Our Cars: The Red Baron – (1927 Ford Model A-Rod)

The hardest working Hot Rod in history is regularly seen out and about in the UAE
By Gaurav Dhar

What is the Red Baron? Find out more and watch a video here

June 2011

In my last report, the Red Baron was happily gallivanting along the highways of the UAE. Whether it was heading up into the Hajjar mountains along with the Enfield Bikers Club or showing up at a car meet, RB performed superbly. Not a single
splutter, or a howl of protest while I extracted every ounce from the cars classic components, held together by one man’s hard work and labour of love over five years.

That is, till the phantom problems that will at some point manifest itself with any classic car, descended on me.

It all started with driving the car out late one beautiful night when the most random of rains spells happened to befall Dubai. Yes, I know what you are thinking – no top for the car and no engine cover must spell problems. You would be right too, and the phrase ‘when it rains, it pours’ could not have been more apt. The car was soaked; the battery drained and it refused to start without the much appreciated help of some friends’ cars and the jumper cables I now carry everywhere with me.

I must confess it was extremely exciting and challenging to drive the Red Baron in the wet, on empty roads in the early hours of the morning. Trouble is the headlights were fading fast, if I stopped the car would die and I would have to call for
help again! To compound matters, on the way home, I managed to drop it into a massive pothole. I figured that would be the final straw – instead the battery came back to life, the lights came on full power and I could actually see where I was going again! Why? How? No idea. And no one can explain the phenomenon either. Just one of those parapsychological old-car moments.

Nonetheless, the actual fault lay in an alternator that had given up working and the fuses were burning out. The car was sent away; I got a fresh new alternator, battery and realized that I was only using 1 of my 3 carburetors properly on the linkage system. After driving the Red Baron 7000km since last September it I suddenly had to readjust after getting yet more neck-snapping speed. And that wasn’t the only thing snapping, next the accelerator pedal snapped. Not to worry. When you have friends like Ahmed the Trans Am King and Mitch Perera nearby, I was up and running in time for the Orphans charity event in Mirdif.

The Red Baron and I are blessed to have such great friends in the car community. So everything has been fixed and RB is looking good (bar the chroming which remains to be done on my headlights).

Nothing can stop us from eating more tarmac, burning rubber and clocking on more miles in pursuit of taking the joys of Hot Rodding all over the UAE. Or can it? I can’t help shaking a nagging feeling that I’ve gotten off lightly…

February 2011

If you read the last report below you’ll know that the Red Baron, was finally unleashed on the unsuspecting roads of the UAE after much wrangling over registration. Being such a rare car on our roads, not to mention my pride and joy, the plan had been to drive it only on weekends and special occasions.

However, once I got behind the wheel, I never wanted to be anywhere else. So the all but subtle 1927 Ford A-Rod with the rumbling Chevy V8 has become a common sight on the roads of Dubai keeping pace with modern traffic and drawing attention like nothing else. I put 1500km on it in the first two weeks.

Despite the fuel gauge being stuck on empty, I reckoned I was getting good mileage out of it – 225km on about 14 gallons. But working that out means I’m achieving 28L/100 – not great by modern standards, but this is not meant to be an economical car, and considering the hulking ’67 V8 up front, and the fact that my foot is usually welded to the floor, it’s not that bad.

But aside from being a fun steer, it is such a privilege to be behind the wheel of such a true star, and supernova star at that.
A plethora of taxi drivers, soccer moms, kids and numerous supercar owners (along with a few Harley boys) slow down for a look. Many a grin and thumbs up are exchanged before I floor it with a flourish and a couple of toots of the horn – well you’ve got to give ‘em what they want!

And whenever I stop, people want to ask me about it. Counting down the top five comments so far:
5. ‘Is that a toy?’
4. ‘Wanna race?’ (Against an SLS? Yeah right. Next!)
3.’ Where is the bonnet/engine cover?’
2. ‘How much do you want for it?’ (I’m often asked to name my price – but all offers have been, and will continue to be, politely declined.
1. A man on a very mean looking ATV pulled me over on the way home and demanded: ‘who’s car is this?’ The response that it was mine, didn’t seem to mollify him, ‘No. This is Sheikh’s car!’

