Max Garage: Restoring motoring history

Amid Dubai's shiny, state-of-the-art showrooms, Max Garage stands apart as a classic car lover's dream.

With a plethora of motoring oddities filling its six warehouses, Max Garage in Dubai is a state-of-the-art workshop that boasts latest equipment and expertise in restoring classic cars.
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It is rare to find something a little different when it comes to the motors of the UAE, something that doesn't fit into the common perception of what is normal, something that will surprise the observer who has become a little too casual about the sight of a Ferrari pulling up alongside them at the petrol station. The delights of Max Garage in Dubai certainly fit into the category of "a little different".

From the outside, Max doesn't seem to be any different from the plethora of non-franchised garages that cover the Al Quoz, Al Ghusais and Rashidiya areas of Dubai, which is where Max was originally located before moving to its current spot on the Al Barsha road. The first clue that all is not as it seems to be is the range of motoring oddities parked outside. A Ford Excursion with nudge bars and a full suspension lift sits comfortably next to a Maserati Ghibli saloon and an old, red Leyland Mini. The rest of the cars waiting for a service or ongoing repairs are a mixture of saloons, four-wheel drives and the standard fare we all see every day on the roads of the UAE.

At this point you could be forgiven for still thinking it's yet another garage, one that just happens to have a few interesting finds sitting outside. That myth is soon dispelled once you peep inside the six warehouses that make up the Max complex. The first door on your left houses an array of vehicles, including an ancient Patrol, in for a service, a Cherokee getting some suspension work and an old Porsche 911, which Max has completely restored. Sitting behind it is a fantastic red 1977 Fiat Spyder, which starts on the button and looks amazing despite the newer company.

Further into the dark warehouse, there's a multitude of cars covered with plastic to protect them from the never-ending Dubai dust. A quick peek reveals an old shark-nose Corvette and another 911, both awaiting restoration. Subsequent burrowing unearths a brace of old Mercedes, each waiting for some love, and a Ferrari 355. It is quite a mix. "We'll look at any car to be honest," says Vijay Pillai, the owner of Max. "You never know what's going to come through the door next. However, I'm always honest with people about the older cars, as they can try your patience and aren't always recommended as daily drivers.

"The newer classics however can be just as good as brand new cars and have loads of character. There are a few people really trying to push the classic car scene forward here and I think it's critically important that they have somewhere to get their cars repaired." When you wander next door, there are even more hidden gems. This smaller space holds yet another 911, an old Cadillac and a beautiful '57 Buick. Oddly, there's a newish BMW parked in front of them, glaringly modern against the resto background.

Across the way is the paint shop, alongside a total body restoration of an old two door Mercedes and a lovely old Jaguar. There's also an Eighties Bentley receiving some TLC. Next door is the hub of the daily work, with everything from a Ferrari 355 and a Land Cruiser to an old Alfa Romeo, a couple of Maseratis and a replica Mustang Cobra 'Ellenor'. The last warehouse holds the very best of the cars in Max. Hidden behind the huge doors, parked bumper to bumper, is an amazing collection of exotica, either in storage or awaiting some small part that DHL or Fedex has winging its way to Dubai from across the world.

The queue starts with a relatively new Porsche 911 993. But parked behind it is an achingly beautiful 1955 Jaguar XK140. Behind this is another one of similar vintage. You'll struggle to see one of these cars outside of Europe, but Max has two parked next to each other. Next to them is a lovely blue Morgan and a mint condition Corvette Stingray. Two classic Mercedes complement the line, which is then broken up by a modern Mitsubishi 3000GT with some serious bling under the bonnet. Luckily, modernity gives way again to the early 1900s with an old gangster-style Packard and a similar vintage Oldsmobile.

Behind them, there's a Renault Alpine, a Ferrari Mondial, a Bentley, a shark-nose Corvette, a Triumph TR2 and an ultra-rare 1964 Mercedes "Adenauer". I could go on, but I'll be here all day. Some of the cars have been fully restored by Max, while others have been lovingly fettled by their owners and are in the classic hospital for the more complex jobs or work requiring special tooling. So how does Max manage to repair so many of these now obsolete cars? The on site engineering shop helps, but the company also has a wide range of parts suppliers across the world to track down any hard-to-find parts. The owners also do their bit, often bringing in their own parts from overseas and off the web.

"Parts are always a problem, but between ourselves and the owners we can usually find a way around it. Some of these cars have parts that are simply no longer available, so you have to be a bit creative when restoring them," says Vijay. "It does mean the turn around time for some cars tends to be longer than normal, but that's all part of owning old and interesting cars." Max Garage is part repair shop, part museum and importantly a healthy business with a loyal following. It's also rapidly becoming a place where people who like to drive something a little different come for help. If you've got an interesting ride or need help finding one, the guys at Max can probably help.

In a country that prides itself on being shiny, new and modern it's refreshing to find somewhere that's trying to keep great old cars on the road. What the UAE desperately lacks is exactly what classic cars have in spades- a bit of old school culture.