A Middle Eastern Adventure: The Kuwait Concours d’Elegance

My first trip to the Middle East started with a phone call. “What are you doing in February?” my friend Peter asked. After giving the proverbial “I need to check the calendar” response, he replied, “My Aston Ulster has been invited to the Kuwait Concours, and I can’t go. Would you like to go in my place, all expenses paid?”

Aston Martin erected a pavilion just for the show, which makes sense given two Kuwaiti investment funds are investors. The side of the pavilion seen here had new product, while the other side featured several historic cars.

Aston Martin erected a pavilion just for the show, which makes sense given two Kuwaiti investment funds are investors. The side of the pavilion seen here had new product, while the other side featured several historic cars.

And so began one of the better weeks I’ve had in quite some time. The Kuwait Concours is only several years old but is a true up-and-coming venue on the world’s collector car scene, with many of the big boys taking their prized possessions to the show. Because it was going to be a whirlwind few days in a land I’d never been to, I booked a brief stay in England to help offset jetlag. The first night was dinner with a friend who treated me to what he declared was “the best Peking Duck in Europe.” Then it was off to Goodwood for a night with Lord March and family, who are the most delightful, down to earth people imaginable.

The third night was the flight to Kuwait, where an entourage met us at the airport the next morning and whisked us through customs. Our bags were gathered, and we were taken to our hotels. After checking in it was over to the concours site on the harbor, where Pete Racely (the Aston’s caretaker) and I spent some time making sure the Ulster had arrived safely. Outside a dead battery, everything was in order.

We were then taken out to an encampment in the desert for a huge meal with local cuisine. The food was outstanding, flavorful without being too spicy. I also had two firsts: a camel ride, and holding a falcon (what a magnificent creature!). On the trip back into town I saw a sign near an intersection that said, “When the top light turns red, you must stop.” I guess Kuwaiti driver’s education is a bit different from what I got!

Pete and I were out early the next morning, giving the Aston a thorough cleaning, and spending time with the locals wandering the concours field. The Kuwaitis couldn’t be nicer, more hospitable people, and many are totally into cars. Each day numerous clubs caravanned over to the site of the show, and more than once I walked the parking lots to see what people were driving. There was a clear preference for Italian exotics and, surprisingly, American muscle.

The judging panel had a number of heavyweights from the design and concours scene. I’ve worked with our two judges (Horst Bruning and Jurgen Lewandowski) at Villa d’Este, so I knew we had a good team. The competition was tough (Ferrari 375 MM, Maserati 250 F and bunch of others), so Pete and I simply enjoyed the trip, knowing chances for an award were slim to none.

The third day the public showed up en masse. The parking lots were overflowing with exotic machinery (Ferrari and Lamborghini were the favorites), and the place was packed. It was fascinating seeing the traditional Middle Eastern headdress and robes with all the machinery, and well-known western marques with cool looking license plates with the fluid Arabic letters. All the entrants paraded their cars across a ramp in front of numerous dignitaries, and the awards were given out that night. Chip Connor’s fabulous Talbot Lago Teardrop won Best of Show.

Undoubted star for Aston was the world unveiling of the street version of the V12 Vantage Zagato.

Undoubted star for Aston was the world unveiling of the street version of the V12 Vantage Zagato.

I flew home the next day with a big smile on my face. The cars were superb, the cuisine memorable, the locals as hospitable as could be. While camel rides and holding falcons are definitely outside my norm, perhaps the wildest episode of my Middle Eastern adventure happened on the flight down to Kuwait. After taking off I started talking with the gentleman sitting next to me. He was most engaging, was interested in cars, so 15 or 20 minutes into our conversation I asked what he did for a living.

Turned out he was in the international security business (or, as he put it, “hostage for ransom negotiations”; did that ever catch my attention). Luckily for me, we hit it off so well that it looks like the novel has picked up a new advisor. There is a perfect place in the story where I know his knowledge could come in handy.

I hope that all your travels can be as fruitful and enjoyable as mine was to Kuwait.

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