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Cruising Through the Desert: A Love Letter to Dubai's Most Iconic Classic Cars

Cruising Through the Desert: A Love Letter to Dubai's Most Iconic Classic Cars - The Sheikh's Favorite Rides

The garages of Dubai's royal family overflow with exotic supercars and vintage classics alike. When Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum takes a cruise through the city, it's in high style indeed. The sheikh's car collection numbers in the hundreds, spanning makes and models from across decades. He appreciates both the sleek lines of modern hypercars and the elegant curves of vintage coupes. For special occasions, he may roll out in one of his many Rolls-Royce Phantoms, the peak of luxury on four wheels. The sheikh also enjoys showing off his one-of-a-kind Mercedes SLR Stirling Moss - with no roof or windshield for an adrenaline-pumping open-air ride.

But just as often, Sheikh Mohammed hits Dubai's roads in classics like his powder blue 1969 Dodge Charger. He's known to take this muscle car icon out for a spin along the city's scenic coastal drives. Under the hood lies a big-block V8 bored out to 440 cubic inches, specially built to deliver thunderous acceleration. Yet the sheikh also has a soft spot for more diminutive classics, like his baby blue 1961 Jaguar E-Type. This British roadster provides an agile, spirited driving experience on Dubai's winding desert lanes. Its inline-six engine sings as the sheikh shifts through the smooth four-speed manual transmission.

Cruising Through the Desert: A Love Letter to Dubai's Most Iconic Classic Cars - Dune Buggies and Sand Rovers

Beyond the boulevards and high-rises of Dubai lies a sea of sand ripe for off-road exploration. Those who crave adventure beyond the city limits turn to rugged dune buggies and sand rovers specially equipped to traverse the ever-shifting desert terrain. These purpose-built vehicles open up possibilities for adrenaline-fueled rides over towering dunes and through hidden desert valleys.

The dune buggy first emerged in California as a DIY kit for transforming old Beetles into lightweight open-air runabouts. Today's buggies retain the same formula - an engine mounted out back, soft suspension, fat tires, and minimal bodywork for kicking up sand. Local garages in Dubai churn out custom buggies optimized for tackling the region's massive dunes. Souped-up V8s deliver torque to climb steep slopes, while long-travel shocks soak up harsh landings off ridge crests. Some enthusiasts outfit their buggies with prototype turbochargers and nitrous oxide injection for outrageous straight-line speed runs across the open sands.

More recently, high-end auto manufacturers have taken notice of this niche 4x4 market. Boutique brands like Brabus now offer hand-built "sand rovers" boasting luxurious, leather-lined interiors and billet aluminum accents. Under the skin, these ultra-capable trucks feature portal axles for extreme suspension travel and custom long-range fuel tanks. Owners put them to the test in the Liwa Desert's Moreeb Dune, considered one of the tallest sand peaks in the world. Cresting Moreeb's orange ridge after a grueling climb provides a sight that's only accessible by a sophisticated sand rover.

Cruising Through the Desert: A Love Letter to Dubai's Most Iconic Classic Cars - Under the Hoods of Dubai's Rarest Beauties

The automotive treasures of Dubai extend beyond the sheikh's personal collection to the carefully curated garages of other motoring enthusiasts across the city. While Dubai boasts its share of Ferraris and Lamborghinis, the true gems are the rare classics seldom seen outside collectors' private warehouses. These limited production exotics and one-offs represent the pinnacle of style and performance from decades past.

Lifting the hoods of Dubai's rarest beauties reveals meticulously built engines boasting heritage and horsepower in equal measure. The sheikh's own 1969 Dodge Charger R/T hides a 440 V8 enlarged to 500 cubic inches - a fire-breathing monster fed by a demonic 4-barrel carburetor. Only a handful of Chrysler's "Elephant" engines were ever built, making this one of the most powerful muscle car powerplants in existence. Across town, a Qatari diplomat keeps his bespoke 1960s Iso Grifo on standby for late-night blasts down Sheikh Zayed Road. Under its sculpted Italian hood beats an American V8 - a 7-liter Chevy big block punching out over 500 horsepower. This ultra-rare 90-degree powerplant was mated to a 5-speed manual transaxle for blistering acceleration.

