Gems, jewels and roaring business at Concours motor parade

Oct 4th, 2011 | By | Category: General Information

Gayling May trembles with emotion when he talks about his 1967 Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint, one of only 700 ever manufactured and only one of a handful still in use around the world. His gleaming maroon car is the only of its kind in Africa and, he says, its worth goes beyond money. “This is where love meets passion,” he said at this year’s AccessKenya Africa Concours d’Elegance in Nairobi. “Vintage cars are priceless.”

The winning car - 1934 Railton Alfa Romeo

May looked for this kind of car for about 30 years to satisfy a boyhood dream. “This car was launched to great fanfare and excitement when I was still a young man. It captured my imagination and from then, I have spent a great deal of time and resources trying to get one. My lucky day arrived only six years ago,” says May, adding he got it in bad shape. “It was incredibly run down, completely unrecognizable from the machine you see today.”

At the Nairobi Racecourse, he told fans: “It was a junk when I got it and I have spent time to get the right spare parts and specialists to reclaim it.” For the love of the car, he says its sight gives him goose pimples.  Car No 21 is owned by the family of CP Shah, a director at Vitafoam whose phone number and other family members reflects the number 121 that is on the car’s number plate.

While May showed a man’s love for a classic car, the Shahs demonstrate how an entire family can be united in love. “In 1972, I bought this car to help me with sourcing for curios,” says Mr Shah who then owned a shop in Nairobi. “I paid Sh18,000 for this Morris Mini which was all the craze at the time. “From there, the Mini did a lot of donkey work and was passed down first to the wife and then to the children. This car forms the memory of everybody in my family and that is why we decided we were never going to sell it”

Total junk

In 1986, he says, the family decided to give it new look as a jewel that it is. “We had run it down to total junk; the seats, the paintwork and the panelling all had conspired to retire the car.” Like May, Shah is not keen on discussing the financial cost of bringing the car back to life, saying that is not the correct way to look at something of value. “When you focus on the money, you lose the real purpose of the whole exercise. This has got nothing to do with economics, this is all about memory, taste and heritage — all which you cannot value in monetary terms.”

Mr Shah adds that he rarely uses the car as a way of keeping at bay — so to speak — people “nagging” him with the calls that he sell to them the gem. “I have received really crazy offers. But I will die before I consider selling this car,” says Mr Shah. At the AccessKenya Concours d’Elegance event last weekend, there were more than 300 cars on display each with a story of passion and tears behind it.  The show was founded many years ago to showcase this love that transcends time and unites fathers and children across generations.

For a long time, the Concours was dominated by whites and the attendance was small, akin to exclusive events, although they were not invitation-only parades. But lately, the steel beauty gala has grown in interest and numbers, attracting more blacks registering their cars as competitors. Maina Muthuma proudly displayed two cars whose name rhymes with his — the Morris Minors. He purchased the latest of his classics last year. Mr Muthuma says one of the cars belonged to former minister Kyalo Kaindi’s father “who I understand was the first man to own a car in Ukambani.”

Just like others, restoring the junks to usable condition costs a fortune in terms of time and cash, although from their enthusiasm and verve, they tell it is worth the attention, effort or sweet agony. “The Kaindi family was using it as a chicken shed and it was so corroded you could not believe it.” After a lot of work, the car has now been completely rehabilitated and on Sunday took its place at the ‘Pride Parade’ as the Concours has come to be known.

Great care

He is starting to get business from the collections when they are hired for particular events, helping to explain part of the reason the show has been growing over the years. Mr Muthuma says the Morris Minis have been hired for roadshows by Coca-Cola and is now looking for many vintage cars to turn the hobby into a big business. However, it remains to be seen whether this was going to be a major hit since the lure of the cars is linked to their rarity. Purists say the classics only make sense thanks to care.

“I am eyeing the growing wedding businesses where classics fetch good money to hire. I also intend to hire my cars out for promotions and to style-conscious dignitaries who are known to demand such cars at the airports,” he says. Mr Muthuma’s case is a prime example of how the Concours, traditionally an event for car purists, is evolving with the times.

A business dimension has been gaining currency since AccessKenya came on board as the main sponsor. Classic cars on sale have now been allotted a dedicated space and new vehicle companies welcomed to showcase their new brands.

Business, according to Alex Maingi of CMC, is good and missing the chance to exhibit at the Concours is suicidal from a business perspective. Joanne Nyaga, the marketing manager at Subaru Kenya, agrees, saying the event, being for car lovers is the perfect opportunity for dealerships to meet a dedicated market segment. “All the people who come to the Concours have strong feelings for cars and although the key attraction at the Concours will always remain the vintage machines, we are taking the chance to capitalise on the euphoria to grow our brands.”

Networking opportunity

Other businesses grabbing the chance to meet new buyers include telecommunications, fashion, events management, and real estate and tourism businesses. The attendance has grown over the years and Ngong Road comes to a standstill when Nairobi residents head to the show at Racecourse grounds. At 2pm last Sunday, there was no parking space at the grounds.

Roselyne Maina of Urgent Cargo Handlers Limited brought out a different reason the Concours is emerging as a show-stopper. “If you want to brush your shoulders with the cream of business community in this country, you will never go wrong by coming to the Concours. “As a marketer, coming here affords me a rare opportunity to network with seriously quality buyers of my products,” says Ms Maina.

Social life

But for Alexia Guthrie, from Kent in the United Kingdom, her real purpose is to enjoy the Kenyan social life, sample delicious African dishes while getting some fashion ideas. Alexia is a designer and such an event as the Concours is food for thought for her fashion house which she then tweaks to offer her clients new designs with an African inspiration.

The event has got new image; from an elitist show whose significance had no meaning to the masses to now where all and sundry are waiting for the announcement of the date. Adherents say it is growing to become a party for everyone and the entrepreneurial are looking for opportunities to turn the crowds into a big market and mad, mad profit.


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