Published in Jan-Feb 2021
An average day in my life begins like most people’s. I wake up early and head to work. A chartered accountant by profession, my day job revolves around doing the numbers and evaluating financial processes. After work however, there is nothing accountant-ish that I do; the rest of my time is about vintage vehicles.
I am not quite sure how it started, this love for all things vintage. I was always fascinated about what would happen if old things could speak... the tales they would tell would be to die for, just by being flies on the wall through the annals of time.
My first car, a 1974 Mazda, was a gift from my late grandfather when I was 19, a time in my life when I barely knew how to drive. Different people collect classic cars, some prefer quantity over quality, while others argue it is better to have one car in mint condition rather than a hundred projects. I find myself agreeing with the latter.
After work, I am usually tending to my car, making sure the engine has been started recently and that nothing isn’t too wrong with it. I say that because with older car, something usually is. The car used to be my primary form of transport and served in many capacities, even as an adorned wedding car for nuptials. In the 10 years I have had her, her bright parrot green paint (a factory original colour by Mazda) has never lost its charm.
Eventually, I decided to venture into classic motorcycles and acquired a Vespa and then with the help of a few friends, we brought the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride (DGR) to Pakistan, a themed motorcycle rally where you recreate a day from the past – and all this to raise money for cancer research and men’s mental health.
The experience was phenomenal; meeting so many people from different walks of life, united in their passion for vintage vehicles, a hobby I was once told was ‘strange’. The DGR exploded on the scene and since 2015, when only 30 to 40 motorcycles participated, the latest edition in 2019 (we could not hold one in 2020 because of Covid-19) saw over 300 participants with celebrities and news anchors in tow.
On weekends or on days off, if I am not spending them with my family, I usually meet friends and go on classic-car related adventures. Here is one of them. In the seventies, the Government of Pakistan bought a Mercedes 600 Pullman limousine (at the time the world’s most expensive and luxurious vehicle) to ferry Pakistani and international VIPs. However, in the nineties, the car fell into disrepair and 30 years later, all that was left of it were a couple of grainy photographs of its existence. Then on a lazy second day of Eid in 2018, I received a message that this legend had resurfaced and (horror of horrors) was going to be up for public auction in three days! Now, I am all for owning special cars, but when it comes to saving our heritage and passing it down to the next generation, there isn’t a bigger advocate than me. So with the help of a few friends, we sprang into action and two days before the auction we drafted a letter to the Establishment Division with a message to the then Prime Minister requesting him to save this extremely valuable car from private ownership and possible export. The clock ticked on, and the night before the auction, a miracle happened. The government ordered that the auction be cancelled and the car be displayed at the Pakistan Monument Museum in Islamabad. I saw the car a few weeks later. They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but for me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Although I am not a huge fan of social media, my friends and I have taken it upon ourselves to document vintage cars in Pakistan through our Instagram page @classiccarspakistan. We receive pictures from enthusiasts all over the country and provide a visual experience about the magic that is the resurrection of scrap metal into art.
Recently, my days have been busy, as the Vintage and Classic Car Club of Pakistan (I am an active member) has been working with the government to facilitate the import of vintage cars into Pakistan for export purposes and local consumption. We have been advocating the benefits of our hobby and proving to the government that this is an innovative way to earn foreign exchange. As a result, I have been spending my days working on building financial models to demonstrate what Pakistan can gain by setting up a vintage vehicle restoration industry. Exploring the commercial aspect of the hobby is something I had not done before and I find it both informative and fascinating, albeit time consuming. Some day, I hope the hobby can grow and become more mainstream, in the same ways owning Harley-Davidsons or superbikes have become. It’s definitely safer and much cooler in my opinion!
The passion for vintage vehicles is phenomenal in Pakistan and the public at large throngs to vintage car shows whenever they are held. This is partly due to their interest in cars, but mostly because there are not that many vintage cars in Pakistan. Over 61 million cars were produced in the US between 1951 and 1960 and this resulted in an abundance of classic cars for all budgets in the West. The beauty of it is that vintage car restoration is cheaper in the East, where labour costs are a fraction of the hourly rate that their counterparts in the West charge.
Vespas, old army-auctioned jeeps and Volkswagens have been exported from Pakistan in the hundreds, if not thousands, and this has seen a massive drop in such cars within Pakistan, which in turn has led to a loss of interest in this hobby and prices skyrocketing.
Vintage cars are always a pleasant sight to see, even for the disinterested, as they exude an atmosphere about what their past may have been like and how our lives have become so much more complicated and fast-paced.
If you think my love for vintage cars sounds like an obsession, you are not wrong; my family thinks so too. Nevertheless, I do spend time with my family and take my wife out for dinner from time to time. My friends come over occasionally and we either discuss Pakistani politics or play video games. I usually head to bed by midnight – after all, I have work the next day – and cars to think about.
Haris Aziz is an accountant and a car enthusiast.