When Historic Vehicles Took Centre Stage In A Motor Show

Images: Gautam Sen, Kaustabh Khare

From 6thto the 14th of October, the DECC exhibition centre in the city of Doha, in Qatar, was host to the Geneva Motor Show Qatar… yes, you have read it right…

This was the closest that the Alexander Schaufler-owned Rolls-Royce 17EX has been to India since the 1970s

It wasn’t a case of the Geneva Motor Show being transported to Qatar but the Qatar motor show being branded with the Geneva moniker, as the organisers of the motor show in the Swiss city decided to collaborate, advise and mentor the organisers at Qatar, and in the process, provide the branding the same way Art Basel is held in Miami, Florida.

And this was perhaps the furthest to the East that this Italian Grand Prix-winning Ballot 3/8 LC (also owned by Alexander Schaufler) has been ever

Before you decide to get off this page, no, we won’t be waxing eloquent on the relevance of the Simurgh, the Taliban… err… Afghan supercar (however interesting it may be), or the latest from EV wannabe giants Exeed and Lucid, but about a special show at the rear corner of the exhibition hall that had young and old enthralled: World’s Greatest Motorcars.

The Yohan Poonawalla-owned Nawab of Sachin Rolls-Royce Twenty has been travelling quite a bit since its sojourn to Italy last year

Of course, a title like that will surely call for a lot of controversy when it comes to the line-up of cars that were there and their relevance in the history of the automobile. No doubt the greatest motorcars for many would be cars like the Ford Model T, the VW Beetle, or the Mini and the Citroen DS, as they moved millions or were milestone cars when it came to design and/or technology.

The Omar Hussain Alfardan-owned Rolls-Royce Phantom III 

Perhaps describing these cars as some of the more remarkable cars in the history of the automobile may have been more appropriate, but in the days of social media, exaggerations seem to work better than appropriateness.

As has the Queen's Rolls-Royce Phantom VI

Either way, auto enthusiasts, as well as thousands of the excited and enthusiastic visitors to the show did get to see some superb historic vehicles on display belonging to the most impressive collections of Qatari collectors such as H.E. Omar Hussain Alfardan, the CEO of the Alfardan Group, as well as Austrian, British and Indian collectors Alexander Schaufler, William Medcalf and billionaire Yohan Poonawalla.

The well-known Mysore Bentley (also Yohan Poonawalla's) which is familiar to the readers of this magazine

Curating this display was motoring historian and deRivaz & Ives contributor Mohammed Luqman Ali Khan. Guess that could be the reason why several of the cars would be familiar to the regular readers of this magazine, such as Alexander Schaufler’s Rolls-Royce 17EX (The fabulous life of the Rolls-Royce Phantom I 17EX (derivaz-ives.com) and the Ballot 3/8 LC racer that had won the very first Italian Grand Prix in 1921 (Ballot 3/8 LC: The Car That Won The First Italian Grand Prix (derivaz-ives.com).

The Pope & Mother Teresa's Lincoln Continental (Poonawalla's too) was back in the Middle East for the second time in less than a year 

There were as many as seven cars from the Indian billionaire Yohan Poonawalla, of which as many as five would be familiar to our readers: three Rolls-Royces, the Twenty that used to belong to the Nawab of Sachin (India’s first entry at the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este (derivaz-ives.com), the flamboyant Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, which used to belong to the Maharaja of Mysore (Yohan Poonawalla’s Maharaja Rolls-Royce Wins A Special Award (derivaz-ives.com) and the Rolls-Royce Phantom VI that had been used by the late Queen Elisabeth (The Queen And The Phantom ‘PGH 116’ (derivaz-ives.com).

Yohan Poonawalla's Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental with Sir Malcolm Campbell provenance was being seen in these parts for the first time

Additionally, there was the Bentley Mark VI, another Mysore car (1949 Bentley Mark VI: Mysore 1 Goes Back to Its Birthplace (derivaz-ives.com), and the sublime Lincoln Continental used by the Pope and then given to Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity (The Pope, Mother Teresa And A Lincoln Continental (derivaz-ives.com).

