Car Spotting: My View

So it was around December 2014 that I decided that the world of gaming had reached an end for me and I decided to focus more time on my photography.

In my spare time I always browsed various social media websites for the latest content of cars. At the time I was majorly obsessed with the JDM scene (still am) so a lot of the photos and videos I saw were mostly based in the US. I used to spend hours watching videos from car events like SEMA and H2Oi. I think I was obsessed with not just the cars but the way the videos were shot themselves. Two of my favourite videographers I found on YouTube are Chris Petruccio (Krispy) and David Patterson (ThatDudeInBlue). The smooth dolly shots and the editing – highlighting every aspect of the car or event would just capture my attention. When I wasn’t browsing YouTube for crazy tuner videos I was on websites like Speedhunters and Stancenation. I was always obsessed with the ‘Tuner’ scene from a young age. I suppose (like many people) I have the Fast and Furious franchise to thank for that. But it was during my gaming phase I looked more into the world of Supercars. As a car guy I’d always loved any sort of car and respected the work gone into any build no matter the make or model. But when you’re playing games like Forza and Need For Speed that feature high-end luxury Supercars it’s hard not to admire them. This had a big influence on the type of videos I watched on YouTube, I soon started looking for videos based around Supercars and there is where I found the bountiful treasure that was car spotting in London. I obviously knew that London was full of Supercars and some areas more so, but I never saw London as an opportunity to see some of the world’s most fastest, expensive and unique Supercars. I had seen London as a retail district, that’s all I ever really did when I went up there. I even went to the most affluent areas of Mayfair and Knightsbridge every time I did a trip to London but never had the intention of looking out for a car. The first Arab car I ever saw was the turquoise Lamborghini Murcielago SV that always used to sit outside Harrods in 2012. At the time it was probably the craziest car I had ever seen on the streets. This photo below is of the SV after its wrap, it had been painted in the same colour underneath but with a glossy finish and in 2012 Matte finishes on cars were in fashion. I’ve also included some photos of a gold and black Bugatti Veyron and Pagani Zonda F in the Bob Forstener showroom on London’s Park Lane.

Between then and the beginning of 2015 I had looked at various car spotting videos, mostly produced by the likes of Tim Burton (Shmee150) and Paul Wallace (SupercarsOfLondon). I remember watching videos of Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s blasting down Sloane Street, A Nissan GTR power sliding onto Brompton Road and the exact same thing with a Zonda Cinque. One of the first car spotting videos I saw was of a E60 M5 with an Eisenmann exhaust driving around Lowndes Square. The sound of that naturally aspirated V10 was just a pleasure to listen to. Don’t get me wrong, I also saw videos of crashes involving Supercars, the police pulling Arabs over for having no plates or insurance and even TV shows highlighting the concerns of the local residents. But despite all these negativities I wanted to find out what it was like for myself. So on January 2nd 2015 I started car spotting.

I didn’t intentionally start car spotting, the reason I was in London that day was because the January sales had started and me and a few friends decided a trip to London was needed. After spending a lot of money on things we didn’t need we decided to part ways and I then had the intention of going to Harrods. At this point it was around 6:30PM on a Friday night so I had no idea what would be around. It was also January so I didn’t really expect to see much. The first car I saw was a chrome blue C63 AMG. It wasn’t anything special and to be honest it was quite garish but it was from this point onwards I was hooked.

Ever since that Friday I’ve been going to London every weekend making the 2-hour journey just to see what cars are lurking around on the streets of Knightsbridge and Mayfair. I’ve met so many great people throughout my experience and made some great friends. I’ve also been able to do things I’d have never have even imagined I’d been able to do in the last year and I wouldn’t change any of it.

