RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - For a group of vintage-car collectors in Pakistan, restoring antique vehicles is like travelling back in time.
Money seems to be no object when the prize is a Lincoln convertible that belonged to an Afghan king or a Rolls-Royce used by the last Viceroy of India.
Mohsin Ikraam, president of the Vintage and Classic Car Club of Pakistan, says collectors are helping to preserve a portion of the region's history.
Among rich Pakistanis, he says, the desire to own classic automobiles is growing and the club's membership has topped 10 000. It sponsors many promotions and events where owners roll out their antiques for car shows or take them on rallies across hundreds of kilometers of Pakistan — something that might raise eyebrows among those aware of just how volatile this country can be.
Not to mention impoverished...
IMAGE GALLERY: Pakistan's classic cars
To outsiders, Pakistan is known for militant havens in its north-western tribal areas and Taliban insurgents who have fought for over a decade to overthrow the government and impose a harsh version of Islamic law, killing thousands of people in the war.
Pakistan's petrolheads are testament to the universal appeal of fixing up and maintaining old cars, more commonly associated with Western countries where popular shows such as Top Gear have reached Pakistani cable channels.
Businessman Raja Mujahid Zafar has nearly 40 classic cars, the oldest a 1914 Ford Model T, at his palatial Islamabad home. A special section of the house is dedicated to his hobby, including a big concrete garage and two outdoor shelters.
He said, gently touching the Ford's copper-plated insignia: "You can't stop time but you can drive back into the past."
He imagines the car whizzing about on roads back when the region was still a British colony, scenes reminiscent of old movies: "That's the historical ride you enjoy."
The Fords, known as Tin Lizzies or just T, were the result of Henry Ford's desire to produce cars affordable to the middle class in the early 20th century. It was credited for putting America on wheels at a time when automobiles were considered an extreme luxury by people used to riding in a horse carriage.
Zafar's said his "first love" was a maroon, six-cylinder 1936 Wolseley, a "wreck" when he found it in 1988. It took him several years and trips abroad to hunt down parts to restore it to original condition.
PARTS A PROBLEM
Sourcing parts is the most challenging aspect of the hobby. They are often shipped from the US or Europe. Advertisements are put in foreign newspapers - even friends travelling abroad - are recruited for help.
In response to an advertisement in 2004, a London broker found for Karachi-based businessman Karim Chhapra an original clock he desperately wanted for his 1924 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. The Roller won an international concours d'elegance in Kuwait in 2012. Chhapra's car was second.
The Rolls was originally owned by Prince Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi in the then India's Bahawlpur state, which later became part of Pakistan. Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India who was eventually murdered by the IRA, and Pakistan's father of the nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, rode in it together during the 1947 ceremony marking the birth of Pakistan.
It had remained garaged for decades, said Chhapra, who made his son promise never to sell the car but keep it in the family. When he occasionally takes the Rolls a drive people stop him for a selfie.
PASSION AND PATIENCE
The prince had about 100 cars, most of which were auctioned, according to his grandson Sulaiman Abbasi, also a member of the classic club.
Abbasi said he had worked for years on another car he inherited from his grandfather, a 1948 1.5 Jaguar, photographing each sequence as he restored the sleek black sedan with so-called "suicide doors" — the kind that are hinged at the rear rather than the front.
Old cars are not just about passion, but also patience, says car mechanic Ali Hussain, a car restorer since 1972 at his workshop in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, just outside Islamabad. He is working on a 1934 Wolseley and a 1944 Chevrolet and says he sometimes feels like a doctor "injecting life" into the old and broken-down.
CLASSICS WORTH MILLIONS
The hobby is expensive, admits club president Ikraam, who has a 1947 Lincoln Continental convertible V12, which he said was driven by Afghanistan's last king, Zahir Shah, in the 1970's. Ikraam said a 12-cylinder 1963 Ferrari taken from Pakistan to America was auctioned for the equivalent of R24-million.
Ikraam said Pakistan's emerging classic-cars industry is worth R132-million - a staggering sum in a country of 180-million people where the majority live below the poverty datum line of about R24 a day.
DREAM CAR COLLECTION: A mechanic checks on a classic 1914 Ford (left) restored by a by a collector, in Islamabad, Pakistan. Image: AP / B.K. Bangash.