An Entrant's View: the Kuwait Concours d'Elegance
It's small. It's sunny. And it's very, very rich.
Forget Monte Carlo; here the locals employ foreigners, not vice versa, and apart from the occasional incursion by jealous neighbours (a mustachioed fellow called Saddam turned up uninvited in 1991) they enjoy a charmed life. Free healthcare? Of course. Getting married? Here, have some money to buy a house. Food prices a bit steep this year? Awfully sorry, have some more. And we apologise if a full tank of petrol for your Lamborghini should creep over $25 and cause undue hardship.
Stepping off the plane in Kuwait City after leaving freezing Paris just a few hours earlier (it's a six hour flight and only a two hour time difference) you suddenly find yourself in a completely new world. Literally; it looks as if everything has been built since the bad guys left, and it's still a work in progress. Rows of gleaming buildings are punctuated by the odd one bearing decades-old battle scars. Everything shines. Everyone smokes- everywhere, starting at the queue for passport control. And nobody drinks, which must make the Coca Cola importer a very lucky man because that's all anyone seems to consume.
Like their peers in this part of the world, the Kuwaitis like cars and have the means to indulge their passion. The idea of collecting old cars is something of a novelty here, where anything four-wheeled with a life measured in years was traditionally earmarked as a gift for a trusted retainer or a souvenir for eccentric visitors to take home. But that's changing, led by the collector-in-chief himself, Prime Minister HRH Nasser Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah who - I hope you'll forgive the self-censorship - is said to own x,xxx cars, with a particular penchant for Aston Martins and Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwings. Oh, and Ferrari 400is...No, I didn't ask why either.
Sheikh Nasser is a hospitable, larger than life character who thought it would be rather nice to invite a few Western collectors to discover his country and, in turn, display their prized possessions to an eager, fresh audience who have only ever seen most classics in photographs. So when an invitation from HRH arrived in Geneva, accompanied by a pair of airline tickets (one for the owner, the other for the car), dates were booked and the trusty black Miura dusted off. Neither of us had been to Kuwait before and the idea of driving an old sports car through a Middle Eastern landscape seemed very Lawrence of Arabia...
Fast forward to our arrival. Sixty classics are lined up on the waterfront in Kuwait City's very modern marina, flown in from around the world and ranging from a dainty 1913 Bugatti Type 22 to 454 cubic inches of '72 Chevelle muscle car. Equally formidable is the judging line-up, headed by ex-Pininfarina maestro Leonardo Fioravanti (he of Dino and Daytona fame) backed by luminaries such as Andrea Zagato, Chris Bangle, Marek Reichman, Ulrich Bez, Tom Tjaarda and Sandra Kasky-Button. I won't give away the numerous surprises in case you're invited to next year's concours, other than to share some of the photographs highlighting what must rank as one of the most surreal events in the classic motoring calendar.
In case you're wondering this fascinating discovery was nothing to do with the official programme, and no, they're not for sale...
Just as collecting tastes in this part of the world share little in common with Western conventions, so this relaxed, five day event felt nothing like its intense European and American counterparts. If the pace of progress between the first and second editions is any indication, pay attention to 2012.