The UAE: A Car Lovers Paradise

I spend enough time in London to see the ’Arab takeover’ of various SW postcodes every year. Rolls Royce’s, Lamborghini’s and Range Rover’s are a common sight on the streets of Knightsbridge and Mayfair during the summer months. Obviously not all Middle Eastern residents fly their cars over with them but it does paint a very small part of the picture that is the car scene out there. I’m about to take you through my journey that is the last 4 years of me travelling to the UAE all in the pursuit of chasing the world’s most exotic cars. The UAE is a country where most would assume is heavily saturated with supercars and although this is true, I’d like to show you my experiences of the car culture in the UAE. Be warned, this is an amalgamation of 4 years of travel so it is a long read…

Now at this point (around summer of 2016) my knowledge of the Middle Eastern Car scene was everything I had seen in London and on social media. In my head Lamborghini’s, Bugatti’s and Ferrari’s are littered everywhere like Taxi’s, all in loud and brash wraps. It’s no secret that the wealthy residents of UAE appreciate their cars and love to get their hands on the latest and greatest shown by the sheer amount of supercars I’ve seen in London every year baring Abu Dhabi, Dubai and sometimes Sharjah plates. The reality was, I had never been to a Middle Eastern country before although wanting to, I never had the reason to go. However in late 2016, the opportunity arose to travel out to Dubai with a group of friends. 

I’d reached out to a few people and companies prior to our flight who may have been able to give us access to some cars whilst we were there for a couple weeks. One thing I learnt from this experience was everyone’s plans are very fluid, no one has things set in stone and sometimes everything is done at the last minute. When we landed on our first day, we had no plans for the 2 weeks ahead but by the end of it I had visited all the malls, supercar dealerships, driven a Lamborghini Huracan, went to one of the best car meets I had ever been to, got invited to a party showcasing some of the worlds most expensive cars and went to the private resident’s lounge at the top of the Burj Khalifa. Not bad for my first trip to Dubai and ever since I’ve made an effort to go back to the UAE every winter. 

When you think of the UAE, you’ll probably think about the deserts, the camels, the architecture and the shopping – I was mostly looking forward to seeing the cars personally. From all the photos and videos I’ve ever seen on Flickr, YouTube or Instagram I knew that the valet parking at the Mall is where you’re most likely to find some cool cars. Upon arrival the first thing I noticed was how far away everything is from each other. Dubai has two main malls that it’s well known for – The Dubai Mall and the Mall of The Emirates, which are both easily accessible from Sheikh Zayeed Road. City Walk is also another notable place to visit for the occasional car spot. Located just down the road from the Dubai Mall, City Walk is an outside shopping area with plenty of restaurants and shops combined with contemporary architecture which houses high end residential apartments. I even stayed in a City Walk AirBnB for a weekend and I can honestly say it is as convenient as convenient can get with the added perk that you can see some supercars cruising around. It’s also home to the W Motors showroom where you can see the Lykan Hypersport and Fenyr Supersport.

Sheikh Zayeed Road is the super-highway that runs from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, if you go down Sheikh Zayeed Road you’ll notice car dealerships on both sides. Some are official dealer franchises like McLaren, Lamborghini, Rolls Royce and Bentley and others are independent dealers which have a mix of some of the most amazing stock. Notable independent dealers for me are Al Ain Class, VIP MOTORS, QMOTORS and The Car Vault UAE which are all located on Sheikh Zayeed Road.

If you have more of a taste for classics, you must go to Tomini Classics in Al Barsha, I was lucky enough to do a shoot with a 512BB they had in stock and see what they had in their private storage dubbed ’the vault’ — seriously make time to go here if you have a passion for classic and modern classic cars. Most car dealers in the UAE are happy for you to go in and take photo’s of cars, in fact this seems to be the general attitude of most car people out there – A lot of people like sharing their passion about cars with other likeminded people. 

One person who I managed to connect with over cars during my first trip was Natalia Itani. Natalia is a businesswoman, singer and well-known influencer in the UAE. She drives a Lamborghini Huracan and runs a supercar rental company as well as a car customisation company in Dubai. She was the first person to respond when I messaged her about doing a shoot with her car and after talking to her for a few hours about her passion of cars in person she offered to let me drive her car. This was my first ever experience of driving a supercar and I’m still very grateful that she trusted me enough to drive her car. She is one of the most kind-hearted women I’ve ever met and has since changed the appearance of her Huracan as well as adding a 570S Spider to her garage which you can check out on here Instagram here. 

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Like most cities where there’s an abundance of nice cars, the UAE has some pretty impressive detailers. I visited the guys at DISTRICT31 UAE for the first time back in 2016 to check out their detailing space in Al Quoz. The guys there use multicoloured light to show imperfections in the paint and show how the paint reacts in different lighting scenarios – It’s something I’ve never personally seen done before. Anyway, after spending a few hours there seeing how they work, they suggested attending a morning car meet that was happening that week – Nothing massive but a wide variety of cars in a relaxed environment which would showcase the kind of car culture the UAE has to offer – This was the first Caffeine & Machine meet I ever attended. 

