x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The fast and the curious

Saloon If you feel the need for speed - preferably in one-hour doses - then Calvin Geis is your man.

Calvin Joa Geis with his Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder in Dubai. Stephen Lock / The National
Calvin Joa Geis with his Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder in Dubai. Stephen Lock / The National

If you feel the need for speed - preferably in one-hour doses - then Calvin Geis is your man Calvin Joa Geis took out his business card and held it up proudly, as if it were a snapshot of a newborn infant. "Look at the phone number," he said. "What does it spell?" It was hard to say - the card was a constellation of names, numbers, addresses, logos and other sundry details. "Look," he said again, pointing to the bottom right-hand corner: "055-No-Speed". He waited a beat before moving his thumb, which had been obscuring an additional word, written in parentheses: "Limit".

"See?" the German entrepreneur said, beaming. "See?" Meet-Speed, the company Geis brought to Dubai six months ago, represents a rather novel business concept - part car rental firm, part driving school, part bungee jump. Visitors to the online marketplace Dubizzle might have noticed the outfit's frequent postings: "Has it been your dream to experience the thrilling, exciting and heart beating drive in a Lamborghini or a Ferrari?"

The idea behind Meet-Speed is this: there is a certain type of individual (young, male, automotively inclined) who will happily shell out between Dh1,000 and Dh1,500 to spend an hour behind the wheel of an extravagant sports car - shades on, top down, a jaunty elbow resting on the driver's-side door. Included in the price is a crash course in driving the car, conducted mostly on the road, at high speeds. Clients are also provided with photographic proof of their trip, along with the opportunity to post a review on the Meet-Speed website.

"This is my idea, my concept," said Geis. "Nobody else is doing this." Geis was sitting in the lobby of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, which serves as an informal base for his company (Meet-Speed has an "understanding" with the management). He had just dropped off a client, an accountant named Vincent who was staying at the hotel. Vincent had taken the deluxe "Freedom Tour" - which allows you to drive out of town rather than around it - in a bright orange Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder. "I feel like a celebrity," the young man said, his face dripping in the afternoon sun.

When Vincent was asked what kinds of speeds he reached during the drive (the 520-horsepower Spyder is capable of topping 330kmh), Geis interrupted. "He can't remember," he said with a laugh, adding, "It's hard to watch the instruments - you have to keep an eye on the road and an eye on the cameras." He was understandably eager to point out that he has never had an accident in one of his cars. "Never filed an insurance claim," he said.

Geis, 42, has the look of a 1980s New Wave icon: black clothes, gel-spiked hair. He used to be a fairly high-profile DJ in his native Frankfurt; his success allowed him to buy his first Ferrari back in the mid-1990s. It was his love for that car, he said, that gave him the inspiration for Meet-Speed. He founded the first incarnation of the company in Stuttgart in 1999, selling one-hour slots on eBay. "It was a big success," he said. "I had five Ferraris, all kinds of clients."

Even so, Geis wasn't really making any money. The overheads in Germany were too high, the season too short. "There were only three or four good months, and even then it was raining," he said. "And, you know, these cars in the rain, they are really deadly." So Geis started looking to places with more sunshine, like Italy or Spain. By chance, he visited Dubai a while back and decided he'd found the perfect spot. He sold his fleet of Ferraris, shut down his operations and headed for the Middle East.

"Dubai was all about style, appearance and luxury," he said. "Sitting on the plane on the way here, I was making all these plans in my head." Thanks to the economic slump, however, Geis's plans have had to be revised. The company now operates two vehicles as opposed to five - the Lamborghini and a red Ferrari F430 - and these are leased rather than owned. "It's been difficult to establish the business," he said. "I'm not so happy with the timing, of course."

Having endured a slow summer, Geis is confident things will pick up, and is looking to expand when they do. "People have a passion for this," he said. "I took a man out and he told me after: 'If I die tomorrow, I die happy.'" Another client, in a review on the company website, wrote: "Obviously the main thrill is driving the car, but with that you also get to 'live the life' - to be a millionaire playboy for an hour."

Asked if he expects to ever live the real playboy life on the back of Meet-Speed, Geis laughed: "No, no, no, no, no, no, no." Later, with this reporter driving the Lamborghini at dreadful speeds through Dubai Media City, Geis looked more relaxed than he had all afternoon. Every time the vehicle lurched forward, or shuddered to an uncertain halt, he got happier still. "Listen to that!" he shouted above the car's urgent growl. "Music! A symphony!"

When the white-knuckle joyride was over, the Lamborghini was returned to the hotel car park, where it remained overnight. Geis, it turns out, makes a policy of not driving company vehicles after hours; he likes to keep the mileage down. So how does he get about? "I drive a small rental car," he said solemnly. "A Toyota."
* Chris Wright