But European exotics with high-revving precision engines also have pride of place in elite collections. In a temperature-controlled showroom sits a silver 1964 Aston Martin DB5, one of only 1,023 ever built. Its 4.0 liter inline-six exhilaratingly propels James Bond's iconic GT with 280 horsepower on tap. Nearby, under the rear hood of a sexy 1961 Maserati 3500 GT Touring rests a race-bred DOHC six feeding a 5-speed transmission - a high-strung powerplant worthy of this Pininfarina-penned grand tourer. For curators lucky enough to own one of Italy's ultimate 1960s supercars, the Miura, seeing its cissoid 390-hp V12 canted sideways behind the seats always inspires awe.

Cruising Through the Desert: A Love Letter to Dubai's Most Iconic Classic Cars - Tracking Down Hidden Gems in Al Quoz

Tucked away in gritty warehouses and homemade garages across Al Quoz lie automotive treasures only the most dedicated enthusiasts ever uncover. Unlike Dubai's gleaming showrooms and private collections, Al Quoz offers a down-to-earth hunting ground for those seeking forgotten classics and abandoned racers. Patience and persistence are required to track down the district's hidden gems, but for many devotees, the thrill of the find makes all the effort worthwhile.

Petrolheads swap whispered tips on where to spot one-of-a-kind classics, but exploring Al Quoz's sprawling workshops and salvage yards is the only way to uncover its secrets. Amjad first caught the collector's bug when he discovered a weathered 1969 Jaguar E-Type abandoned behind an auto shop. Though missing its engine and sitting on deflated tires, the iconic shape of this British roadster captured Amjad's imagination. After negotiating a sale, he spent countless hours tracking down genuine parts to return this neglected Jag to its former glory. For Amjad, resurrecting forgotten machines offers endless satisfaction.

Others come to Al Quoz in search of motorsports history. In a dingy warehouse, Salim discovered a 1989 Porsche 962 languishing under a layer of dust. Only 91 of these Le Mans-winning prototypes were ever constructed. Salim easily recognized the enormous rear wing and flat-six engine mounted low behind the cockpit. After realizing the 962's provenance as the last Porsche to win Le Mans, Salim moved quickly to purchase this centrepiece for his personal racetrack. For enthusiasts like Salim, the garages of Al Quoz represent a living museum of motorsports innovation.

Cruising Through the Desert: A Love Letter to Dubai's Most Iconic Classic Cars - Cruising Jumeirah Road in Vintage Style

For classic car enthusiasts in Dubai, no drive sums up the magic of motoring quite like a cruise down Jumeirah Road in a vintage ride. This palm-lined boulevard running parallel to the coast has been the city's premier automotive showplace since the 1950s. Decade after decade, Jumeirah Road has drawn Dubai's most extravagant machines out for lazy afternoon drives or brisk nighttime runs. To cruise this stretch in a classic conveys an irresistible sense of style and occasion.

While the road houses plenty of luxury dealerships selling today's supercars, old-school classics feel most at home on this grand, seaside avenue. Passing the Burj Al Arab's iconic sail-shaped facade in a vintage Mercedes SL, Jaguar E-Type or Maserati Ghibli offers a taste of motoring elegance no modern hypercar can replicate. The relaxed pace of a classic cruiser lets drivers and passengers savor the view over Dubai's beaches through oversized windows or open tops. Car clubs will coordinate convoys of vintage European sports cars or 1950s American cruisers for scenic Sunday drives down Jumeirah Road, offering waves and revved engines to pedestrians all along the route.