I never had planned to go to a morning car meet in Dubai and with the 4 hour time difference between there and the UK, one that started at 8 am was definitely going to be a struggle for me to get out of bed. Regardless of my lack of sleep, we left our hotel in the early hours of the morning and went back down to Al Quoz and waited for cars to turn up. The first cars that turned up was a group of Porsche’s led by a PTS Maritime Blue 991.1 GT3 RS. After that the cars just kept coming, were talking slammed JDM and Euro cars, track cars and classics. It was the most varied car meet I have ever attended and I would even go as far to say it’s the best morning meet I’ve ever been to. It’s not just the variety of cars but the people there made it special. It wasn’t about where you were from, who you were as a person or what car you had. Everyone had mutual respect for each other and just spent a morning drinking coffee and talking about cars. Honestly, it was the best car meet I had ever been to, the mix of cars and people created an atmosphere that I had never experienced before at a meet. I had to find the person in charge of the meet and found out the guy that was in charge is a total dude.

Phil McGovern is the head honcho of Caffeine & Machine and said it all just started out with a group of friends who liked cars going for a morning coffee, then it started gaining traction — turning into small meets, proper events and now he’s moved back to the UK, he’s decided to set up shop in Stratford-Upon-Avon with a bed and breakfast/event space aptly named Caffeine & Machine which encapsulates the same spirit of the meets that occurred in Dubai. I remember contacting Phil whilst I was back in the UK and he still in Dubai, talking about when the next meets were going to happen etc. I even planned my 2017 trip around what turned out to be the last Caffeine & Machine meet in the UAE which was very brilliantly managed by Fred who was working at DISTRICT31 UAE at the time. 

The day after I went to the first C&M meet, I had been messaging a couple guys who were visiting Dubai from LA with their White Veyron Vitesse (as you do), better known as Whitesse and Whitesse Jnr. We met a couple days prior at a party hosted by ParcFerme ME – a private and secure storage facility in Dubai. Again this was a last minute thing so they suggested that we came over to saw them at where they were staying and shoot the car in the underground car park, obviously I wasn’t going to say no… Anyway, we were told the address to go to and it turns out that it was the private Armani Residences in the Burj Khalifa. So after a slight misunderstanding with the gate house we were let in, admittedly it did look a bit odd that we were 5 lost-looking tourists in a Nissan Sentra rental arriving at the private residential entrance of the Burj Khalifa but that was all cleared up upon arrival. Anyway, we were taken down to the private underground garage which must’ve been the most humid car park I have ever visited. We were greeted with the Californian registered Veyron Vitesse parked next to a small collection of Ferrari’s including a LaFerrari, F12 TdF, 599 GTO, 458 Speciale Aperta and a Mercedes Benz G500 4×4² (presumably as a daily) we were also told that the owner was also expecting an Enzo the week after which he did indeed get but over the years the collection got so well known and since then all the cars seemed to have been sold and replaced with a more modest fleet of luxury cars. Anyway, after spending probably about 30 minutes in the car park we headed up to the private resident lounge which was more than 120 feet up, the view was surreal from the top and definitely an experience to remember.

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Dubai Views. #MyDubai #BurjKhalifa

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My first trip to Dubai set the precedent for me to go back each year. The events I’ve attended to out there have all brought something different to the table. One unique meet and drive I attended was hosted by a friend of mine flat.12. He had arranged a drive from AirWerks (a detailing centre in Al Quoz) to Hatta Dam. There was a wide variety of classic and modern cars including a Nissan Skyline GT-R in Kenmeri and Hakosuka form, a Porsche 997.2 and 991.2 GT3, a couple of old Alfa Romeo 1600 Junior’s, an El Camino and even a Honda Beat. It was far from what I had been usually seeing at the Malls and cruising along Jumeirah at night. These cars were full of character, they had memories and stories attached to them. 0-60 times didn’t matter, it was the journey that really made it special. I mean who would’ve thought that you would see 2 classic Alfa Romeo’s and a kei car driving around the mountains in the UAE? Anyway, here’s some photo’s from the drive… 

Some of the most impressive events I’ve attended to in the UAE were hosted by Supercar Owners Circle (SOC). SOC events are ultra exclusive and reserved for some of the worlds rarest cars. Whether it be in the UK, Switzerland or the UAE – you can guarantee the cars in attendance will be impressive. I attended the SOC UAE prologue event at the Burj Khalifa and their first official event at the Bvlgari Dubai Hotel and Residences. The lineup of cars in both events was very impressive and seeing all of them in convoy was definitely a sight to behold. Here’s some photos from both the prologue and the first event that SOC hosted in Dubai.

