UAE: Supercars & a £100m private plate market 

By Jake Smith

Sheikh Zayed Road

LONDON 4 March 2018: There is certainly no secret that the UAE lives a bling lifestyle and much like the stunning buildings, which grace the landscape, the sky’s the limit for what residents are willing to pay for their cherished possessions.

We have all heard about the supercar haven that exists in the Middle East, but what about the coveted numbers the high rollers adorn on these cars for the ultimate unique personal touch?

As the gavel went down at the JW Marriot Marquis Hotel in Dubai, a fierce bidding war between 16 potential hopefuls would leave only one winner. Indian expat property developer Balwinder Sahni finally took the opportunity to add to his personal collection as the auctioneer banged the gavel, announcing that he would become the owner of the highly sought after ‘D5’ plate.

Splashing an incredible Dh33 million (£6.6m GBP) on the plate left Sahni understandably delighted as he prepared for it to join the current single-digits that have proudly found home on two of his six Rolls Royce cars.

Private Plate Collection

After first getting his hands on a set of private digits in 1995, with an exclusive phone number, 22-years later Sahni’s plate-collecting hobby has not only benefited himself, but has also enabled him to give over Dh100 million to charity through the auctions, stating “This is my passion. I love number plates, so if I can fulfil my hobby and give back at the same time, it is a win-win for me.”

For Sahni, purchasing these numbers has nothing to do with financial gain; instead, it’s simply an investment into a hobby that he loves. “Some people think I am crazy, but then I think there are some crazy people in the world too. I love numbers, they are my passion so what harm is it to others?”

Currently owning exclusive car registrations in Dubai, Kuwait and India, Sahni reminisced on some of his biggest standouts to date. “The first car registration I bought was the number ‘225’. Then, in 2006, I bought my first number plate exclusive to Dubai. I’d say my favourite is my new purchase, D5, and that’s because it adds up to my favourite number, nine (add D – fourth number of the alphabet – to five).”

Another firm favourite in his collection is the ‘O9’ number plate, which he purchased for an impressive Dh24.5 million (£5m GBP). Sahni said he always goes into the bidding knowing what he wants, with “no maximum budget” set in place. It was that very sentiment that won the 44-year-old his lucky number D5.

“Spending money on cherished number plates is also a good investment”, said an Emirati entrepreneur who also spent a huge sum of £620,000 to purchase his favourite number. “It is a good investment I am making and I advise others to put their money in unique number plates,” Waleed Abdul Khader said, after parting with Dh3.08m to buy the special number ‘O18’. “Investing in private number plates is part of my business and I have full confidence in the potential value appreciation. I have seen the value of number plates multiply several times over years,” he added.

Despite the traditional belief that the locals are the only ones who are splashing the cash in Dubai, it seen a huge rise in expats such as Sahni over the years, with recent records showing that 85% of the overall population are foreign.

Over-the-top Plate Prices

Topping the rankings at #1, with 1!

There’s no question that single/double digit number plates are seen as a status symbol, flaunted by the wealthy on their exotic and prestige cars in the Arab world. The proceeds from auctions like these go to Dubai’s Roads & Transport Authority.

In 2008, Saeed Al Khouri paid Dh52.2 million (£7.25m at the time of sale) for the number ‘1’ number plate in Abu Dhabi, smashing the world record. With the proceeds going to charity, the money was donated to funding a rehabilitation centre for victims of traffic accidents.

“Number plates have become more luxurious than the cars themselves.”  Despite the number ‘1’ plate being placed on a Pagani Zonda F Roadster with a price tag of $1.4m, the plate was an impressive 10-times the cost of what is one of the world’s most expensive cars. “I bought it because it’s the best number,” said Saeed Abdul Ghafar Al Khouri, a member of a prominent Abu Dhabi family that made its fortune in real estate. “I bought it because I want to be the best in the world.”

Most expensive number plate sales

  • ‘VIP 1’ – Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich decided to splash a small £300,000 amount of his wealth in 2006 on the ‘VIP 1’ plate. Becoming the latest VIP to flaunt the plate, it was initially commissioned for the Popemobile during Pope John Paul II’s papal visit to Ireland.

  • ‘M1’ – Also purchased in 2006, Mike McCoomb used part of his fortune from selling the BT Cellnet company to make a record-breaking purchase at £330,000.

