Behind The Scenes: Speedhunting In The UAE
Thursday, February 20th

Real Speedhunting doesn’t happen in your own backyard.

While there’s no doubt a story or two to uncover at home, the real hunting happens in foreign places. It’s only by travelling and meeting new people that you can really study the effects of car culture around the world.

It has been 10 years since I was last in the United Arab Emirates, when I was supposed to cover a drift event which never actually happened. As a team, Speedhunters has been there more than a few times over the years, for events like the Dubai 24 Hour or when Nakai-san was brought in to build three RWB Porsches at the same time. So, it’s not somewhere we’ve never been, but it is somewhere that I think we’ve only really scratched the surface of.

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When someone mentions ‘Dubai’ or ‘Abu Dhabi’ in car culture terms, I’d wager a hefty amount that most people will conjure up images of questionably modified supercars or a Lykan HyperSport jumping between two buildings…

Sure, there’s a place for those in our world, but they always feel superficial to me. It’s not necessarily just because someone has a lot of money and that they can afford to do things the rest of us can’t, I just feel that there’s a right and wrong way in how one goes about these things.

There’s the person who just drops a suitcase of cash off at a workshop, tells them to build something awesome, and comes back X amount of time later to collect. Then there’s the one who’s hands on throughout the whole project and is instrumental in turning a dream project into reality.

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Having paid close attention to your feedback on our coverage of Global Auto Salon in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia last month, I was especially keen to revisit the region and document the kind of car culture that you might expect, and the kind you might not expect either.

2020 has been wild-busy for me so far, so I knew I couldn’t afford to allocate weeks of my time to this (as much as I would have loved to). I needed to get in, cover off as much as possible, and get home again. In order to make the most of a trip, I spoke to a long-time friend from Abu Dhabi, Sultan Al Qassimi.

Anyone who has met Sultan at drift events or car shows across Europe will know that he’s one of the kindest and friendliest people you could ever meet. He also has one hell of an awesome car collection, which is where we will start this story.

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Straight from arrivals at Abu Dhabi International, we headed to an industrial area where Sultan’s own shop is located. It’s very dark, save for an orange glow from the street lights.

While it was Thursday night, it seemed more like a western Friday night. It was the beginning of the weekend in the UAE, and the night before the annual Made show in Dubai, so it was a touch hectic at Sultan’s shop as he worked to get two cars ready for the event – an E46 M3 and Old & New Porsche 997. Both cars are black, with LS swaps and riding on Air Lift Performance suspension.

Sultan gave me a whistle-stop tour of the space, and explained that while it might look like things have been abandoned under a thick coating of dust, it only takes a few days here for this to happen.

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Some of the highlights here are the awesome 13B-powered FC RX-7, the AE86 Trueno with a TRD-built 16-valve, and the casually forged carbon fibre, twin-turbo LS-powered Aston Martin Vantage, his current pro competition car. We’ll have to come back to all of those individually at some point, because they’re all worth a look.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing for me was the JZ-powered E30 on a trailer left out in the street. Fascinating because I don’t think there are many places in the world where a car can be left unattended like this for a long time before someone would eventually ‘permanently borrow’ it.

I was a bit shocked to learn that it had been left there for a few weeks, and belonged to a friend. When I asked if anyone was worried about it being stolen, I was simply told, “No, it just doesn’t happen here.” And it really doesn’t, something that would become a recurring theme. How long would it last where you live?

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With a long night ahead of the team, Sultan dropped me off at my hotel where I could grab a few hours sleep before jumping head-first into proceedings the next morning.

If Thursday is a Friday, then Friday is a Saturday, and this ‘Saturday’ (actually a Friday) was host to one of the best car shows I’ve attended outside of Europe.

Friday, February 21st

Despite a seven-hour-ish flight and a four-hour time difference from GMT, jet lag wasn’t an issue, luckily. We had originally made plans to check out a rally north of Dubai early in the morning, but with the guys at the shop only finishing up at 5:00am, we decided to skip it, grab some extra sleep, find some coffee, and then take our time heading to Dubai, which was only an hour or so from Abu Dhabi by road.

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I wasn’t really expecting a coffee shop quite like this, which is certainly more impressive than my local Starbucks.