So what is ‘car spotting’? Well, it’s pretty self-explanatory; you go to an affluent area (in my case Knightsbridge/Mayfair) stand around for a bit and hope that something photo-worthy pops up. Now after standing around in one place after a few hours you’d usually move around, some check the local area (Harrods etc.) and some go further a foot. Social media helps us spotters a lot, we know what cars are out because they’ve been spotted and posted by other people on various social networks (mostly Instagram). Usually if someone knows a car of interest is out and approaching Knightsbridge, the information can be out to at least a group of 10 people (depending on day and season). It can usually be faster to navigate through the area by foot than in a car. It does come down to the question of why do we do this? Why do we spend our weekends standing on the streets and junctions looking out for cars? Why do we run after these cars, photograph and video them? I’m speaking from my point of view but I do it because I’m obsessed with cars. Well it was the cars I saw which drew me in I suppose, but the community around it is rather great (the majority of it at least). Granted it does kind of feel like I’m back at high school with the various age brackets and the difference in social media following creating social divides but it’s good to be in an environment where you’re surrounded by like minded people who you can just talk to. Now it’s approaching winter so the majority of the Arabs have gone home and I’m not out as often but I know there are still special cars driving around on the streets of London. For me the main reason why I do the two-hour journey up to London is to see my friends, it’s got to the point now where the cars have taken a second priority and the social aspect has taken over, but of course I still need things to post on my Instagram as well.

Instagram is the main social media platform that car spotters use to display their images. Now your perception of what is ‘photo worthy’ will differ depending on how long you’ve been spotting and your view on certain cars. For example, due to the high density of Ferrari’s in the area, it’s very rarely that one will make the more experienced spotter bat an eyelid. The amount of attention a car gets will depend on its rarity, the specification of the car, if it had any modifications and where it was registered. Rarity is understandable, a 458 Speciale Aperta will get photographed more than a standard 458 Spider just because it’s more special. That and 458’s are more common than Fiat Punto’s in Knightsbridge a prime example being a Red 458 with the registration plate ‘KAN4V’ which sits on the corner of Hans Crescent/Sloane Street.

The specification on a car is also something that can make a more standard car stand out. A good specification on a standard car could make it more photo worthy in some people’s eyes, for example a dark blue RS6 or all black RS6 will draw more attention than your standard silver or red RS6 just because the specification is of better taste. I’ve noticed that this is trait that mostly the more experienced spotters portray although it’s hard not to admire a nicely spec’d car. This next part usually mostly applies to the videographers out there because depending on the amount of views they receive will differ the amount of money they can potentially make. Sometimes a car that wouldn’t be seen as photo worthy can make great YouTube content which can make more money. Cars that have exhaust systems are ones to look out for when trying to get video content. The louder the car or the crazier the act, the better the content which amounts to more potential views and you need a lot of views on YouTube to actually make a sizeable amount of money. The videographers capture what the photographers don’t, the burnouts, the speed, the noise. I mean don’t get me wrong, modifications can make a car even better for photos (providing they’re tasteful). I think a great example of this is the Qatari RENNtech E63 AMG. Before the owner decided to lower the car and got some Vossen VFS1’s fitted to his car, I did nothing but watch that car thunder it’s way by. It was only when the owner decided to lower the car and fit some VFS1’s I found the car more photo worthy.

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#VFSeries @vossen @a_althani56

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Granted some modifications don’t make a car better, some actually make cars look a lot worse and a lot of this is done in attempt to make the car stand out more. Now the summer is prime time to show off your car and the Arabs know how to do that every year. These brash, vulgar and garish cars definitely stand out but did their modifications make them any less content worthy? Nope. These people want other people to notice their cars and even if it’s talking bad about their cars, people are still talking about them. It’s great seeing people’s reactions to things like a Gold Chrome Range Rover that’s been fitted with a Hamman Mystere wide body kit or an all chrome McLaren Mercedes SLR with Chrome tints.

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Personally I think car spotting wouldn’t be the same if you didn’t see these crazy modified cars. It provides a nice contrast to the nice spec’d cars and again gets people talking. Yes, there is a lot of controversy about loud cars in these areas but I’ll get back to that later.