  • ‘F1’ – In 2008, Bradford-based entrepreneur Afzal Khan smashed the previous record by splashing out £440,000 on the plate which adorned his SLR McLaren. He happily stated “I think it’s a good price to pay because it’s probably worth 10 times that”.

  • ‘5’ – The first person to enter the six-digit rankings was Talal Ali Mohammed Khoury as he smashed the world record by paying £3.5m. Not content with just one plate, he then went on to splash out an additional £800,000 on the number ‘55’. You may think he 5 is his magic number, but when asked, he said the numbers held “absolutely no significance whatsoever” to him.

  • ‘D 5’ – This brings us to Balwinder Sahni as he splashed out £6.6m on his dream number.

  • 1 – He’s still yet to be beat, Saeed Abdul Ghaffer Khouri’s £7.25 million spend on what is undoubtedly the most valuable plate on the planet still sees him at top of the list in 2017.

From the ground up
In a nation where they have ATMs which dispense gold bars, things haven’t always been quite so far from what we grasp as reality in Dubai. This 20-year time-lapse video shows just how far the nation has come, from a barren desert to the home of the tallest building on the planet.

With gold being a huge part of the lifestyle, the statistics are still somewhat eye watering with 40 per cent of the worlds’ gold trade in 2013 occurring in Dubai. Altogether weighing more than 354 elephants!

However, the country’s incredible surge has not been without its issues. After the global financial crisis in 2008, many exotic cars were abandoned. Most of the cars were purchased with easy credit during the initial boom and the owners were unable to meet car payments due to financial recession.

Supercar show-off

With the incredible wealth displayed, it also gives the younger generations the opportunity to show-off, which they certainly do in style. If you think you’ve seen an impressive supercar event in the UK, think again with this glimpse into their lifestyle.

407km/h police chase, anyone?

When you have so many supercars flocking to the streets, how can the local police force possibly keep up? Simple! With a fleet consisting of a 407 km/h Bugatti Veyron, a Ferrari FF, a Lamborghini Aventador, and a Mercedes SLS AMG to name just a few – the Dubai Police force will certainly be happy to give the locals a run for their money!

World’s most stunning showrooms

It comes as no surprise that when even the Police force are driving supercars, the manufacturers are also opening their largest showrooms on the planet in the city. In the past year, it has seen Lamborghini, Bugatti and Bentley’s largest buildings compete against one another for the coveted trade.

Next door to Bugatti, Lamborghini boasts their three-level showroom, which was designed by Carlos Ott, a renowned Uruguayan architect, who is best known for his work on the famous Opéra de la Bastille in Paris. The exteriors are jewelled by a massive glass facade, while an ultra-modern interior hosts the fabled bulls from Sant’Agata Bolognese across the 30,000 square feet space.

Splashing the cash elsewhere

It would be crazy to think that the expenditure stops at plates and supercars. In 2016 a Dubai-based company named Z Tyre unveiled a set of diamond and 24-carat gold-encrusted tyres which exchanged hands for a jaw dropping $600,000 USD, breaking the World record for most expensive tyres.

The special tyres were decorated by Italian artisan jewellers before being returned to Dubai for an application of gold leafing by the craftspeople who also helped adorn the presidential palace in Abu Dhabi.

The crazy price tag puts the Bugatti Veyron’s Michelin Super Sport tires to shame in terms of value, which at $30,000 a set seem like pocket change in comparison!

The dream garages

Whilst some people may like to splash incredible amounts on tyres, others are keen to show their wealth in the most impressive way possible. Sure, a Bugatti Veyron is always an impressive machine to witness, but how about five in one place? This is just a small part of what is quite possibly the largest car collection on the planet and it belongs to a family of Abu Dhabi.

With just about every rare supercar and hypercar you could ever imagine on show at the private museum of SBH Royal Auto Gallery it’s enough to truly blow your mind.

The foundation for the current collection was laid in April 2004 with an Alpina V8 Roadster – the start of a hobby that now includes nearly every desirable hypercar on the planet. Inside the gallery is room for 32 cars on display but this is only part of the total collection that comprises of dozens of cars.

