Meet the companies that are enhancing the way vehicles look and drive

Post-factory modification is big business all over the world. We take a visit to a couple of companies that are enhancing the way cars look and drive.

A ‘Flying Huntsman Longnose’ version of the classic Land Rover Defender is a Kahn Design creation. Courtesy Kahn Design
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It’s a brisk winter morning on the outskirts of Bradford in the northern English county of West Yorkshire; a crisp day when your breath immediately condenses into clouds of vapour. I’m at the headquarters of Kahn Design, one of the world’s leading car-modification companies. It couldn’t be much farther from the UAE’s palm trees and sunny skies, but this design-and-engineering venture is no stranger to the Emirates’ love for unique high-end vehicles.

Kahn’s range of upgraded vehicles is more or less a what’s what of perfectly UAE models – Mercedes G-Wagens, Rolls-Royces, Range Rover Sports, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, etc – and has attracted customers from across the Middle East. It sells here direct to collectors and via one-off arrangements with various dealers, although there are plans to establish the company’s own Middle East base this year.

Among the most-recent models to land in the UAE are the “Black Hawk” Jeep Wrangler – under sub-brand Chelsea Truck Co – and, imminently, a one-off left-hand-drive version of the fearsome Aston Martin DB9-based bruiser the Vengeance, built specifically for the Middle East market.

The company’s founder is designer and entrepreneur Afzal Kahn. His motto is “The road is my catwalk”, which hints at the Kahn moxie, based more on exterior and interior upgrades than tuning.

“It’s a hobby that turned into a business,” Kahn says. “The first car that I modified was my own – well, my father’s. It was a Ford Escort van. I put a set of wire wheels on it, lifted the suspension, put some spot lamps on it ... and a big front spoiler. My dad wasn’t happy when it got nicked from outside the house.”

Nowadays, Kahn rolls around with rather more rarefied wheels: one employee mentions the boss’s Bugatti Veyron, which brandishes the number plate “F1”. The latter is estimated to be worth millions of dirhams.

During my time in West Yorkshire, I drive two Kahn creations from the company’s Bradford HQ to its showroom in nearby Leeds and back again: a matte-black Chelsea Truck Co G-Wagen (registration: “K4 AHN”) and a “Flying Huntsman Longnose” version of the classic Land Rover Defender.

The G-Wagen’s interior look has been subtly built upon, with leather and walnut dominating the dash, alongside refitted tan-leather seats to boost comfort, plus aggressive, almost military-esque body ­embellishments.

The Defender boasts a similarly rugged exterior, with striking red-and-black upholstery inside, although the model’s famously old-school handling seems to have remained ­untamed.

It appears there are plenty more where that came from: a peek inside the showroom storage garage in Leeds reveals more than a dozen black Landies lined up in two neat rows.

Kahn leads by example, working seven days a week, and says he doesn’t “have a life” outside his business, which means future projects are coming thick and fast: expect an all-new electric sports car, as well as another Aston Martin reimagination, taking his pen to the DB11.

“We focus on enhancement; aerodynamics; presence – the way it looks, the way it sits, the way it feels,” Kahn concludes. “It looks like an evolution of what a car manufacturer should have done.”

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* Adam Workman

Dubai workshop gives Merc that made-to-measure look

Mechanics Dinesh Kannamkulam, 24, left and Sebastian Kmiec, 25, at Brabus.

When it comes to high-level aftermarket tuning, the German brand Brabus is among the most famous, specialising in turning Mercedes-Benz vehicles from mere cars into veritable fire-breathing monsters since its foundation in 1977.

Its Dubai workshop opened in 2010 and now employs six technicians, with specialities such as upholstery, mechanics, electronics and body kits.

“It’s exactly like if you go to a tailor and want to make a suit or a shirt and he asks: ‘OK, what kind of buttons do you want? What kind of stitching do you want?’” says the company’s Middle East general manager Radwan Ogali.

Variety is key: he says that customers can choose up to an estimated 10,000 combinations of leather colours. “If someone bought his wife a bag and said he wants the same thing, we’ll match it.”

There are plenty of impressive projects on the go when I visit Brabus’s Al Quoz base: a G-Class being fitted with an 850hp engine, as well as an S-Class that has been completely gutted to make way for a similarly appointed new unit.

Brabus makes three grades of engine – 620hp, 700hp and the aforementioned 850hp – which are manufactured in Germany, before being tested in European and Middle Eastern ­conditions.

The company also does its best to accommodate any customisation requests: “Even LED lights on the top,” Ogali says, pointing to a customised G-Class.

As you might expect, such top-notch embellishments don’t come cheap. A fully customised Brabus S-Class can cost up to Dh1.5 million.

But in a country of motoring multimillionaires who hold uniqueness in such high regard, much like the cars themselves, business at Brabus doesn’t feel likely to slow down any time soon.

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* Hareth Al Bustani