William Medcalf Vintage Bentley Speed Six was impressive for its quality of Pebble Beach style restoration

It’s the other six cars (yes, there were a total of 13 historic vehicles on display) that were of interest to this writer. Centre stage was taken by a Rolls-Royce Phantom V Limousine, which used to belong to the ruler of Qatar, His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Ali Al Thani. Showcased at the 1962 Geneva Motor Show, the car was acquired by the ruler of Qatar.

But the car that yours truly liked the most was the beautiful BMW 328 Roadster owned by H. E. Omar Hussain Alfardan

It was ‘rediscovered’ and restored under the supervision of Mohammed Luqman Ali Khan, after it was acquired by Yohan Poonawalla. According to Mohammed: “This Rolls-Royce Phantom chassis 5LCG25 represents the connoisseurship of Qataris, and it is an automotive monument to the long-held relationship between the State of Qatar and the Geneva Motor Show.”

Delage, the revived marque, had two pre-War cars on display. Entrepreneur Laurent Tapie, who has revived the eminent French marque, poses with a Vanvooren-bodied one

The seventh car from the Poonawalla collection was a Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental, from 1933. Delivered new to the legendary Malcolm Campbell (who coincidentally raced the very same Ballot on the same stand for several years after its racing career was over as a works car, during the 1920s), this Rolls-Royce featured elegant Barker Sports Saloon coachwork.

The tenth international historic vehicle that had been flown in was the Bentley Speed Six belonging to William Medcalf Vintage Bentley, who are well reputed specialists on Cricklewood Bentleys. In an elegant close-coupled Saloon bodywork by Folkestone, this Bentley was supplied new to Viscount Mandeville, the 10th Duke of Manchester. Apparently, it is the sole survivor of only two built in 1930.

The most interesting though were the three ‘local’ cars: two Rolls-Royces and a superb BMW 328 Roadster from 1938. The 1925 Rolls-Royce 40/50HP Silver Ghost was a Made in America Springfield product, which had been sold new to bond dealer A.E. Fitkin of New York. Bodied by Merrimac, the style was that of a Piccadilly Roadster, which gave the car a certain American jauntiness to its profile.

And yes, there was a Ferrari too at the National Auto Museum stand

The other Rolls was a most impressive Phantom III, from 1937, with an H J Mulliner Saloon body. “Supplied new in 1937 to Gustavus Henry Latham who was the Chairman & Managing Director of Whitehead Iron & Steel Company Limited, the car was delivered to Newport Wales and was originally registered ‘BDW 1’,” explained Mohammed.

The car that tours truly found most attractive was the stylish, lightweight, and beautifully proportioned BMW 328 Roadster. With less than 200 surviving from amongst 464 made, the 328 Roadster epitomises BMW’s finest pre-War car, and this example, from 1938, is a pristine one. In fact, this BMW, as well as the two last Rolls-Royce described are part of the highly reputed Omar Hussain Alfardan collection (which span Doha and Geneva).

Qatar is also in the process of readying the national Qatar Auto Museum, under the directorship of Dr. Alkindi Aljawabra, and thus it was most appropriate that two of the cars from the museum was on display on a special stand at the centre of the exhibition hall: a very rare Ferrari 250 GT LWB, from 1957, with Mille Miglia and Tour de France history, and an even rarer one-off, the Mercer-Cobra Roadster.

One of the last designs by the legendary Virgil Exner Sr, the Mercer-Cobra was a neo-retro design exercise long before it became the vogue. Commissioned by the American Copper Development Association to highlight the possible use of copper in automobiles, Exner worked with his son Virgil Exner Jr, in developing this Shelby Cobra-based car, which was bodied by the Italian coachbuilding specialist Sibona & Basano.

The Mercer-Cobra was one of several Exner Revival cars that included the Bugatti Type 101 (bodied by Ghia), Duesenberg and Stutz revivals circa mid-1960s, all with interesting retro references. One just had to go to Doha to see a car that one had read about and seen images of, but never in the metal...

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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