My Motoring Highlights of 2015

Motoring Middle East Editor-in-Chief, Shahzad Sheikh, looks back at his automotive best bits of the last year

By Shahzad Sheikh

Video – Can TRD FJ Cruiser beat a Toyota 86? MME Challenge – we wanted to know which was best: off-road or on-road. In our spectacular video we find out

As arbitrary a point in one’s life as the New Year marker may be, one of the great things about it is an opportunity to pause and reflect on the period that has just passed. And looking back at my own 12 months as a Motoring Journalist, whilst it hasn’t been one of the best I’ve had in my career, it’s still been utterly splendid with some very memorable key highlights.

Here’s a rundown of my best bits of 2015, plus a low and perhaps even a regret or two when it comes to Motoring.

Shahzad With Hellcat

Driving the Hellcat

Read the full review here, but in short, this car is absurd and ridiculous in the most wonderful and joyous way possible. If there’s octane in your veins then you simply can’t NOT like this car, especially the Challenger Hellcat.

By rights it shouldn’t exist in this mollycoddled, nanny-drip-fed era of idiot proofing the idiot proofing; when manufacturers have to spend more on fighting litigation than they do on styling and design. Evocative emotion is being drained from most mobile conveyances which are becoming really not much more than superbly crafted white goods for the road, as efficient as your microwave and as bland as your fridge.

And yet this thing goes in the opposite direction. Don’t mind the open shirt front with the medallion on the hairy chest, or just accept that it’ll openly cuss and scratch its balls in public – especially as they’re pretty sizeable cajones. It’s an anti-social rogue of machine, that’s always on the run.

It’s wild and, let’s be honest, dangerous too. Don’t expect to have intellectual interactions with a Hellcat, but beware that you’ll fall helplessly in love with it regardless. One of the very few new cars of 2015 that I would have bought on the spot had I the funds to do so.

Driving X-Raid Mini All4 Racing rally car in the Dubai desert

Driving a real Rally car

I have driven just about everything – from a 1920s Bentley Blower to a Formula 1 car (yep a 2000s era Renault), and I’ve been passenger in a WRC rally car, but I’ve never driven a full-on proper rally machine.

Thanks to MINI that changed when I had a go in an X-Raid Mini All4 in the desert. And not just anyone’s car, but Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah – pretty much the best driver in the entire Middle East I’d wager.

Not only that, but I got to navigate for him, which hilariously just saw me shouting out pointless directions and gesticulating wildly whilst actually having no idea where we actually were or where we were supposed to go!

Then of course he took me for a ride and showed me how it was really done. We achieved orbit and I ticked off a big one on my personal Bucket List. What an experience!

Lotus Elise S – video review

Driving a Lotus Elise S

This is the second and, in fact, only other new car that I drove this year which, if the old wallet could have accommodated my whims, I would have handed over good moola for then and there, and kept the key firmly in my pocket instead of handing it back.

The Lotus Elise S may not be the top dog version of this chassis – that would be the Exige S which I drove at the tail end of 2014, and which I also loved. But the light and intuitive touch and responses of the Elise is just absolutely delightful. It’s a car that’s that much more accessible to someone with limited driving skills like myself.

And you really do want to go reaching into its depths of ability, because therein does lie greatness. It dances, it turns, it points, it squirts, it skims the edge of adhesion, it plays at the limits, it begs to be thrashed, but it’s also happy to hum along at cruising speeds. It feels special, it makes you special, it is special. I absolutely loved it.

Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – review

Driving the Morgan Roadster and Three Wheeler.

These are whackadaisical, whimsical and WTF?! cars for sure, but if you get them, you’ll love them with a passion verging on evangelical. They are cars from a different time, a very different place (ye olde England) and they shouldn’t really work or make sense today.

Actually they unequivocally don’t make sense today, but I don’t care. The Morgan Roadster I drove is essentially unchanged in looks, style and practicality since the 1950s, and you’d have to be extremely eccentric, a bit barmy and potentially potty to own and drive one.

But whilst everyone else would be pointing at their heads and twirling their fingers at you, you wouldn’t give rat’s tiny behind, because you’d be in a wonderful world of your own. Particularly if you were running the same car as me with its contemporary Mustang-sourced motor and manual gearbox. One of the most fun drives of the year.

Morgan Three-wheeler kids

As for the Three-Wheeler – essentially a bathtub on mounted on an old pram with one of the wheels missing, and a motorbike engine stuck up the front – it’s an anachronism. People would be justified in calling it a joke, but it’s a joke that the driver is in on!

And he’s laughing every second of his time behind the wheel. He (or indeed she) is also lapping up not only the sense of occasion but the megastar status you immediately enjoy in a Three-Wheeler as everyone, and I mean everyone, wants to take a picture, ask you about it, and try to get in!

Video – Can TRD FJ Cruiser beat a Toyota 86? MME Challenge – we wanted to know which was best: off-road or on-road. In our spectacular video we find out

Doing the Toyota TRD Rock Vs Road Challenge video.

