Recently I was lucky enough to travel to Saudi Arabia for the inaugural Global Auto Salon – Riyadh 2019 and see up close what car culture is like on the other side of the globe.
It’s 9am on a Friday in October. I get a call from an industry representative and the first thing he asks me is, “Would you be interested in going to an event in Saudi Arabia?” Now, mind you, I’ve never been to this part of the world or been asked to cover an event like this. What would you do? Naturally I said “YES!” A couple short weeks later, I’m boarding a plane to Saudi Arabia to attend the potentially largest car show in that region. It’s one thing to see the videos and read posts about the car culture in the Middle East, but it’s something entirely different to experience it first hand!
The first stop on my journey was Cars and Coffee hosted by some of the GASR event staff and a few local auto enthusiasts. This was, hands down, the most interesting collections of vehicles I’ve ever seen together at a Cars and Coffee anywhere. There was a good mix of JDM, exotics, American muscle, low riders, and even some unique off-road vehicles.
There were a handful of builds that really stuck out and shined above the others. One that caught my eye was the beautiful emerald green classic Chevy Impala lowrider done up in true lowrider style. Instead of the usual pinup art, the owner used images of the Saudi royal family.
Another build that stood above (quite literally) was a Ford Mustang that was put on a truck chassis with 4-wheel drive, solid front axle, and huge dirt tires for off-roading.
On top of all the other intricate unique builds there was something totally out of this world: a completely custom chassis car that one individual built entirely in his garage.
The local petrol heads were extremely kind and inviting, excited to talk about their builds, and insistent that I join them for a coffee as they brewed it right there on a mini stove that they had brought along.
The experience was truly refreshing as everyone was just so excited to share their stories and car knowledge with me. After Cars and Coffee, I grabbed lunch, then retired to my hotel room to review photos and prepare for the show later.
Next stop: Global Auto Salon – Riyadh
This historic event is a collection of live demonstrations, auctions, and a trade show all rolled in to one with show hours from 4pm to 11pm. There is definitely something for every kind of automotive lover. As you walk in, you are greeted by a larger than life Hot Wheels loop in the center of the festival grounds; and on one side, you have the SEVEN Concours with Silverstone and Worldwide Auctions. Then, on the other side of that track, you have a police academy comedy auto show next to go karting, a monster and trophy truck exhibition, and the Hoonigans have their very own “Burnyard” away from home.
The SEVEN Concours displayed many historic and rare automobiles including a Lamborghini Miura SV from the Joe Macari collection, David Piper’s Ferrari 330P4 race machine, and a Marlboro McLaren MP4/3 racecar that was driven by Alain Prost.
The vehicles parked outside were just as outrageous. Booths from Apollo, Pagani, Koenigsegg and Aston Martin lined the walk up to a main dome shaped tent that housed many more rare and special cars on display.
It almost felt like walking through a dream as you entered the structure to see some of your favorite hero cars waiting, unobstructed by ropes or glass, for your viewing pleasure.
Hot Wheels had a special area set up on the track for stuntman Terry Grant to perform a complete 360 loop in a Jaguar F-pace. As it turns out, this particular loop is the tallest ever built at 64′ and generating about 6 G’s of force, setting a new world record.
Ferrari was also giving ride-alongs to attendees of the Ferrari Experience event section which was also supported by many members of their race team.
The Hoonigans also had their own “Burnyard” area with a drift display that allowed for many of the local drift competitors and enthusiasts to participate in the show. A great way to make the crowd feel more involved with the entertainment.
The show was not limited to only automotive fanfare either. One area of the concours had live falcons you could hold and pet, and every night is capped off with a large fireworks display.
The best part of Global Auto Salon – Riyadh wasn’t any of the attractions or demonstrations (although they were all outstanding), but the fact that everyone was there enjoying cars for what they are – machines that are built to be driven, not just status symbols or museum pieces.
Whether it’s an LS swapped Hyundai Genesis being drifted around over at the Burnyard or a Ferrari FXX getting its brakes red hot on the main demo track, there’s something for every enthusiast no matter what age or gender.
There is no doubt that Global Auto Salon – Riyadh has the potential to establish itself as THE premier autoshow for the Middle East. The car culture and support are there and it will be interesting to see how it evolves in the coming years.