The final destination for both events was Abu Dhabi, more specifically the SBH Royal Auto Gallery – a private car collection owned by one of the members of the Al Nahyan Emirati Royal Family. This is a place I’ve always wanted to visit ever since seeing Tim’s (Shmee150’s) video tour of the gallery. It is honestly the most impressive collection of cars i’ve ever seen in my life and did genuinely take my breath away the first time I saw it. You enter through these gates manned by armed guards into what appears to be a vast walled-off desert which contains some roads and a few signs. You follow the signs to the Auto Gallery then see a few buildings in the distance. You arrive outside this grand building which could be mistaken for a palace, across the way there’s a beautiful garden with a water feature running through it. Behind the building there is a few large villas with garages where a SL65 Black Edition and 812 Superfast were parked outside. Adjacent to the villas is a large go-kart track, when I say large there was 2 cars drifting in tandem on it so yeah… pretty big. The front of the building is mostly mirrored glass with white arches surrounding the doors. The doorman opens the door and you enter into an air conditioned hall full of the worlds rarest and most desirable automobiles. There was literally something for everyone, ranging from a MC12, to a fleet of various Veyron’s and even an original Benz Motorwagen from the 1800s! A fun fact, the only car that isn’t in launch spec that was on display in the main gallery was the McLaren P1 (thanks for the fact Tim). There’s even a games room with pool tables, a bowling alley, cinema room and full car themed pool – It was like I was stuck in an episode of MTV Cribs. The second half of the tour led to another part of the grounds where a warehouse was located. It contained the overflow of cars which weren’t displayed in the main gallery. Some of the cars included the following; Ferrari F40, Ferrari 458 Speciale Aperta, Ford GT (2005), McLaren 675LT Spider Carbon Edition, a whole line of each generation of Land Rover Defender, Range Rover and Toyota Land Cruiser as well as Mitsubishi Pajero.  Here’s some of the shots I took from the collection whilst I was there both in 2017 and 2019.

Pirelli Middle East is another company who really know how to host an event. As part of my weekend schedule when I was in Dubai for SOC, I also had been invited to the opening of Pirelli’s flagship store in the UAE – PZERO World in Al Barsha. All the local car clubs had been invited to see their new facilities and view the wide range of products available for them. The second half of this event occurred the day after at Yas Marina GP circuit in Abu Dhabi where supercar owners had an open pit track session as well as a chance to experience Pirelli’s products first hand in their choice of McLaren. The entry level 570S was wearing the standard PZERO Road tyres, the top tier 720S was wearing the more track focused PZERO Corsa Road tyres and the track toy 600LT was wearing the track only PZERO Trofeo R semi slick tyres – I had a choice of which car I could go out in, I could have driven all three but there was only one I was interested in given the tyres were different – The 600LT. I had a short but sweet experience with the 600LT with only a couple hot laps around Yas Marina circuit but it was an unforgettable experience. The car and the tyres performed as expected with ballistic speed and limitless grip in the corners. Trying to take in the sunset whilst blasting down the Yas Marina straight felt surreal, almost like a video game. I extend my thanks again to Pirelli Middle east who invited me to the event. I had to miss this years event but I will be back again for sure! 

Finally, I’d like to share some of my fellow photographer’s and other car related businesses of people I met whilst out in the UAE, if it wasn’t for these guys I wouldn’t have seen some of the cars I did whilst out there and I wouldn’t have had such a great time. Social media is often casted in a bad light for fuelling a facade that is our online presence but honestly without social media I wouldn’t have been able to meet some of these amazing people who have helped me out along the way it showing me cars or just cool places around the UAE. 

First and foremost is my good friend Chris. He has been the person who has come all the way to the Middle East with me most of the times I have been – mostly because we both agree The Cheesecake Factory is worth the journey.

Akash Kumar is one of the funniest dudes I’ve ever met and a talentedphotographer too. He’s definitely a guy to follow on Instagram if you want to see quality car content from the Dubai and the UAE!

Auto Mystique Car Care (AMCC) is one of the detailers I visited during my second trip to Dubai. I had seen their social media posts and saw that they usually get some pretty cool cars in there, here’s some shots of the cars they had in at the time. 

I first met my friend Aldric Alexander who is AMCC’s in house Photographer and Social Media manager at their facility when he showed me around. Aldric is another must follow photographer based in Dubai who is well known across the UAE for his crazy shots.

Next is NVNMotorworks, I first heard of NVN through Mr. JWW’s video on the Dubai based detailing company a few years back, I had been meaning to visit for a while to see their facility and finally did at the end of 2019 when I shot their LFA in the desert. I had actually visited NVN’s London facility earlier in the year so it was good to see where it all started!

Finally, we have one of if not the biggest car club in the UAE, Supercars Majlis (SCM). I’ve been to a couple of SCM’s drive out events where they’ve had a really cool mix of supercars at each one. There’s always something special that turns up, here’s some shots from the events I attended to over the years.

The car scene in the UAE was always my main attraction to the country but after spending time there I fell in love with the country again and again, the mix of cultures, the food, the silly cheap fuel, the weather and of course the people. If you ever have the chance of going to the UAE then I encourage it, there’s so much to do and explore. On face value it may just seem like a concrete jungle situated in the middle of a desert but you have to go further than the Malls and the beaches. From the amazing twisting roads of Jebel Jais, to the cars cruising along the Jumeriah strip at night, to the Grand Prix circuit at Yas Marina or the modified Land Cruiser’s and Patrol’s on the desert dunes, the UAE is truly a car lovers paradise. 

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