There’s more to this story of course, but it took half an hour and production of much documentation to convince this persistent chap that the Red Baron was indeed with its rightful keeper.

Still it certainly opens a few doors; hotel valets all know me by name and gladly move Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bentleys out of the way to accommodate the little Hot Rod. The Armani Hotel, DIFC, Fairmont and Madinat all know the drill when I roll up.

However they did once refuse to move a Mercedes CLK which belonged to a certain former General and President of a nearby South East Asian country. So they moved a Phantom instead!

Tagging along on events is great. So far we’ve been out with the ExoClass Car Club on a drive that began at JBR in the company of an Alfa Romeo Zagato, Countach, 1924 Ford and KTM X-Bow to name a few, up to Bab Al Shams and back down to Dubai Festival City – see the video

The next run was to Fujairah with the Royal Enfield Club. A 5am start and an exciting run over to Kalba along our favourite twisty test route, it took every ounce of co-ordination and concentration to keep RB on the road.

What a drive! But I really got to learn the car’s limits and it whetted my appetite for vintage motor racing. I was even stopped twice by the police, but they simply wanted to check the car was road legal and after their polite enquiries sent me on my way.

So now I can’t help myself. I am officially addicted.

I am a Hot Rod junkie.

I AM the Red Baron!

December 2010

The story so far: I finally managed to track down and purchase my dream car after a two-year hunt. The car was a 1927 Ford Model A Hot Rod (with a ’67 Corvette V8, and a new fibreglass body fitted in the early 1990s). After an agonising eight-week
wait for shipping, the ‘Red Baron’, as I’d dubbed it, finally arrived on UAE soil.

But my fantasies of cruising the streets of Dubai were dashed by the RTA. After following through on every single procedural requirement, they still refused to register my pride and joy.

At RTA HQ they sat me down and told me that I’d have to fabricate an engine cover, get a roll bar installed and bolted to the chassis and only then resubmit it for a test. Chances are even after that, there would be some other issues to contend with.

Slumped into my chair, it was heart-wrenching stuff, but I just couldn’t let the dream die here. I left and made a phonecall.

The Sharjah Classic Car Museum has a special programme for classic cars and is recognised formally in the UAE. At this point, they represented a beacon of hope.

Next day I had become a member and with a fresh test report and supporting documentation, I headed to the Sharjah Licensing Department. Barely daring to believe, I soon found myself holding a set of distinctive brown ‘classic car’
registration plates! I even chose the number (481 – my old school number and it adds up to 13 – my family’s lucky number!).

I was finally behind the wheel wearing the exquisite pair of goggles Editor Shahzad managed to blag from those nice people at Bentley Middle East. My grin would have made the Joker look like he was frowning. I spent the next two weeks driving it

EVERYWHERE and put 1500kms on it. It’s been at meets, out with other classics, put in an appearance at the Sharjah Motor Show and was in a fashion shoot for L’Officiel. And this is only the beginning…

November 2010

Red baron rides… well almost. Owner Gaurav Dhar finally sets eyes on his sight-unseen, bought over the internet, 1927 Hot Rod. But if he thought finding, buying and getting the car to Dubai was the hard part, wait till he tries to get it

I’m roaring along Sheikh Zayed Road wearing a pair of vintage driving googles (thank you Bentley Middle East!) and a facemask in an open-top, bright red hot rod and causing quite a commotion. Revelling in the moment it’s hard to believe
it’s taken two long years to get to this point.

