The Eighties and Nineties were a decadent time of exuberant luxury for the ruling class in the Middle East. And we’re talking balls-to-the-wall excess, with all the oil money rolling in. It wasn’t unheard of for a betrothed sheik or emir to buy 30 cars merely to give out as groomsman gifts. Among the most commonly-ordered vehicles? Mercedes-Benz.
Scores of Tri-Stars were commissioned by royals and oil magnates, but those vehicles were rarely kept stock. “If you had money, you bought a Benz and you completely modified it,” says Daniel Hassan, co-founder of Patina Collective, which calls itself the world’s largest Mercedes collection. “No matter if you were an emir, a playboy, or a drug dealer. The tuner market encapsulates that era perfectly.” Hassan and his partner, Victor Ibrahim fell in love with the tuned and tweaked Mercedes of this era and decided that privately collecting these unicorns wasn’t enough.
More from Robb Report
This spring, the duo is set to launch the first museum of 300 very rare Mercedes-Benzes, each tuned to extremes, all sourced from the Middle East, Japan, and Germany. The self-funded project will be housed in Tamarac, Florida, just north of Miami, and the aim is to focus on the people behind the cars as much as the precious sheet metal. “These cars were extensions of the owner’s personalities,” Ibrahim says. “None of these were built by normal people, so we’re telling the backstory of those people through our collection.”
“In this museum, we need to have only things that nobody’s ever seen,” echoes Hassan, as we stand in front of a curated trio of examples, each of which is undoubtedly bespoke. This showcase, as part of Miami’s Art Basel, is just a teaser exhibit of what to expect when the museum launches. It’s meant to be a specific snapshot of the Middle East in the late Eighties. Let’s walk through three stunners.
1986 1000SEL Diana by Car and Driver
Princess Diana first visited the Middle East in 1986, and among the leaders of nations that were enamored with her was Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the UAE. He was so smitten with Diana’s aura that he commissioned this build by German coachbuilder Car and Driver (no relation to the magazine). It’s one of two made, and the other hasn’t been seen since, per Hassan. It had been sitting forever before it was found in Abu Dhabi and imported after an auction.
At the time, the build cost “at least a half-million dollars,” Hassan says. The base vehicle is a Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL, but a Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman bonnet was swapped in. “All the sheiks in the Eighties wanted to call back to their fathers’ heritage, the 600 Pullman,” Hassan says. Interestingly, despite the 1000SEL badging, the stock engine was untouched; it’s still the regular 5.6-liter V-8.
At the time, the only folks who could wrench on an AMG engine were in Affalterbach, where AMG mills were made. Due to a lack of specialty mechanics locally, those in the Middle East opted more for optical modifications than motor work. “But the sheiks thought ‘1000’ sounded better than ‘560,’ so they put that on the back,” Hassan grins.
Other customizations include opulent 24-karat gold plating across nearly every wood surface, the white-out of much of the brightwork and even replacing some black rubber on door closures with white rubber, a series of Clarion stacks, and equalizers, the addition of two TVs (one is dashboard mounted, and yes, it’s a little cumbersome to see over), custom crests sewn into the white leather seats, and custom Arabic gauges on the dashboard.
The body kit hails largely from Styling Garage, or SGS, a coachbuilder and tuner from Hamburg. (If that style looks familiar, SGS famously got a contract in 1981 to convert 40 S-Class Mercedes into rainbow-colored limousines for the Rainbow Sheik of Abu Dhabi’s wedding.)
Despite the enormity of the vehicle, a clever addition of a hydraulic system allows it to pivot on a single tire. There’s a jack pole hidden behind each tire, activated by switchgear on the dashboard.
If you’re tallying the weight of these additions and wondering how the car handles, it’s as you’d expect. “It’s smooth, but it moves like a yacht,” Ibrahim says, noting he just drove it but didn’t push it too hard because a fuel leak was immediately discovered.
1988 560 SEC by Koenig Special
That hue is Heliosgelb and it’s a factory color that Mercedes limitedly employed in the Eighties, so it felt fitting to Hassan and Ibrahim to utilize it on every single inch of this widebody 560 SEC built by Munich tuners Koenig Specials. “It was just primer colored when we bought it,” Ibrahim says, “and we couldn’t find any Mercs in this sun yellow that we loved.”
The custom paint and leather job took two years and cost north of six figures. “The cool part about the Middle East is that no one asks you for money upfront,” says Hassan. “They’ll just make the whole car and then you can pay for it.” While the engine is largely still stock, the guy who found this machine in an Abu Dhabi salvage yard took all the emissions off the engine, including limiters. “If you slam on the pedal, it sounds wild,” Ibrahim says.
The widebody Koenig kit meant only 15-inch wheels could be fitted, and the styling of those rims is an homage to the Lamborghini Countach. Having bought more than a few Koenig Specials, Hassan points out how you can tell a bad replica from the real McCoy: the side strakes continue over the gas flap.
1997 600 SEC Six-Pipe by AMG
Imagine going to AMG and ordering a highly-customized car, paying more than a quarter-million dollars, and never picking up your vehicle? One Qatari man did that with this C140 V-12-powered 600 SEC. There were 28 special requests beyond what AMG offered, including six tailpipes, a paint-to-sample exterior, matching leather interior, and carpets, a full leather dashboard, custom-painted wood, a custom shift knob, and more.
“It’s very rare to see,” says Hassan, of the volume of requests to get the car perfectly monochromatic. “And it would’ve been very expensive. Base S-Classes cost more than Ferrari Testarossas at the time.” After AMG dutifully complied with each demand, the car just sat at the factory. “It wasn’t uncommon that cars were ordered and forgotten about,” says Hassan. “These guys were ordering dozens of cars at a time. So a local guy in Germany ended up buying it and we got it from him.”
Click here for more photos of the Patina Collective.
Best of Robb Report