Dubai: In 2018, while researching for a book he was writing about the automobiles of Sheikh Zayed to coincide with the Year of Zayed, Mohammad Luqman Ali Khan was flipping through books in the UAE's national archives when he came across an old photo of a Rolls Royce Phantom being unloaded onto the shores of Arabia.
“As a motoring researcher, the initial questions that came to mind were, whose car was this? Is it still around? And where is it now?
“These questions triggered my mission to locate the car,” Mohammad, 44, originally from Hyderabad, India, told Gulf News.
Having embarked on what he feared would be a near impossible quest, through archival research and with the help of friends, clubs and marque experts, he finally managed to track down the car to a quaint suburb in Vienna, Austria in February 2019, after over a year of trying to contact its owner.
It was only until cross-referencing the chassis number with the Rolls Royce records office in London however that he discovered just how important a vehicle it was to the history of the UAE.
Records stated that the car was showcased at the 1965 Earl’s Court Motor Show in London, and then delivered in 1966 to the then Ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
After using the car for around six months, Sheikh Shakhbut stepped down after ruling for 38 years and the car was passed onto his successor and younger brother, the UAE’s Founding Father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Used extensively by Sheikh Zayed, it was reportedly used by the Founding Father during his inauguration as Abu Dhabi Ruler and later UAE President, and it even ferried James Treadwell, the first British Ambassador to the UAE, to a ceremony on the day the UAE was formerly established on December 2, 1971. Other important passengers included none other than Queen Elizabeth II during her state visit in 1979.
“I felt overawed, and overwhelmed by the scale and significance of this discovery, and the enormity of it didn’t sink in until much later,” said Mohammad. “It is not often that you discover state motor cars, and rarer still, to learn it is the most important motor car in the history of the nation.”
After much negotiation and persuasion, Mohammad managed to acquire the car from its owner and transported it to London by truck for repairs, where it remains.
“I plan to restore the car to its original theme/livery, returning it to its original valentine black with gold lines. I also intend to revert the upholstery to tan leather and beige cloth as was delivered new,” he said.
Now he plans to bring the car back to the UAE and showcase it at Expo 2020, ahead of the 55th anniversary of the car’s delivery to the UAE in 2021.
“To recreate scenes of yesteryear, I would love to photograph the car at Qasr Al Hosn, the oldest and most historic castle on mainland Abu Dhabi, where the car was delivered new.
“I would also love to see it displayed under the central dome at Qasr Al Watan, the Presidential Palace, where it technically belongs. And how great it would look as an exhibit at the soon to be opened Zayed National Museum – the perfect home of the car,” added Mohammad, who has also written a book and has a documentary planned about the car, but won’t disclose what he paid for it, instead claiming something of such value to the UAE is indeed priceless.
Akos Kolos Kosjan, a sales executive at Nostalgia Classic Cars in Dubai, has been following the car’s discovery and said, “It comes naturally to me to be fascinated by stories like this one.
“To determine the true value of a classic car you have to look beyond the car itself. The history is just as or maybe more important than the condition of the vehicle. A famous owner or an interesting story makes even an ordinary car very valuable.
“Of course a Rolls Royce Phantom V is an amazing car in itself, however that it was the personal vehicle of His Highness Sheikh Zayed makes it very important for everyone in the UAE. It is a fascinating story and a great effort from Mr Khan and all I can say is that it’s amazing and I hope that everyone will hear the story across the UAE.”
Gulf News is awaiting comment from Rolls Royce UAE.