For those behind the wheel, the connection between car and driver fostered by vintage steering and engine feedback makes pampered cruising on Jumeirah Road all the more tactile. The light steering effort and buttery throttle response of a 1960s Alfa Romeo Spider provides the ultimate relaxed drive. Laying into the throttle of a classic V8 elicits primal acceleration forces absent from today's computer-managed engines. Simply negotiating Jumeirah's roundabouts in a tail-happy Italian exotic or torque-rich American muscle car brings a smile few new cars can match.

Beyond classics, Jumeirah Road also showcases lovingly restored regional rarities seldom seen elsewhere. Plush 1990s Toyota Land Cruisers and Nissan Patrols offer a glimpse into the early days of Japanese luxury in the Gulf. These behemoths provide a supple ride along a road they once dominated. Finding an immaculately kept 1990s Land Rover Defender lets drivers channel the spirit of Dubai's early desert explorers. But rarest of all are the 1960s and 70s American land yachts that have made their way to Dubai more recently. Spotting a vintage Cadillac Eldorado or Lincoln Continental Mark III gliding along Jumeirah Road feels like a priceless snapshot of old-school American excess transplanted into an Arabian seaside setting.

Cruising Through the Desert: A Love Letter to Dubai's Most Iconic Classic Cars - The Thrill of the Find: Digging for Desert Treasure

For devoted classic car collectors, few pursuits compare to the thrill of unearthing long-forgotten automotive treasures hidden away in barns, garages, and warehouses across the vast Arabian desert. This remote setting harbors vintage vehicles of all stripes just waiting to be rediscovered by intrepid enthusiasts willing to take the search off-road. The promise of stumbling upon a rare classic or priceless collector's item keeps these die-hard petrolheads returning to the dunes time and again.

Mohammed first caught the digging bug after hearing rumors of a 1960s Ferrari sitting in an abandoned stable east of Al Ain. He set off into the desert without a map, guided only by locals' whispered tales of a mythic red sports car entombed in sand. After three days combing the area in his old Land Rover, Mohammed finally glimpsed a flash of color peeking out from beneath a weathered tarp. Fighting back nerves, he unveiled the dusty canvas to reveal the unmistakable sight of a 1967 Ferrari 330 GTC. This ultra-rare Pininfarina coupe immediately quickened Mohammed's pulse, rewarding his perseverance beyond his wildest dreams.

For Ahmed, the tales passing through his grandfather's garage set him on his own desert treasure hunt. As a boy, he would listen in awe as his grandfather described servicing a royal family's private collection hidden somewhere in the vast Liwa desert. Now as an adult, Ahmed dedicates his weekends to scouring the endless dunes for a fabled garage said to hold classic Bentleys, Cords, and Duesenbergs. Out in Liwa's stark wilderness, the line between myth and reality blurs - until the moment Ahmed spots a collapsed roof peeking above the endless orange horizon. Could this remote building contain the entire lost collection he has dreamed of for so long? For Ahmed and many others, the lure of uncovering automotive history amid the ever-shifting sands persists as a siren song few can resist.

Some set out on searches closer to the city streets. Karim combs Dubai's sprawling used auto parts markets each weekend, hunting for rare badges, hood ornaments, and other artifacts signaling forgotten classics lurking somewhere nearby. His keen eye recently recognized an AC fuel cap from a 1950s Cobra sitting in a scrap pile - a clue that sent him digging through warehouses for weeks until he located the disassembled British sports car. For Karim, these automotive puzzles continuously fuel his passion.

Cruising Through the Desert: A Love Letter to Dubai's Most Iconic Classic Cars - Lost in Time: Forgotten Models Rediscovered

The sands of time bury all things, including many remarkable classic cars that once ruled Dubai's roads. But the relentless work of enthusiasts driven by passion ensures some lost legends resurface from obscurity decades later. These rediscovered models ultimately find new life in restoration shops and collectors' garages.