A designated area in the gallery has been reserved for a few brands in particular: Bugatti with both the Veyron Super Sport World Record Edition as the Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse World Record Edition along with two other Veyrons and a blue Bugatti EB110.

Ferrari has a special area, which includes the legendary F40, F50, Enzo, 599XX and a LaFerrari and an incredibly rare Sergio, 1 of just 6 made. Porsche is present with the Carrera GT and the ultra-rare Porsche GT1 and Mercedes-Benz with the SLR 722 Edition, SLR 722 S, SLR Stirling Moss, SL65 Black Series, legendary 300SL Gullwing and an ultra-rare CLK GTR Roadster. With the collection ever growing, it’s a true petrol heads dream.

With an offering to suit everyone’s taste, if supercars and hypercars aren’t your thing and you prefer the weird and wonderful, Hamad Bin Hamdan has just the thing for you. Known as ‘The Rainbow Sheikh’, is also a billionaire.

Hosting a pyramid shaped structure built specifically to display his car collection to the public. The nickname Rainbow Sheikh has been given to Sheikh Hamad because of his collection of Mercedes S Class, available in seven different colours.

His car collection not only includes the latest super cars, but also the antique and some of the old, recovered cars. One of his antique cars include Ford Model T, which has been restored to mint condition.

He also owns the world’s largest Dodge Power Wagon, which weighs around 50 ton and is the most prominent vehicle in his museum.

Buy a house, get a free Lambo!

You too could join the supercar elite, if you are lucky enough to treat yourself to a well sought after apartment in the city, Damac properties, a Dubai based builder, has promised gifts such as a Lamborghini Huracan to customers who purchased their property. This would be the perfect opportunity to invest the money you have saved on a personal plate to grace the car!

Real estate companies are not the only ones doing giveaways, drivers who are able to maintain a clean slate on the roads for an entire year and have no driving offences registered against their name are eligible to enter into a raffle, with the top prize being a brand new car. The scheme, rolled out by the Dubai Traffic Police, is part of an initiative to reduce the number of deaths in the emirate, which the administration wants to be zero by the year 2020.

The scheme includes prizes for 1,500 people in total, out of which, two individuals win a car, while others can enjoy hotel stays and gift vouchers. For all of those who qualify to win, they get 24 “White Points” on their licence, which they can use to waive off minor traffic offences.

Beyond the clouds

It is not all about plates and cars and if you are ever lucky enough to visit the city, the Burj Khalifa is undoubtedly the first thing you will notice. The incredible tower stands at 828 meters (2,716.5 feet) tall, soaring over Dubai. It sits three times as tall as the Eiffel Tower and nearly twice as tall as the Empire State Building.

Burj Khalifa has accomplished a series of world records and construction milestones. In July 2007, on completing Level 141, it was named the tallest building in the world, while in September 2007, on completing 150 storeys, it was named world’s tallest freestanding structure.

Thereafter, in April 2008, on completing Level 160, it was handed the title of world’s tallest manmade structure, and in January 2009, Burj Khalifa tops out with completion of spire. The external cladding was done in September 2009 and an official launch ceremony was held in January 2010.

Burj Khalifa also has several other world records to its credit, such as that for highest installation of an aluminium and glass facade, highest number of stories in the world, highest occupied floor in the world, highest outdoor observation deck in the world, elevator with longest travel distance in the world, and world’s tallest service elevator.

On top of that, it also houses world’s highest outdoor observation deck, world’s highest Mosque, world’s highest nightclub, world’s highest restaurant, and world’s second highest swimming pool.

Of course, this wouldn’t be Dubai if they were willing to settle for already having the best. Plans have already been announced for ‘The Tower’, which will surpass Dubai’s 828m (2,716 ft)-high Burj Khalifa.

The Tower, which will form the centrepiece of the 3.7 square mile (six square-kilometre) Dubai Creek redevelopment project, will be “a notch taller” than the Burj Khalifa, Mohamed Alabbar, the chairman of Emaar Properties, the same company behind the Burj Khalifa, revealed last April when the plans were first announced. The developers are aiming to complete its construction before the Dubai World Expo in 2020.

If that’s not enough impressive records for you, we have no doubt that the residents will continue to break the current prices for the highest number plate purchases as the investments continue to soar throughout the region!


Note: The article has been supplied by Jake Smith from Absolute Reg