A drive for change: new book celebrates the cars of Sheikh Zayed

Archive photographs will illustrate late ruler's travels across the country in search of unity

Sheikh Zayed's passion for cars - and how they helped him to unify the Emirates - is celebrated in a new book. to be released in 2019. Courtesy National Archives
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He is heralded as the driving force behind remarkable change in the UAE - but it is Sheikh Zayed's enduring passion for cars that will be celebrated in a brand new book dedicated to the iconic leader.

The cover photo of Automobiles of Sheikh Zayed shows a thoughtful Founding Father at the wheel of one of his favourite cars, a Chrysler.

From automotive classics to sturdy off-roaders, all of his fleet of prized vehicles were 'essential' to the historic journey to a unified country.

The 200-page book, penned by Abu Dhabi banker and author Mohammed Luqman Ali Khan, shows that the stunning motoring collection proved to be engines of change that took Sheikh Zayed across the then Trucial States.

Travelling to inaccessible regions helped him understand the needs of his people and framed his vision in the years leading up to the union of the emirates in 1971.

“The motorcars were essential tools to reach the furthest locations so Sheikh Zayed could connect with the people, assess how they were doing and ensure their wellbeing,” said Mr Khan, 43, who himself has his own collection of a dozen vintage vehicles parked up in India's Hyderabad state.

“Sheikh Zayed used the off-roaders to monitor and supervise developmental projects that changed the landscape and people’s lives. There are great photos of people surrounding the car and thronging around him.”

An image from the Itihad archive. Courtesy Al Itihad.
Abu Dhabi, UAE. 1979. Sheikh ZayedÕs visit to Liwa and Delma Island. *** Local Caption ***  000065.JPG
Sheikh Zayed visits Liwa and Delma Island in Abu Dhabi in 1979. Al Itihad    

The black and white photographs show stylish limousines that were part of large convoys setting an impressive scene when foreign dignitaries visited.

In one image, Sheikh Zayed’s stately black limousine, a Rolls Royce Phantom, is set against the backdrop of Queen Elizabeth’s royal yacht Britannia during her visit in 1979.

Sepia-tinted images show residents lining the streets waving to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip seated in the limousine part of a cavalcade of 60 cars that wound its way through the roads of Abu Dhabi.

“Every royal had to have one Phantom. These were used for state occasions and for ceremonial purposes. The UAE as a young nation needed such cars when dignitaries came visiting.

“It also shows the transition of a desert land that moved from camels to Cadillacs,” Mr Khan said of the pictorial book to be released in English and Arabic.

The photos reflect the early days when the hardy Land Rover was the alternative to the trusty camel to reach inaccessible areas.

“The Land Rover and the Dodge power wagon are intrinsically linked to the UAE because they bore witness to the discovery of oil and the era of the Trucial States,” he said in reference to the 1960s before the emirates signed the Act of Union in 1971.

Sheikh Zayed's life is explored through a series of anecdotes and interviews. National Archives
Sheikh Zayed's life is explored through a series of anecdotes and interviews. National Archives

“These cars covered sectors of the country when there was no infrastructure and navigated tough terrain.”

Mr Khan has interviewed royals, collectors and is hoping to meet people who worked with Sheikh Zayed to fill in more details.

He has also pored over registers in Britain and Germany that record orders for distinctive models and track the shipments to the UAE.

The research has also thrown up information about Pullman limousines from Mercedes that the Abu Dhabi government ordered in the early 1960s.

“Sheikh Zayed ordered a dozen of these all in one go. What I have done is plot the journey of these cars from the day one was ordered and tracked it from the production line to the presidential palace,” Mr Khan said.

“Other visuals show how he liked to go alone on a drive. He was the sole person in his car, although the car would be followed by an entourage. He enjoyed being by himself in his cars.”

Photos from the book show a Rolls Royce ordered by Sheikh Zayed being offloaded from a traditional dhow that have been sourced from the National Archives in Abu Dhabi.

The book will include physical reminders of a bygone era, such as signboard in the capital that simply reads: HH Private Motor Garage, to denote 'His Highness' and the full-time department that serviced Sheikh Zayed's large fleet.

The English signpost still stands near the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre roundabout and indicates the direction in which the garage was once located.

Mr Khan also studied old videos that captured Sheikh Zayed humming while he drove the Chrysler and footage that followed him during the 1965 Paris motor show as he checked cars such as Renault and Peugeot.

The cover of Automobiles of Sheikh Zayed shows the UAE Founding Father behind the wheel of one of his favourite vehicles, a Chrysler.  
The cover of Automobiles of Sheikh Zayed shows the UAE Founding Father behind the wheel of one of his favourite vehicles, a Chrysler.  

Mohammed ben Sulayem, the president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE said the book would be a valuable contribution to UAE history.

“Legacy is a result of vision and it applies to the automotive industry as well as to leadership. By documenting, celebrating and acknowledging the legacy we have inherited from Sheikh Zayed we are capable of leaving a legacy ourselves,” said Mr Ben Sulayem.


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Describing Mr Khan as an expert in vintage cars, Patrick Rollet, the president of FIVA or the International Federation for Historic Vehicles, said the book would be a unique addition to automotive history of a young and dynamic nation.

“Unlike most rulers, Sheikh Zayed was behind the steering wheel of his huge American and rugged British four-wheelers or comfy Mercedes-Benz. Just like in real life, he occupied the driving seat in full control of his powerful motors,” Mr Rollet said.

Sheikh Zayed waves to crowds greeting him on a visit. Courtesy National Archives
Sheikh Zayed waves to crowds greeting him on a visit. Courtesy National Archives

Mr Khan's first book, Automobiles of the Nizams, was released this year on the collection of 400 cars owned by the former princely rulers of a southern Indian state that included the world's largest Wolseley.

A preview of his new book will be released at the annual Retromobile classic auto show in Paris in February where owners and enthusiasts of vintage cars congregate every year and later at the London Classic Car Show.