Being closely involved in the classic car scene both in the region and internationally, I needed to make a personal statement of my commitment to the classic cause. But it would also need to be something that I could jump into and drive almost every day and learn to look after along the way with minimum fuss. It would also have to appeal to the new generation of modified car fans, while still being a classic car. What I needed (and really wanted) was a hot rod…

But where to start? Hot rods come in all shapes and sizes, starting from original steel-built post-WWI and II cars, to its mass resurgence back in the 1970s with fibre glass bodies. But looking through all the many variations I knew almost instantly that there was only one shape I longed for – the 1927 Ford. And it had to tick all the right boxes: exposed engine bay; skull shifter; small block engine, automatic transmission, whitewall tyres and a bright paint job.

Scouring the UK, Australia and of course the USA my search confirmed that all shared similar traits when it comes to rodding-culture as part of their historic automotive DNA. There followed months of looking at, hunting, scanning, gauging and sizing up hot rod adverts from all over the world accompanied by long-distance calls and much pestering of irate sellers by yours truly.

But the obsessive searching paid off. Sitting in Holmes Beach Florida was a 1927 Ford that had been featured in Street Rodders as the ‘centerfold’ and had been a trophy winner on its first outing. The price, along with shipping, customs and a 10 percent buffer for any unexpected problems (read expenses) fitted my budget.

Even so, there followed three weeks of constant communication with the owner, reviewing detailed pictures and video footage, as well as consulting with close friends with vast mechanical knowledge before I finally did the deal.

Buying blind on the internet is certainly not without risk. Enormous risk in fact – even after asking all the questions and scrutinising all the pictures you might still just end up with a piece of good looking junk. So the next eight weeks were pure agony whilst the car made its long journey over.

And then the adventure really began. The first hurdle was customs and arriving in the Holy Month meant inevitable delays as the world was on Ramadan timings while I was on I-want-my-hot-rod-now! schedule.

I got a phone call. Finally the car was released and being transported to Max Garage in Dubai before being sent to Tasjeel down the road for registration. I was out of the door before the caller had hung up.

My first sight of the car was of it still sitting on the back of the recovery vehicle. I punched the air and yelled in delight – and partly in relief… it was everything I wanted and more. From the first glance I knew it was perfect. I immediately dubbed it The Red Baron. The boys checked the battery, gave it the once-over, checked the fuel lines and the Baron immediately roared into life.

Clutching every document imaginable, we took the car to get it registered and we were off to a great start as a local gent bounded up to the car and excitedly put us in the Express Lane. ‘Let’s get this on the road,’ he said.

Then came the supervisor. To my horror he refused to register the car. In fact he wouldn’t even look at it. Despite my protestation and armfuls of documentation and internet print-outs to prove this is how Hot Rods were meant to be and that they were genuine classics, he was having none of it.

He kept pointing at the exposed engine bay and the exhaust pipes. We’d have to go to the main office in Qusais. So we did. There I met ‘Benjo’ and Carlos, two lovely human beings who took their time in listening and explaining the procedure for registering classic cars. Then they failed the car.

But apparently this was part of that normal procedure – the test is tailored to modern safety and emission standards. They then gave me a report explaining that it was a classic which I had to take to the RTA head office in Rashidiya. I was there first thing in the morning armed to the teeth with what I believed to be correct documentation and supporting literature.

The man at the RTA reviewed my documents, read the report and then politely told me there was more to do. I needed to return to Qusais and get a letter of recommendation from the site in-charge.

Back at Qusais they did indeed issue me a more thorough report along with a letter recommending registration with the proviso that the car was mainly for exhibition and display purposes, though I could still drive it.

Next morning I presented the latest round of paperwork at the RTA HQ only for it to be rejected outright. There was still some hope though, he said he’d present my case and appeal to his superiors and I’d have their decision by lunchtime.

Two years to find my dream car, eight weeks to ship it and another week to get it this far. All my money was blown and yet it all now hinged on the next four hours. I even found myself praying. At 12.30pm I had a call: ‘Your car has been failed for technical reasons.’ Dubai echoed to the sound of my breaking heart.

Find out in our next report how the Red Baron finally earned its street legal status.

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