It can be easy to forget in a country blessed with more high-end motors than almost any other nation on the planet, but plenty of regular petrolheads in the UAE are just as obsessed with their more-affordable rides as the dozens of supercar owners here are with their expensive possessions.
And it’s those very people whom Filipino duo Glenn Navarro and Zingiber Umali, organisers of new car show Street Meet Abu Dhabi, hope to reach. Or should that be officially reach? Because although this is their first event proper, earlier this year, the long-time friends successfully tapped into a need for a vibrant car community at the less-rarefied end of the spectrum via the kind of ad hoc event from which Street Meet takes its name.
“To test the idea, we organised a meet-up at Yas Gateway Park South, so we created a poster and saw how many people would come,” Navarro recalls of the event’s initial genesis in February. “We’re independent guys not connected to any club. We were thinking there would be 50 to 100 cars. On the day of the event, 350 cars turned up. Then Zing came up with the name Street Meet.
“We could have had a problem because of the number of cars that turned up at the park – the police might come and say: ‘What are you guys doing here?’ So after that event, we agreed to make it legit, get an event licence and do it like this.”
The pair expect the first Street Meet, held in the leafy surrounds of Abu Dhabi City Golf Club, to attract 300 four-wheeled entrants. They give The National a taster of the vehicles that will be on display with a mini preview on the grass at the Mushrif venue. The focus is firmly on modified cars, as demonstrated by a tricked-out Dodge Charger and a bright-green Honda Civic with a rear spoiler that would put a Lamborghini Huracan Performante to shame. There is, fittingly given the green stuff beneath our feet, a grass-roots vibe, as well as a refreshing unpretentiousness about it all.
“There’s no elite cars,” Navarro explains. “There’s [Mitsubishi] Lancers, everything. Sometimes you can’t go to other car clubs because they’re really expensive cars, but here, you have those low-down cars that are owned by enthusiasts like us.”
As well as the main static car-show element, with judging across a dozen categories and about Dh18,000 of prizes for the top entrants, Street Meet aims to replicate the full cultural experience of similar events in Europe, the United States and the organisers’ native Philippines. There will be DJs, a breakdancing competition, live music, food vendors and 20 to 25 exhibitors from across the spectrum of motoring products and services.
“I’m a big fan of car shows and I’m a big fan of cars,” Umali says. “I’m working on cars every day, but in UAE, it’s not normal people, like back in the Philippines, who want to modify their cars. Here, there are limited people, so we want to boost the scene and influence more people.”
Navarro and Umali have been submerged in the UAE’s car culture for some time. The former, a helicopter maintenance planner in his day job, has lived in the Emirates for two decades and has “been in the car scene since 2006”, having helped organise events at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre and specialising in some serious stereos. The latter has been here for 11 years, works for Nissan dealership Al Masaood and is a master of modifications.
Accordingly, Navarro drives a Hummer H3 that you may hear coming before you see it, thanks to a souped-up sound system, while Umali owns a fully customised, multiple-award-winning Nissan Tiida that is rather unlike the factory version of the rental-car staple. Their day jobs mean that Street Meet isn’t primarily a profit-making exercise, which means affordable fees for competing cars (Dh150 per judging category) and free entry to the event for the general public.
“It’s about creating a scene, making it more fun,” Navarro says. “We’re trying to boost the garages who are not getting a chance to participate at exhibition centres because it’s too expensive. And we’ve picked the best venue that nobody’s used – it’s the first time they’re going to park on the grass [at Abu Dhabi City Golf Club]. It’s that vibe, you hang, you’re enjoying – it’s not like the scene I’ve mostly seen here, like we’re all competing and it’s serious. It’s more of a community vibe.”
“We want Street Meet to be like the Gitex of car enthusiasts,” Umali says. “Whenever there is a Street Meet, you know that there will be free stuff, cheap body kits; you can book your car for painting and polishing.”
“We just want everyone to experience Street Meet,” Navarro adds. “Take a look and see the difference.”
Street Meet is at Abu Dhabi City Golf Club on Friday, October 26, from 10am to 8pm. Entry is free. For more information, visit www.instagram.com/streetmeetauh
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