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Yes, that’s a genuine 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II contained within a glass case, and yes, I shot a lot more than just these two images. It actually got me thinking about how the whole Cars & Coffee thing has evolved, and this might just be the pinnacle of the movement.

Also, there were two other cars within the same space that were just as impressive. Again, more soon.

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Typically when travelling across Europe, Australia and the United States, things look very similar. The same can’t really be said about the UAE as it’s very distinct. Abu Dhabi in particular features some stunning architecture and buildings, with its Grand Mosque perhaps being the most impressive of all.

How it sticks up out of the earth, and is the purest of white in the desert sun is really something else.

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With it having been 10 years since my last visit here, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot at MADE, which was being hosted at the Dubai Autodrome. The show started at noon, and it was 3:00pm by the time we rolled up, such was our lack of urgency (and also, trying to avoid the midday heat).

To say I was impressed with what was inside and outside the show would be the understatement of the century. It’s only the second time this show has happened here, but the organisers have already been able to strike that ultimate balance between varied cars and an awesome venue.

Yes, I came all the way to the Middle East to eat Mexican food. Don’t @ me, it was epic.

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I really didn’t think in advance that the show would have been so strong. In fact, it has forced a complete rethink after the fact of how I’m going to approach the coverage, because it’s a show that deserves to be covered properly.

Consider this the appetiser for the main coverage which will follow soon.

Saturday, February 22nd
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For my second full day on this trip, I would (naturally) find some fellow Irish people and other Europeans (and a couple of English) and tag along with them for a bit as our itineraries were similar.

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The first stop of this Saturday (which was more of a Sunday) was to Kanzen Motorsports in a duo of Shelby F150s that had been loaned to the guys for their trip. We were stopping by to collect the Made ‘Car of Show’ (spoiler, sorry) for a feature in the desert with one or two other cars that evening.

Kanzen itself will be covered in more detail, as it’s a shop born out of passion and appears to be not only building some of the best cars in the area, but also taking care of those who had travelled long distances to attend the show.

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Unfortunately, the Datsun Fairlady we wanted to feature didn’t want to be featured itself; it lost a belt which caused it to overheat and shut off in traffic. But don’t worry, I’m the persistent sort.

However, I’m not the ‘push the old Japanese car with a tight differential in 30ºC+ heat’ sort. Instead, I offered the guys some protection as they moved the car to safety and onto a flatbed truck. From the comfort of A/C and cooled seats. The things I do…

On the subject of the two F150s, never has 755hp felt less like 755hp. They’re slow, cumbersome, ridiculously large, not built very well, and yet I want one so desperately. That supercharger whine makes up for a lot of the big Ford pickup’s deficits, it must be said.

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Eventually, we made it to the desert with two very different, but equally awesome cars. Dan’s immaculate R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R on Nismo LM GT-1s…

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…and this static Viper on Vossen wheels with a Khyzyl-designed livery, which looked surreal against the desert backdrop. Splitting into two teams, I started shooting the GT-R with the ILB team wrapping up a shoot on the Viper.

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I’d never seen camels in the wild before, so felt that this was something worth adding. They’re basically lumpy horse-cows.

Having finished shooting the GT-R, I was actually quite happy to sit back and soak up the moment.

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I had never really spent any time in a proper desert before, so this was most enjoyable. Not just what we were doing, but watching others make use of the dunes, and some of the last places on earth you can legally enjoy an internal combustion engine to its full potential.

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Eventually, we got around to finishing our respective shoots, loaded up and hit the road back to Dubai. Never pass up an opportunity for rolling shots, even if it means getting sandblasted in the face at 130km/h.

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The next few hours were spent being peak tourists, finally having something to eat and checking out the world’s tallest building and what is apparently one of the most complete Diplodocus fossils in the world, which was naturally inside a shopping centre.

Yes, that’s a Ferrari on the ceiling of our hotel reception, and no, I didn’t ask why.

Sunday, February 23rd
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What would be my last full day in the region was also a relatively simple one; shoot the Datsun from Saturday, get back to Abu Dhabi to shoot some of Sultan’s cars, and fly home.

Not to ruin the surprise, but that’s pretty much how the day turned out.

