x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

My Car: Superhero Honda for Comic-Con PR man

Arafaat Ali Khan, the regional manager of the sci-fi and comic book convention, has a classic supercar to keep him motivated: the Honda NSX.

PR director Arafaat Ali Khan says his NSX was in and out of the garage with electrical problems at first, but it's now running well and attracting admiring glances. Lee Hoagland / The National
PR director Arafaat Ali Khan says his NSX was in and out of the garage with electrical problems at first, but it's now running well and attracting admiring glances. Lee Hoagland / The National

For a man who lives, breathes and - occasionally - sleeps geek culture, there could only ever be one car on his wish list. Fittingly, it's the one car that is capable of making any driver feel like a superhero behind the wheel, ready to cruise the dark, rain-sodden streets in search of a damsel in distress. Meet the Honda NSX and the hitherto-secret identity of its owner, Arafaat Ali Khan, 34.

By day, he's the mild-mannered director of Dubai-based ExtraCake PR; by night … well, he's still quite easy going. But as the man charged with trying to bring the juggernaut that is Comic-Con, a comic book convention, to the Middle East, he's got a Herculean task on his hands. And like every aspiring hero, he's hit a few speed bumps.

"It's definitely been a labour of love but it's also had its frustrating points," the Pakistani confirms. "Some people don't realise what goes into putting something of this magnitude together for the first time in this part of the world. There's just a lot to get done, from international support to guests and artists who've all been very interested and supportive. It's all about getting the ingredients right and hopefully we've got that for the first quarter of this year."

Away from his ever-growing collection of comics and video games, Khan's real passion is cars and, in particular, fast Hondas. First dipping his toe in the water with the Civic Type R hatch, he later graduated to the manic high-rev monster that is the S2000 roadster. And three years ago, the tumblers of fate finally fell into place as he was able to acquire the car that every Honda owner dreams of - the legendary, mid-engined NSX.

Not just any NSX either - this American-spec Acura is one of the earliest cars, in what many claim to be its purest form, with the original 3.0L, 270hp V6, a five-speed manual gearbox and no power steering. That last part means it's a real bicep-builder when Khan parallel parks it. Not that he did much of that in the first year, when the NSX, from the Japanese firm that builds some of the most reliable cars on the planet, decided to throw a bit of a strop. And just like you can't take the Batmobile into your local Emarat for an oil change, the exotic NSX proved challenging to sort out.

"It was in and out of the garage for the first six months with a case of electronic gremlins," he remembers ruefully. "It was extremely frustrating because you know it's not a major problem - the engine was perfect - it's just one of those things where it's an older car, 20 years old now, so you don't have the level of diagnostics you have these days where you just plug in a computer and it tells you exactly what the problem is. The garages have to take things apart and check them one by one - that takes time."

Despite the early teething troubles, these days the inky-black NSX is behaving itself and has benefited from a few upgrades along the way, including new headers, a more throaty exhaust and meatier wheels to replace the dinky 15 inchers that first adorned the car. They're mild modifications but the effect is mesmerising for those who happen to catch a glimpse of this low-slung beast on the road, says Khan - and unlike most supercars, it attracts friendly smiles rather than envy.

"It's absolutely unique in this market; everyone has their Porsches and Mercedes AMGs, but no matter what you're driving when the NSX goes by, people will perk up and take notice. It's not overtly a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, it's very accessible to people. You get a lot of people coming up to you at petrol stations and asking what it is, if they can sit in it and so on. I don't think you'd get this level of friendliness if the car had a different badge on it. Maybe that's the PR person in me talking."

For Honda, the NSX has cast a long shadow over the years, as the company has struggled to produce a worthy follow-up. Today, the firm is closer than ever to a new version of the car that moved the goalposts for what supercars could be, something which many doubt Honda is capable of doing. But as an owner, Khan remains hopeful.

"I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will hark back to their earlier triumphs. Modern Hondas don't really have that zing any more, but there's nothing stopping them from getting it back. With the economic situation, they've obviously had to focus on other things, but with the announcement of a successor to the NSX, there's always hope that they'll go back to their roots because they make fantastic sports cars," he proclaims.