No enthusiast better represents this determined spirit than Ali, who devoted over a decade to unearthing and restoring his 1960 Plymouth Fury convertible. The product of a collaboration between Chrysler's design chief Virgil Exner and Italian coachbuilder Ghia, only 18 Fury Specials were ever built. Ali first learned of this obscure model through rumors of one languishing in a Palm Jumeirah warehouse. After finally locating the car under piles of sand and debris in 2015, Ali spent countless hours tracking down original parts across three continents to return the Fury to its former glory.

Seeing this finned American cruiser resurrected in all its massive-tailed glory reflected Ali's unwavering vision. He still smiles every time he cruises Dubai's coastal roads behind the Fury's huge steering wheel, knowing that without his dedication, this special piece of Chrysler history may have been lost forever. Ali's Fury is now a regular at Dubai Classic Car Club meets, turning heads wherever it appears.

Others gravitate towards forgotten European models that have slipped through the cracks here over the years. Jean-Claude drove his 1953 Peugeot 203 sedan every day well into the 1980s before parking it in his shop and forgetting it existed. Thirty years later, Khalid discovered the tiny French saloon entombed in books and tools. He struck a deal to buy it from Jean-Claude, who was amazed to see the car resurrected. After restoring the Peugeot to as-new condition, Khalid enjoyed reuniting Jean-Claude with his beloved 203. Khalid has since made it his mission to seek out forgotten French classics languishing in dusty garages.

Some lost legends require extensive worldwide searching to revive them. Akram became obsessed with the Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Pininfarina Cabriolet after learning only six were ever produced. After chasing dead ends for four years, he finally located the crumbling hulk of one in a Japanese scrapyard. Importing the car to Dubai cost him a small fortune, as did the intricate restoration required to recreate its elegant lines. But cruising along the Dubai Marina in this unique Italian cabriolet makes all of Akram's efforts worthwhile. He adores giving fellow Alfisti their first glimpse of this revived rarity.

Cruising Through the Desert: A Love Letter to Dubai's Most Iconic Classic Cars - Gleaming Metallic Memories on Display

For enthusiasts who prefer to appreciate classic cars with their eyes rather than from behind the wheel, Dubai offers a wealth of opportunities to feast one's gaze on pristine examples of automotive history. Across the city, private collections small and large stand ready to transport visitors back in time through rows of polished hood ornaments, whitewall tires, and flawless paint jobs shimmering under display lighting. These spaces provide a static yet visually breathtaking experience.

At the pinnacle sit the car galleries of royalty like Sheikh Hamad, whose warehouse in Umm Suqeim houses over 200 vehicles from every era imaginable. The sheikh will proudly show guests his prized 1959 Cadillac Series 62 convertible, finished in a brilliant pastel pink and restored to concours condition. Nearby, a Munroney Blue 1965 Ford Mustang coupe gleams with its original pony interior and GaNun matched set of luggage for weekend getaways. For European flavor, the sheikh keeps his peach-colored 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing perpetually ready for a top-down drive along the coast.

Smaller private collections also provide ample eye candy. Ahmad opens his garage each Saturday morning to fellow enthusiasts eager to admire his assortment of vintage Japanese cars in spaces so clean you could eat off the floor. His jewel is a midnight blue 1969 Datsun 240Z with a period-correct L24 inline-six recently imported from the original owner in Osaka. Ahmad enjoys lifting the lightweight fiberglass hood to display the Datsun's twin SU sidedraft carbs. Nearby, a bright orange 1973 Mazda RX-3 coupe represents the pinnacle of Mazda's early rotary engine designs.

Car shows and meet-ups around Dubai satisfy enthusiasts' cravings to see prized classics up close. At the seasonal Bonhams auction preview on Jumeirah Beach, onlookers flock to admire the latest duesenberg, Cord, or Auburn Speedster arriving on the block. Cars & Coffee events at Modell's warehouse draw owners eager to pop their hoods and detail their engine bays for all to admire. And at Dubai Classic Car Club meets, fans gather around local legends like Vikas' silver 1963 Lincoln Continental convertible, its engine detailed to jewelry-like perfection after years of work.

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