A banker by trade, Mohammed Luqman Ali Khan became fascinated by motoring history when writing his publication Automobiles of the Nizams. Now, as he prepares to publish landmark study Automobiles of Sheikh Zayed, features writer Camille Hogg sits down with the car enthusiast to find out what Sheikh Zayed’s driving habits say about the leader and how he paved the way for a car-loving nation.
Tell us about the book – why did you want to write about Sheikh Zayed and his cars?
Sheikh Zayed is a national icon. As a researcher, you always want to find out how much of what is being said is true. We want to know the man behind the legend. I’ve been a resident in the UAE for almost ten years, and I wanted to do my bit for the Year of Zayed.
When I went looking for [information], I realised that there are no books that detail the motoring history of the country – that’s when I realised I could be the first to chronicle the historical records. In my research, I found out that Sheikh Zayed was a motor-loving person. It’s so important to make his story global. Not much is known beyond this region of who he was, and I want to tell the world his story.
What kind of cars did Sheikh Zayed drive?
He first took a liking to cars when he was sent by a British agent to travel more of the world in 1948. One of the first cars he had was a four-wheel truck given to him by the British.
Back then, he was the deputy ruler of Al Ain. The cars began trickling in. He had a liking for Land Rovers and Range Rovers, and he had quite a few Mercedes-Benz models – he preferred the Pullman when he went for royal duties. One of the more fascinating things that I tracked down was a Rolls-Royce Phantom V.
It was delivered to him in 1964 and there are these archival images of the car being brought into Abu Dhabi on a dhow. Those kinds of facts kept me going.
What has your research taught you about the person behind the royal persona?
Experts and archival evidence suggest that Sheikh Zayed always preferred large cars.
That’s not because he loved powerful cars or driving fast, this was purely because he wanted to take his entourage alongside him.
The smallest capacity he looked for was at least six seats. As a ruler, his focus was always on governance and the welfare of his people, so the idea behind the large cars was that whenever he would stop while out driving, he would send his emissaries to find out where his people were and check in on their wellbeing.
He never travelled with security guards – the extra seats were not meant for security purposes. In photographs, you often see him at the steering wheel of the car rather than being driven because the car helped him connect with his people, giving an unseen side to the ruler.
What influence do you think Sheikh Zayed’s love for his motors had on the luxury supercars we see in the UAE now?
Being one of the richest men in the world, Sheikh Zayed could have had the best cars, but he drove the cars you and I might, such as Chevrolets and Chryslers.
I think the motor-loving seeds were sown in his era, and that’s how the UAE developed a taste for motoring.
Now we have the affluence to have what we want, and the psyche has changed. The UAE is all about superlatives – the bigger, the bolder. We want to showcase to the world that we have the best – that’s why we are a motor-loving nation.
Automobiles of Sheikh Zayed will be available in Arabic and English online at automobilesofsheikhzayed.com