x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Travelling to Sharjah in style, in search of an eccentric new car

In the 1970s, Panther Westwinds used to make cars in a ramshackle collection of scruffy outbuildings they'd somehow managed to meld together to create a factory.

In the 1970s, Panther Westwinds used to make cars in a ramshackle collection of scruffy outbuildings they'd somehow managed to meld together to create a factory. I used to live a short distance up the road from the Panther factory, in the south-east of England, and regularly saw their mad, eccentric and exotic creations being tested on the roads of leafy Surrey. Over the years, Panther sold enough cars to soldier on for probably longer than they should have done and even managed to launch the Six, a huge futuristic convertible which had, yes, six wheels.

I was a young boy at the time they released that particular footnote in automotive history. Panther went bust three years later, having produced just two roadworthy examples of the Six. In hindsight, it was not really an entirely surprising turn of events. Thirty years later and I have just seen pictures of the newly-launched PGO Hemera, a two-seater sports coupé - or is it a shooting-brake? No one, not even the manufacturers, can quite decide which.

The Hemera looked that good it made me feel giddy with excitement. Even more so after I found out the Hemera was here, in the UAE, making its GCC debut at last month's Sharjah International Automobile Show. This wonderful little motor is produced by one of France's last remaining low-volume automakers and is infused with the kind of joie de vivre that reminds me of being a boy again and thinking I'd own a Panther Six one day. I resolved to go to Sharjah to pay homage to the Hemera.

However, I am currently carless, so the only options for the trip were either bus or taxi. And, much as I love taking a long taxi journey, the cost can sometimes be chastening. The previous time I had ventured out of town, to Dubai, the trip had been expensive. Admittedly, I had travelled in style, with my family, spending a lovely couple of hours in the back seat of a black Infiniti admiring acres of tan leather.

That was for a high-rolling day of family fun at the recently-opened Aquaventure water park. I was viewing my impending trip to Sharjah as a much cheaper affair. A whimsical flight of fancy to see the Hemera, a whimsical flight of fancy in itself. The bus would have to do. My resolve was challenged as soon as I arrived at Abu Dhabi's main bus and taxi stand. Several willing gentlemen negotiated vigorously to relieve me of varying amounts of cash and eventually, somewhat against my better judgement, I struck a deal with Anwr to take me to Sharjah in his seven-seater Kia Carens. He was offering a mid-price quote for a journey in a mid-price car. The trip was, I am happy to report, every bit as lovely as my previous venture out of town, except without the additional luxury of leather seats. Anwr even threw in a free soft drink as a gesture of goodwill. Already though the cost of my day had spiralled over budget. I hoped the Dh150,000 shooting brake-coupé would be worth the effort. Oddly, it was really difficult to find. The Hemera was nowhere to be seen on the official and surprisingly prominent PGO stand at the Sharjah show. Instead, the manufacturers had decided to launch the car in a corridor that separated the two main exhibition halls. Only the eccentric, or the French, or both, choose to launch a new car in a corridor. In these unlikely surroundings, the Hemera did not disappoint. It was a beautiful thing. The marketing blurb told me it had "a unique rear glass bubble" and it did. With the main reason for my trip ticked off my list and my curiosity satisfied, I headed for the Sharjah bus station and for home. I arrived just as a coach bound for Abu Dhabi was slipping out of the terminal and to my dismay there was a long queue of people snaking around the ticket office. The air was thick with the smell of diesel, while my head was filled with doom-laden thoughts of delayed or, even worse, cancelled travel. Where was a nice, comfy Infiniti when you needed one? In the event, my mood brightened as quickly as the queue melted. I bought a ticket, found a seat on the next available bus and waited for it to leave. When it did, the Friday night traffic was heavy as the bus nosed its way past the Blue Souq, but my mood was light. I'd had my giddy meeting with the Hemera and now I was saving money by catching the bus home. Maybe if I took public transport more often I'd be able to afford to buy my own Hemera. nmarch@thenational.ae