x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

My Car: On Dubai's thoroughfares, the Red Baron rules

Gaurav Dhar adores his unusual hot rod, with the body of a 1927 Ford and built from parts of various models and marques spanning several decades.

After a two-year search for the perfect vehice, Gaurav Dhar finally found this hot rod in the US. He's had it here in the UAE since September. Satish Kumar / The National
After a two-year search for the perfect vehice, Gaurav Dhar finally found this hot rod in the US. He's had it here in the UAE since September. Satish Kumar / The National

In a country full of high-powered supercars and blinged-up SUVs, it takes a special kind of car to draw people's attention and make their jaws drop. Gaurav Dhar has that kind of car.

If he's driving it one of these evenings around Dubai, which he does very often, you'll hear it before you see it; a dual straight-pipe exhaust gives it an aural authority on the road. But as it rumbles into view and cruises down the boulevard, you won't be able to take your eyes off of what Dhar refers to as "the Red Baron".

"It took me two years to find the car I wanted," says Dhar. "I found this one, and it was perfect."

The Red Baron is your basic, classic hot rod; a hodge-podge of different old cars crafted together for a classic old-school look. Built on a 1927 Ford frame, it incorporates the grille and headlamps from a 1932 Ford and a huge nine-inch Ford rear axle, while two passengers sit inside a custom fibreglass-and-steel body. Power comes from a triple-carbureted V8 from a 1967 Corvette. And it's exactly what this Dubai-based car fanatic wanted.

"When I found this car [in the US], I saw the history; one guy put this car together over five years with his bare hands. He used to make hot rods in his spare time," he says.

"I called up the guy and wanted to see everything, and then I wanted to hear the car, and I wanted to know what spares he had. And this went on for a week; then the guy said he'd send me a video. And in the 20-second clip, he walked up to the car, put the key in and started it. Two days later I called him up and said, 'Let's talk'."

The car, which he received in September, had to be special for Dhar to yearn for it. A self-confessed car nut, Dhar spends his free time (when he's not working on the family business dealing with cashless payment systems) with Rolling Art Emporium. It's a service he set up to help classic car owners - and those who want to be - with finding cars, parts, service and just general information here in the UAE, something he is keenly passionate about.

"I've spent all my free time over the last five years collecting this information," he says. "Because there was no one source providing this information, even today. And it's such a huge gap. (For example, did you know there was a DeLorean dealership in Sharjah?)

"And I said, 'That's ridiculous', because there are so many people out there who have cars who are going to junk them - who shouldn't junk them - because they don't know how to maintain their cars or don't know the legislation. They are lost, but I don't want them to throw these valuable assets and pieces of history away, especially the ones that were bought here."

Dhar was born in the UAE and schooled in India and the UK. His interest in cars was fostered early on.

"I've always been a car lover, especially being out here growing up. You saw roads being built, you saw infrastructure being built, and you saw the latest cars all the time.

"Then, after my schooling, I came back here and felt that people were getting too flash. It put me off that people had these new cars but didn't really know about them or didn't really care about them; they were just too commonplace. So I started reading about car history, and reading the stories, and seeing the shapes and forms, I just drowned in it; I'm a history buff. I got lost in that sinkhole of encyclopedias and magazines and I just thought, 'This is what I want to do'."

In fact, his purchase of the Red Baron was partly fuelled by his desire to spread the awareness of classic cars in the Emirates.

"When I'm driving by, people won't care about me, and that's perfect; I want that image of the car burnt into that 15-year-old's head. Or that 50-year-old's head, with him thinking of seeing this car in his uncle's barn, or at the salt flats in Bonneville, or something from his own history. And it's to bring those two generations together, and have them think about classic cars, and maybe have them go out and look for classic car events and learn more."

Dhar says that the Red Baron garners wild reactions from everyone, and he's had more than one blank-cheque offer to buy it outright. But would he consider parting with his dream? He hesitates.

"I would only consider selling it to two kinds of people; first of all, the kind of person who knew the emotional value and would appreciate it, I'd sell it to him. Or, I'd have to sell it to someone who would disappear with it, because if I saw that car on the road, it would kill me. It would rip my heart out."