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Random aside: Have you ever seen a more pointless product in a country that is permanently hot?

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With a new belt sourced for the Z, we refitted it, and finally got to shoot the car. Without doubt, this was the highlight of the whole trip for me. It’s just an awesome car in every way, and one of those ones that I think will just be universally loved when we feature it in the next few weeks.

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Time wasn’t really on our side as we headed back to Abu Dhabi, where we would arrive just after sunset, having missed the best opportunity to shoot the carbon Aston Martin.

It’s a car that deserves a proper shoot and not a makeshift one, so I need to make that happen, and hopefully sooner rather than later.

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While we did have some time to kill before I had to be at the airport, Sultan and I thought it would be worthwhile to bring out some of his cars for a group shot. Asides from being owned by the same person, and all being painted black, the six vehicles all have one thing in common. Care to take a guess?

The Aston Martin, BMW, Nissan, Porsche, Ford and Chevrolet are all LS-powered. There’s approximately 3,000+whp in one picture here, with every kind of LS variant you could ever want: twin-turbo, ITBs, big block, stroker, single turbo and supercharged.

Yes, Sultan has a type. He tried all sorts of engine combinations over the years, but found that the LS suited him the best of all. Don’t worry the AE86 and FC inside are safe, for now…

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I often think that it’s best to leave an event or place while you still want more from it, and that’s pretty much what has happened here. If anything, this felt like an exploratory trip in advance of a proper adventure to the UAE again in the near future. Because despite how much I got to see and shoot, I’m also aware of how much I didn’t get to see or shoot.

There’s a lot more to the UAE and the GCC than just supercars, so I think it’s about time we made these trips a more regular occurrence, but not before I get through everything I need to share with you from this trip first.

Paddy McGrath
Instagram: pmcgphotos
Twitter: pmcgphotos



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reading this adventure was great !! awesome pics and coverage , really enjoyed this ... that opening pic with the flames and the 3rd to last pic (Porsche engine bat read shot ) would make some awesome calendar wallpapers


They were fun photos to capture, although my ears are still ringing...


Amazing place. Great story as ever Paddy. :)


Cheers, Mick.


The car scene in the UAE is amazing!
I really want to go back!!!!


Already trying to organise a return trip.


So when are the individual articles coming out?


The next one has just been submitted, so hoping to get a steady rhythm to them being released.


Looking forward to it!!


That blue R32 looks awesome!


Ah man! This is so cool! I can't wait for more!


I'm totally prejudice. We'd have to eat tacos together before taking an Irishman's opinion about tacos in Arabia with any merit. Next time you're in the Bay Area I'll take you around for a taco tour and basically eff-up your current program.


I'm more of a burrito than a taco type of guy. Some really nice Mexican places in Dublin these days, which were absolutely comparable to some of the places I tried in SoCal.


Great story and great coverage as usual It was great reading it all the way to the end, and can't wait to read what s upcoming from this trip, still can't belive how you managed to cover it all in 3 days. thank you Paddy


It was a wild few days, but would board a plane to go back again in a heartbeat. Awesome scene in the UAE at the moment.


Hey Paddy
It's great to see you enjoying the speedhunting life after stepping down as editor, and with stories like this one It's not hard to see why you made that decision. You have a real talent and I'm glad they're guys like you who can bring us awesome content (and perhaps giving us a little bit of FOMO in the process).

Keep up the awesome work, and don't leave anytime soon.


Thank you, Zihaad.

I've certainly been enjoying my work the last few months, and looking forward to more this year.


Hi, who knows how called wheels on wb e46?


Heritage Wheels, think the model is Imola.


Wow, thanks!


So Is being a photographer for Speedhunters a full-time job or a part-time job? I don't really know pls tell me.


It's part-time for most of us, as we all shoot for multiple clients & outlets.

Also, please don't post the same question in multiple comments sections. Once is enough :)


Great article as always Paddy, can't wait to see the feature on the Z. I seem to remember seeing it in a video winning Made Show in Dubai last year? If its the same one it looked like absolute perfection.


Also, there were two other cars within the same space that were just as impressive.

Judging by the wheel in the background of pic 25, I'd say one of them being a MB CLK DTM AMG (what a name..) ?


That's... impressive.