of mine but too expensive to run in the UK due to fuel prices, so I was quick to ship one here when I moved to the UAE. The Buick was a 'must buy' for me as I fell in love with the boat-tail shape. The shipping takes around two months and I was a bundle of nerves as anything can happen during transit," he says.

Starkey isn't the breed of collector who keeps his masterpieces locked in a high-security vault, either. You can see him driving his "street yachts" all over Dubai and he's not afraid to put them through their paces.

"The Bentley is very precise and can be quick in acceleration with its Sports mode on. The Buick is fast off the mark but it's not really designed for constant high speeds, so it's no good for opening up on the long and straight desert roads," he explains.

When asked whether he would ever sell his favourite Bentley and Buick, he replies with a hint of indignation: "Isn't everything for sale at the right price? If I was offered enough money I would take the deal and go right out and buy another. Some, particularly my wife, think I am mad, while others are envious that I have this passion for recycling and maintaining interesting vehicles from the past - perhaps because many of them are obliged to have company cars," he says.

One of Starkey's recent biggest achievements was when given free reign to design the 65m Trident yacht, which was built in 2009 by the Royal Van Lent Yard in Holland. The superyacht was sold within a year of Starkey Designs' magic touch for Dh435 million, which was very close to the original asking price. "Not bad in these difficult financial times, so it's true that good design pays," he laughs.