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View from the press (AA Magazine) The small matter of taste
11th Sep 2012

AA magazine sent Angie Voluti to venture into the world of the automotive aftermarket, where Afzal Kahn transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary.

And find out who she describes as a champion of tasteless transport!

Was anyone really surprised when Paris Hilton ordered a diamond encrusted diamond for her pink Bentley? Or when Wyclef Jean fitted his white hummer H2 with a 140- gallon saltwater aquarium containing two sharks?

Celebrities – or would-be celebrities – have always felt the need to prove their individuality. Go back far enough and you’ll find people fitting bling wheels to their chariots.

Exhibitionism was easier in the early days of motoring, before mass production, when rolling chassis were sent to coach builders to be dressed in bespoke bodywork.

But today, almost two million new cars hit Britain’s road annually. No matter how expensive or exotic , they all share the same basic attributes: cabin, body, wheels, lights and an engine. Within each model range, the differences are even more subtle. And therein lies a dilemma. As individuals, we want a beautiful object that’s more or less the same as everybody else’s, yet also unique.

This comes at a price, of course, but money is only part of the equation. There is also the small matter of taste. Do you trust your own, or put your faith in a respected designer name?

One such is Bradford based Afzal Kahn, who worked in the car industry for two decades before deciding that even the most beautiful cars could be made more special. Launched in 2003, Kahn Design (see kahndesign.com) is now a British success story, employing up to 80 stylists, designers, and other staff, supporting local industry and serving clients all over the world, including the US, India and Africa.

Of course in order to attract celebrities and beautiful people, one must echo their aspirations. Kahn’s 2008 purchase of the “F1” number plate for £460,000, an ongoing partnership with renowned engine builder Cosworth and a recent link up with the fashionable Harris Tweed brand have all raised his profile.

Individuality is the company’s stock in trade. “I dislike conformity,” says Afzal. “For example, I rebelled against the notion that alloy wheels must all have the same common features: mine were the first to stretch the spokes to the very edge of the rim and this is now the most copied design in the industry.”

Kahn Design buys and modifies cars in order to demonstrate what it can do, favouring Range Rovers, Jeeps, Bugattis and top-of-the-range Audis. Sensual contrast is a frequent theme: military style 4x4’s are typically upholstered in soft materials such as plush red leather, a splash of luxury in an otherwise practical environment. However, most of the company’s work is devoted to cars brought in by clients for bespoke treatment.

Choices, naturally, are driven by personality: a set of twins bought identical matt-grey Rolls-Royces. Another anonymous client wanted her car completely white, inside and out, despite the fact that her children played rugby, while the chairman of a well-known Premier League football club had its crest stitched into the seats of his modified car. Money is rarely a problem: Saudi princesses have been known to spend £100,000 on accessories. But whether it’s a Kahn Design wristwatch, a set of wheels, a new interior or a complete makeover, the common denominator is the brand. In automotive terms, Kahn is the ultimate designer label.

There are parallels with the fashion world because cars can be seen as clothing made metal (or carbon fibre). You may acccesorise them in any way you choose at Kahn Design.

Just as some women spend all their spare money on shoes, young men seem predisposed to splash their cash on cars, even if they begin with nothing more than a large-bore chrome exhaust bolted to a humble hatchback. Of course the results can be ridiculous – because some people have no dress sense.

A champion of tasteless transport is former Manchester City (now Aston Villa) midfielder Stephen Ireland, who was once unwise to be seen in a black Range Rover with pink wheels, grille, badges and upholstery. Seeking something more impressive, he bought himself a white Audi R8 but insisted on red details around the headlights and grille, soon repainted in a more appropriate Man City blue. Obsessed with Superman, he even had a blue, version of the comic hero’s logo painted on the petrol filler cap.

Another extravagance to get Stephen’s red-trim treatment was the Bentley Continental GT he bought for girlfriend Jessica Lawler’s 24th birthday. Like the Audi, the 202mph convertible had white bodywork with a red side- stripe that almost matched the car’s red hood. It also boasted red, white and black wheels and matching leather interior.

Perhaps inspired by David Beckham’s Rolls Royce, which has the number “23” embroidered onto the seats, he had “To Jess love Stephen” stitched into the upholstery. The winged “B” of the Bentley badge was even changed to Jessica’s initials for an extra £1,000 and she soon did another £5,000 worth of damage in a parking mishap.

This sort of thing only encourages the perception that come celebrities – footballers in particular – have more money than sense. Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli recently drew media attention for allegedly splashing out on a vinyl wrap that changed his Maserati Gran Turismo from white to black. In fact, as anyone with any car knowledge could see, he had simply bought himself another Maserati.

Well, how else would you spend £100,000 a week?

This article was published in the spring edition of AA Magazine.

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