Finally, and this is a big influence on spotters (again this is mostly the more experienced spotters) where the car is registered. Now this is something I do find myself doing a lot but when looking at a car (especially one of photographic significance) I do tend to check where it is registered. This I must admit is a habit I’ve gained from my spotter friends in the last year. I think it’s good to see different licence plates on cars simply because they look different. Where we see cars on the standard EU plates all the time, it’s great to see a car from Guernsey or Monaco just because their license plates just look… Well, cooler. In the spotter world Arab number plates on cars is pretty much number one priority. Many people do ask, what is the fascination with Arab number plates? Why do they make them more photographable? Spotter logic to general observers can be confusing but I get it (kind of). When an Arab car gets shipped to the UK and starts roaming the streets of London that automatically puts it into one of two categories; a new arrival or a returning car. Usually most Arabs like to change their cars every year or so, if a car returns it’s either really crazy or it’s been modified. A prime example of this is the White Saudi Pagani Huayra and Mercedes G63 AMG 6×6 that have been coming over for the last few years.

A returning car that has been modified is the Saudi Chrome Gold Veyron GrandSport that was seen again last year with a new Cream and Red Carbon wrap. Returning cars are always nice to see especially for those like me who saw photos from the previous year but never had the chance to go and see them. Now onto the ‘new arrivals’, new arrivals are cars that haven’t been seen before but may be replacements from cars seen in the years before. This is where spotter knowledge of Arab plates comes in handy because from a number plate I can find out if that plate was registered on something significant before, who owns the car, if they have any other cars of significance and their Instagram. I’ve been told on a number of occasions that registrations on G Wagons and Range Rover’s I’ve seen on the street actually were on things like Aventador’s the year before. It’s crazy how much these guys know! So the last thing that attracts spotters to Arab license plates (again, a more experienced spotter trait) is the competition of a getting a ‘first spot’. Now all ‘new arrivals’ all have the potential of being a ‘first spot’ but it’s not so simple getting one. The aim of the hypothetical game is to spot the Arab car first and claim bragging rights that you saw it first. Some cars are worth bragging more about i.e. Supercars but they tend to be the ones that get spotted a lot. If the cars are on Arab registration they usually linger around for at least for a few days before disappearing and even if they do disappear finding their whereabouts is easy (most of the time). The best example of this is a Riviera Blue Porsche 918 Spyder from Switzerland. This car has been around since the beginning of 2015 (well to my knowledge although it could be longer) and as far as I know only a handful of people have actually seen it. This is the case of rarity meets nice spec, actually no… Amazing spec. Yet it has only been seen parked once and the owner is very camera shy. I mean you’d think someone who owned a bright baby blue Porsche hypercar would have accepted the traits of owning such a vehicle but no.

Update, September 2016: I (along with a load of other spotters) have now seen this elusive car. The owner parked in the supercar parking of Goodwood Festival of Speed 2016 and it looks beautiful.

Photo 24-06-2016, 13 52 37.jpg

Well that was my interpretation of ‘Spotter logic’ just in case you’re reading this and you’re one of the bystanders watching these people run after cars with cameras. It’s not because someone famous is in the car (well usually). So if you see a bunch of people with cameras standing around on Sloane Street (maybe around a car) they’re not waiting for celebrities, they’re waiting for cars. Paps, nine times out of ten will have a flash gun and possibly will be carrying two cameras. Last thing to add on spotter logic (and this is kind of just a general life rule) is you need photos to prove everything. Not everyone is easily persuaded about things so if you’re going to make a claim e.g. “I just saw a chrome Bugatti” you need a photo. I mean it’s probably a trust thing but it’s easy to be mistaken from the distance. This happened when I thought I saw a blue Pagani Huayra on Sloane Street, I told everyone I knew but had to run after it (because I didn’t actually know if I did see one) but my eyes didn’t deceive me and I got the worst phone shots I’ve ever taken but photos are photos.

Photo 13-07-2015, 13 40 08.jpg

Now it’s easy for me to actually just list the problems relating to car spotting but I’m going to write this from a neutral point of view. The first perspective is from the general public’s view.

