Cars have been a part of your life from an early age, thanks to your father. Which ones stand out the most?
My earliest memory is of his Ford Escort RS2000, which was his most prized possession. I always wanted a Golf GTI as hot hatches had been very popular in South Africa since the days of the iconic MK I. My uncle was also a huge motor enthusiast and he sparked my love for American muscle cars. He dreamed of owning a Dodge Viper and there was only one in our city on display — in the window of an American-car showroom. We'd marvel at it for hours on end and he'd say, "This car doesn't park, it waits!"
So that explains your gorgeous Corvette.
In my mind, no car can match the perfect lines of this. Sadly, my family were not wealthy and the Corvette remained a dream throughout my young adult life. In fact, my first car was a bright-pink Mini (which I immediately painted blue) that spent a great deal of time in the garage. At age 20, I moved to London where it simply isn't worth owning a car due to the high cost of fuel, lack of parking and readily available public transport. During the 10 years I was based there, my driving experiences were limited to hiring rentals during holidays, which I found quite painful because I love driving.
That all changed when you moved to Dubai…
Yes, we moved here in 2008 and I rushed to Volkswagen to order a GTI only to discover that there was a three-month waiting list. My wife was brilliant, she knows me so well that when my eyes began to stray to other cars which my heart wasn't set on, she wouldn't let me settle for anything other than my longed-for GTI. The wait turned into five agonising long months, but I was ecstatic when it finally arrived.
But three years later, you decided it was time for a change…
I did, but I had a problem — none of the cars in my price range appeared to be the trade up I was hoping for. I already had a buyer who was starting the paperwork to buy my GTI, but it was a massive relief when he pulled out of the deal on the morning of the sale. It occurred to me that I should keep the GTI and use the money I would have spent upgrading to a brand-new car to look for my dream car...
Another pink Mini?
No! My C3 Vette, which I've named Catalina. It's the other woman in my life! It sports a 350 cubic inch (5.7-litre) small block V8 with a four-speed automatic and has an amazing electric-blue finish. It's a sexy, graceful cruiser. It turns heads everywhere we go and I feel a shiver of excitement every time I start the engine and hear the Flowmasters rumble.
It's a gorgeous car. Where did you find it?
I scoured the US Autotrader website looking for a good deal, however the main issue was not being able to check the car in person for rust or damage. After careful consideration, I decided it would be safer to look here in Dubai. I came across an ad for a 1981 Vette for sale by the guys at Corvette Arabia so I paid them a visit and although the car I had originally come to see had a fun A-Team theme (but the body was white with a red stripe), my eyes kept returning to a blue C3, sitting gracefully in the shade. My uncle was right — it was not parked, but waiting and I was in love.
So you snapped it up on the spot?
Not quite. The problem was that Catalina wasn't for sale and it took a lot of persuasion and negotiation with the owner before we came to an agreement. I had another torturous wait before I could drive my new car. But it was really worth the wait and gave me time to plan exactly which modifications I wanted to perform over the next few years.
But, it seems you don't get to decide any of that, do you…
Catalina tends to dictate what needs to happen next, much like my wife regarding weekends away and holidays! One such upgrade that happened ahead of schedule was the rims and tyres. The original tyres had a slow puncture and needed to be filled before every journey. They immediately jumped to the top of the upgrade queue. Another modification I made because the pop-up headlights weren't working was upgrading the archaic hydraulic system to a modern electric solution, thanks to a kit ordered from Retro-Electric in the US.
That's just the beginning isn't it?
I have a long list of extreme upgrades planned including the brakes, chassis and suspension. I plan to use the C4 chassis which will result in a more modern ride with better cornering capabilities. Unfortunately, the C3 chassis flexes unlike modern cars, and you notice this immediately when trying to negotiate a corner. I will also add ABS brakes and finally, I'll replace the engine. One of my concerns about owning a classic sportscar is emissions and I was delighted to discover that Chevy now produces the new eco-friendly E-ROD engine based on the Chevy LS3, which is its first emission-compliant crate engine package.
When do you hope to have it all finished?
I see Catalina as a lifetime project and so I am in no rush to complete the work. Purists regularly remind me that any deviation from ‘original' will devalue this collector's item. However, Catalina is not for sale — I bought it because it's my dream car and I intend to transform it into a modern version of the American classic. One day, I will give it to my future son or daughter when they are old enough to drive.
You've learnt a couple of things about life with a 30-year-old car haven't you…
Yes! Firstly, it will certainly be spending a lot of time in the garage and secondly driving an older car requires a completely different approach and 100 per cent awareness of your surroundings at all times.