x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

My Car: The past is present in 1947 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith

As an IT communications manager, Aly Rifaah has a passion for technology, but from an altogether different era after hours.

Aly Rifaah is a genuine classic car enthusiast, with a particular liking for Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, such as his 1947 Silver Wraith. Christopher Pike / The National
Aly Rifaah is a genuine classic car enthusiast, with a particular liking for Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, such as his 1947 Silver Wraith. Christopher Pike / The National

For a man with such a passion for classic cars and such a vast collection of his own, it can be difficult for Aly Rifaah to pin down a favourite. But there's no doubt his 1947 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith is up there.

By day, the Dubai-based Egyptian is an external communications manager for a global IT company but, by night, his fascination turns from modern-day technology to craftsmanship and design from a bygone era.

In addition to his Silver Wraith, which is the only one in the world built by famed coachbuilders Freestone and Webbe, Rifaah, who is in his 50s, also owns three Bentleys, including a Continental S1 1955, one of only 27 built, a Maserati Quattroportes and a Jaguar.

"In Egypt, I also have a Packard convertible, Chrysler, Cadillac, Mercedes ... but my brother, he's the one who has so many cars," says Rifaah.

"I have many classic cars. I don't see it as a means of transportation, to take you from place to place; in my experience you enjoy and interact with the cars. They have character and you feel some sort of integration.

"I like the craftsmanship and reliability of the Rolls-Royce, as well as the design. I mean, this car is from 1947 - it's timeless elegance. You can place it next to any modern car and it still looks nice. It's never out of fashion."

From the admiring looks it attracts in the short time we're with the car, he's not wrong. One enthusiastic English tourist even had an impromptu photo session, snapping the Silver Wraith from every angle.

But attracting attention isn't what it's about for Rifaah. "When I'm out driving the car I find some people salute or give you the thumbs up but I don't pay much attention as I get these cars for myself; people's approval or disapproval doesn't mean anything to me, even if many times you find people wanting to buy the car," he asserts.

So appreciation of the classic design and build quality is top of Rifaah's list, and the Silver Wraith is a shining example of both. It looks immaculate and, despite it being 65 years old, it's only got 40,317 miles (64,884km) on the clock. In its day, the Silver Wraith transported Dutch and Danish royals as well as being featured in films such as 1981's Arthur and Tim Burton's 1989 movie Batman.

"The previous owner spent more than £40,000 [Dh233,070] on restoring the engine at Rolls-Royce," says Rifaah. "It's also not the original paintwork but, aside from that, it's almost in original condition, as it was in 1947. It's really nice to drive."

Rifaah has had the car for more than three years but is only its fourth owner in its lifetime.

"I was at an open house in London organised by Frank Dale and Stepsons, who specialise in Rolls-Royces and Bentleys and whom I believe are the best dealers in the world, when I saw this car.

"I've dealt with him before. I bought a Rolls-Royce Corniche 1971 fixed-head coupé and the Bentley S1 from him and, when I arrived back in Dubai, I called him to say I wanted to buy the Silver Wraith," he explains.

"We did the deal and then I shipped it, alongside my Bentley, which was in France, but I brought it to London and they were shipped to Dubai together. It only took about three weeks."

Rifaah keeps his cards close to his chest with regards to what he paid for the vehicle, but he did reveal that he uses the car almost every day as a commuter and that he's driven it at 80mph (129kph), close to its supposed top speed of 100mph.

"Lately, I've been using the Rolls to go to the office almost every day," he says. "This car is a winter car, meaning I have no air conditioning, so I don't use it in the summer and try to maximise its use in winter.

"I don't want to install any air conditioning or alter the original fixtures of the car. I want to preserve it in its original state."

If you ever see Rifaah out and about in Dubai, you'll agree that he's doing a good preservation job.