Originally published by The National 18th April 2010
Nothing gets my blood pumping like American muscle. The Japanese are bland, the English are temperamental, the Germans lack personality. I’ve given up trying to catch up with the Italians.
My name is Maryam, and I am a motorhead.
Many Emirati women probably think they need to know what a crankshaft is to be a motorhead. But a motorhead is just a motor vehicle enthusiast who has taken it to the next level. If you are into cars, then you are at risk of becoming one. It’s not a bad place to be; you get to enjoy the sound of screeching tyres and the smell of burnt rubber. Join the club.
I grew up in a house where my social life was shaped by the availability of one of my parents to drive me around. In the days when school ended on Wednesdays, my parents would drop me off at a cinema at quarter to five and promptly pick me up at nine. If they had plans, I had to cancel mine.
During those times my father would teach me to drive his SUV around the block. I wasn’t very good but I was very adamant. I felt very grown-up behind the steering wheel. I was in control and felt extremely powerful.
By the time I turned 18 and went to university, I was bought a Toyota Corolla. Driving it scared me senseless.
On Salam Street, lorries would zoom by at a speed that shook my little car like a leaf. There was no power and control at this steering wheel. It seemed that I was driving a matchbox on wheels, and if it wasn’t for the fact that many of the girls at university weren’t even permitted to get a driver’s licence, I would have felt quite embarrassed.
I loved my Corolla though – it gave me the freedom to shape my own schedule instead of freeloading on somebody else’s.
After I started working, my Corolla caught a deadly cold and wouldn’t stop coughing smoke. After a year of saving, I had decided to get an upgrade: a car that could stop traffic.
We live in a culture of exclusivity, and most Emiratis will go to any extreme to make their ride stand out. First, there was the baby-pink phase with the knock-off designer interiors. Then, there was the dark matte paint
job, which then evolved into the orange-and-black colour combination. So it wasn’t surprising that almost everybody I spoke to suggested cars that were way over my budget – because anything cheaper will hurt my Emirati pride.
“Get a car loan,” they said, “it’s worth it,” they said. The best one was something a male cousin told me. “It’s an investment.” I’m sorry, I thought that cars typically lost 15 to 20 per cent of their value the moment you take it home? How could it be an investment?
Feeling deflated, I grabbed my brother and decided to hit the streets, listening to the sounds of Rihanna. That was when we happened by a Ford dealership.
I wasn’t remotely interested in American cars. American cars are famous for their comfort and cup holders, and infamous for the “soccer moms” who drive them. My mother used to drive a Chrysler Voyager, a ship of a car that could sardine-tin 11 children.
As we entered the dealership we were greeted by a Ford Mustang, a beast of a car that was launched at the New York World Fair in 1964. Nobody anticipated how successful the launch would be at the time, not even Ford. They thought they wouldn’t sell more than 100,000 Mustangs that year but they ended up selling four times that many thanks to the Baby Boomers who were entering into their teenage years. The Baby Boomers loved the “Pony”. They took it to the open road and experienced the kind of freedom that you can feel flowing through your hair as you drive down any American coast at sunset.
Four decades later and I was looking at the pinnacle of Mustang design and innovation. I was stopped in my tracks by a redfire 2007 California Special, a 4.6L V8 engine that cranks out 300hp. In other words, it was redhot and really fast, barely street legal.
“Can you turn it on?” I asked the salesman meekly.
What happened next was something out of Gone in 60 Seconds.
Tripping the wires beneath the dashboard brought the beast to life. I had never heard anything more deafening and thunderous in my life. The whole dealership was shaking.
It was at that moment that I became Maryam the Motorhead.
One day perhaps, I’ll drive an electric car. For now, I’m in love with my Mustang.