This was an epic video shoot we did with Toyota Al Futtaim and our partners Case Productions. Hugely satisfying and fantastic fun to produce, we’re very proud of this video.

It was a hard slog for sure. A full-on three-day dawn-to-dusk shoot across multiple desert locations with a huge crew. Temperatures soared, tempers flared, cars got stuck and things got tense. But at the same time we had laughs, we had ‘phew’ moments, we had high-fives and at the end of it, we had a terrific film that a lot of people have compared to Top Gear.

And that to us is a huge compliment. It’s one of the most visited pages on the website, and the highest viewed video of the year on our YouTube Channel. A hugely satisfying achievement and I believe we have once again raised the bar for the kind of content that can be created right here in the region.

Audi S6

Running the Audi S6 as my long-term test car

You can read all about our long-term test of the Audi S6 here, and there’s even a review, but neither of these, I think (and that’s conceding my own failing), quite manage to convey the impressive feel-good factor of ‘owning’ one of these.

It is a tremendously capable car, not only in terms of practicality and comfort, but also, remarkably, in the performance and handling excellence it demonstrates. However there’s just something (call it the X-Factor if you like) about its reassuring robustness and sheer likeability that goes beyond metrics and measurables, and it is something that you only come to learn of and appreciate over a longer period.

Classic Lotus Esprit V8 in Dubai video review

Driving all those wonderful Classics

This was something of a Year of the Classics for me, and an opportunity to strike some major entries off my ‘Must Drive before I Die List’.

Obviously – seeing as it’s always been my dream car – the Lotus Esprit V8 is number one on this list. I have actually driven an Esprit, at the Lotus HQ in Hethel in fact, on its own test track, back in 1989. But that wasn’t a V8.

So this was a very special dream come true for me, and I’m very grateful to the then owner (he’s since sold it) Matt Denton, for allowing me to do so. You may argue whether a 14 year old car qualifies as a classic, but I would simply stick out my palm and say ‘talk to the hand…’

BMW E30 M3

The 87 BMW E30 M3 I drove is indisputably a classic though, and a real gem of a special machine. Lovely to see Luke McGreevy’s immaculate example, and even better to pedal it. I used to own an E30 325i SE Coupe, and to this day regret selling it. Nice to finally drive this legend.

Jenson Interceptors

I’d never driven a Jensen Interceptor, let alone a one-off unique 600bhp plus custom classic with a supercharger sticking out the bonnet! As one of only two journalists in the world who has driven this, it was something of a very special privilege.

Fiat X1/9

The original ‘poor man’s mid-engined Ferrari’ is the Fiat X1/9. I always loved its rakish good looks, and we’d featured one a while back, but I hadn’t driven it. Now with an upgraded Uno Turbo engine, it was finally time to give it a run!

VW Kombi vans

Volkswagen’s classic Kombi and Campervans are legends and the Hippy Heroes of the 60s. This year I finally got to drive one for the first time, and it really wasn’t bad at all!

KITT from Knight Rider in Dubai - we drive it

And last but definitely not least, which petrolhead doesn’t love Knight Rider the original TV series featuring KITT? Well here’s another fantasy fulfilled – I got to drive a replica.

Jeep video

Conquering the 2015 Dubai Motor Show!

Exaggeration?  It actually was a kind of conquering! We comprehensively covered the shit out of the show, we produced nine quality videos in the first two days and we run a series of daily live panel discussion shows every evening. We were utterly knackered by the end of it, but ultimately extremely proud of our achievements.

Lotus Festival

Lotus Festival at Brands Hatch in UK

A very special treat for me personally this year, was an opportunity to head down to the Lotus Festival at Brands Hatch in the UK, made particularly special as it commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Lotus Esprit.

Talking of which, there was one rather low point – and that was discovering this poor Esprit Turbo in Ajman. I had found this very same Esprit abandoned in Sharjah about seven years ago.

Old Lotus Esprit

I couldn’t find the owners then, and eventually it disappeared. This year it re-emerged, but it was in much worst condition than before, and a Nissan engine had been supplanted instead of the original Turbo unit. I’ve been told that the owner wants the engine removed and the car sent to the crushers. I fear this thing will sadly meet its demise.


Any Regrets?

In 2014 I did a record number (for me personally) of automotive press trips organised by manufacturers to launch their latest cars in various parts of the world. This year, I didn’t do any overseas event at all. Not one single international launch.

Honestly I’m not a huge fan of the travelling part of these events, but of course I like the driving part, and the opportunity to meet with and talk to the designers and engineers that you often get on these trips. Perhaps I should buck up and take on a few trips in 2016? What do you think?

Anything else? Yeah, not having a cool car of my own. Fingers crossed for this year though!

Now share with us YOUR motoring highlights of 2015 in the Comments section below!

See also:

Our Top Ten Motoring ME stories and videos of 2015

My 10 Motoring Predictions for 2016

My personal favourite pictures of 2015

One response to “My Motoring Highlights of 2015”

  1. jon says:

    wonderful indeed.great job.more power for you this year and coming years.

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