If you’re just a bystander going on with your everyday life and have little or no or little interest in cars, the congregation of people in affluent areas all with cameras will seem odd to say the least. But overcrowding is probably the biggest issue regarding car spotting. In the summer, Sloane street can get so overcrowded and people end up standing in the road.

Granted that photo was taken when Mr. Shmee150 was on Sloane street but any other day in summer would be just as bad. Overcrowding isn’t just annoying for people who just want to get to their destination but it’s putting their own and other road users at risk. I’ve seen some of the younger spotters run in front of vehicles just because they’ve seen a car. They’re risking their safety to see a car that’s most likely going to be caught in traffic anyway which is going to be a concern for the local authorities.  From a fellow spotters point of view, it almost acts as a deterrent for us to go to certain areas because we know if we want to go to places like Sloane street in summer, we’ll have to fight our way through the crowd to try and get footage and photos – it just isn’t worth the hassle or the stress.

Update, September 2016: It’s still pretty bad. Refer to the photo below, can you see the Chiron? Nope. Me Neither.

Photo 18-09-2016, 18 51 09.jpg

Another main concern of the general public and local residents is unnecessary noise. This is by far the biggest issue regarding the local residents and Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council. It seems to be a yearly thing that gets the media’s attention and all for the wrong reasons. The bottom line is that the media is personifying the wealthy Arab visitors we get in the summer as the main cause for this public concern when in reality it’s mostly the British residents in their own cars with de-catted and straight pipe exhausts combined with anti-lag turbos or British residents who’ve hired a Ferrari or Lamborghini for the weekend. This has now meant that heavy fines (up to £1000) can be charged to anyone in the area that is causing ‘unnecessary noise’ which seems fair for those on bikes doing burnouts or cars just revving for a long time period but the list of causes for unnecessary noise is laughable. Along with that, some spotters are becoming increasingly alarming because they’re trespassing on private property. As a photographer I understand the concept of bending the rules and taking risks to get that decisive moment or once in a lifetime shot but these spotters are going into private car parks, detailing facilities and even people’s driveways in some circumstances and taking photos of these cars. A lot of the time people are invited in or the owners don’t mind, but there is a small percentage of spotters who just don’t think about the implications it can have not only just on them but the other people involved e.g. The owner of a detailing business might lose business if they’ve guaranteed that their facility is secure but see photos of other clients cars online. I’m not going to deny the fact that I’ve never been in a private car park and taken photos before but upon reflection it’s not really worth it unless you want to claim bragging rights or just have no photos to upload.

The final issue probably won’t apply to everyone who spots cars, but it’s something to think about if you are ever thinking of hiring an automotive photographer/videographer. All car spotters take photos and or videos, but not all car spotters are photographers and/or are videographers. Most people who car spot do it just because they love cars and want to see some rare and ‘out-there’ cars. But in this community of spotters, there is a sizable percentage that want to actually work with these cars and their owners and don’t want to see them just drive down a street or parked. These people may lose out on professional work opportunities because they’ve just been labelled as car spotters and aren’t taken seriously. Don’t get me wrong, that shouldn’t deter people who want to break out into professional work from car spotting, it’s just some people are deterred from the idea that you might be someone who just runs after cars in Knightsbridge. Adding to that, some people who want you to take photos/videos for them won’t understand that you may have to charge for your services. I often find that you have to explain to whoever it is the whole process from start to finish for them to understand why you might have to charge money. Travel cost (train fare/petrol), food, cost of the camera (some people might still be paying that off), cost of the editing software (Adobe’s Creative Suite isn’t cheap) and after all that you don’t really have that much money left. If you require the use of someones services, you should expect to pay up.

Photo 23-09-2016, 17 03 51.jpg

In conclusion, I think car spotting is a great way for car enthusiasts to see some of the world’s most rare, random and just plain wrong cars. Yes, it has its issues but what doesn’t these days? As long as you don’t take everything (and everyone) seriously and know what risks you want to take to get that content then it’s great fun.

– Roger

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