In November 2019, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia held what was billed as their first annual Global Auto Salon. As you would expect, they made like John Hammond and spared no expense in attracting the automotive world’s top talent and most exotic metal.
At one point, your author found himself standing in an outdoor pavilion within arm’s reach of nearly $10 million of rare and outlandish cars. In the distance, work crews were preparing a Jag F-Pace and 19.5-metre tall Hot Wheels loop as part of a world record attempt. Not far from that, local Saudi drifters were noisily shredding tires with élan.
Then they shot a guy out of a cannon.
Are you starting to get the idea? Beyond those wild stunts, and not to mention the phalanx of celebrities like Chip Foose and Gas Monkey’s Richard Rawlings, we selected ten of the most outrageous things we saw on the ground at the inaugural Global Auto Salon in Riyadh.
Before hitting the show we had to drive to the show, which meant experiencing a good dose of Saudi traffic. Here’s the thing to remember: if there is a space on Riyadh roads, most drivers there will turn it into a lane. Paved shoulders became on-ramps, three lanes became five, and a sea of brake lights defined the entire experience – at least inside the city. On the outskirts, the earthen shoulders were lined with locals selling all manner of goods, long-haul truckers taking a spell, and – yes – camels.
Bugattis for Miles
There’s a good case to be made that the Bugatti Veyron is one of the greatest technological achievements of our time, resting in the record books alongside the Concorde and Saturn V rocket. Showing up in 2005 with a quad-turbo V16 engine and a top speed of over 400 km/h, it was a thumb in the eye to all naysayers who thought Volkswagen AG was full of smoke and mirrors when they acquired the Bugatti rights in 1998. At the Global Auto Show in Riyadh, Veyrons – and even Chirons – were as common as Corollas in Cairo. This dinted their allure not one single iota, with even the outrageous carbon-fibre example from Mansory managing to look good in the Saudi sun.
First appearing at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, the outrageous DeTomaso P72 was on full display at the Global Auto Salon in Riyadh. Designed by Jowyn Wong, the exterior style is based on Le Mans race cars of the 1970s and blends modern elements with that classic shape. The thing looked resplendent against the backdrop of spotless hospitality tents and moneyed VIP shoppers. If you’re wondering, the company says there’s a Coyote 5.0L under that sensuous bodywork, along with a six-speed manual stirred by an open-linkage shifter finished in copper accents.
The company plans to make just 125 copies of this ultra-hypercar over the next three years, maxing production at 40 or 50 units per annum. From first-hand experience, your author can confidently report that those dihedral doors are every bit as psychotic as they look and, yes, they did indeed install small screens in the steering wheel spokes. The rear boomerang spoiler juts from the rear of the Jesko like a surfboard and is said to produce 1,700 kg of downforce at the car’s top speed. A low-drag version will apparently see 530 km/h in the right conditions. That’s what 1,578 horsepower can do for you, folks.
As an unabashed child of the 1990s, your author has no problem copping to the admission that his jaw dropped several times in deference to the sheer number of supercars on display from that decade. Do you like the Ferrari F40? Me, too. There were six of them, accounting for an entire 0.5 percent of the production run. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, consider that’s equivalent to placing about 1 million VW Beetles in the same show. Countach, Testarossa, rare 911s, and the sheep-head-ugly F50 were also well represented.
1916 La Bestioni Batmobile
This machine – it’s too wild to label as a car – was built by the team of Gary Wales in California. Good friend with George Barris, creator of the original Batmobile, Wales has been making these beasts out of old American LaFrance fire engine chassis for many years. Powered by a 16-litre 16-cylinder engine, its chain-driven mechanicals are surely made from gears used by the devil himself to rotisserie those who displease him. Wales said this monster is good for 160 km/h, proving his intestinal fortitude far outstrips your author’s.
Local Car Culture
It’s something of a gearhead’s affliction, right? Checking out the local car scene when visiting a new town and especially as a guest in a different country. This goes double for a place in the world where tourists have only recently been allowed into the country. Riyadh has an incredible home-grown car culture as evidenced by the Cars & Coffee meet every Friday morning in the parking lot of a Tim Horton’s. Yes, dear Canadian reader, you read that correctly.
The variety of cars on display was an absolute riot, ranging from built-up Jeeps to impeccable squarebody Chevy trucks to all manner of fast-and-furious whips. Local gearheads were as friendly and excited as they were knowledgeable about their rides. This is one country that that has a healthy car culture that is only sure to grow even more with its newly opened borders.
Hoonigan Burnout Yard
The gonzo crew from Hoonigan was at the Global Auto Show in full force, putting their smoky stamp on Riyadh in fine style. Creating a burnout yard from a series of shipping containers and a patch of asphalt not much bigger than a medium-sized apartment, these American gearheads put on a show worthy of anything they’ve done back in the States. Taking their mantra of “Kill All Tires” to the nth degree, Saudi was treated to drifting, burnouts, and a great dose of general vehicular mayhem.
Hot Wheels Loop
This 19.5-metre loop was built with one goal in mind: to set a world record right there in Riyadh. With hotshoe Terry Grant behind the wheel of a mildly prepped Jaguar F-Pace, Hot Wheels broke their own loop-the-loop record of 19.05 metres set back in 2015. In an effort to get a behind-the-scenes close up for you lot, we discovered the loop’s track is diamond-plate metal at its base and sprayed with some sort of grit so sticky that your author could not scuff his shoe even an inch across its surface.
In case you’re wondering, Terry hit the ramp at about 95km/h, slowing to about 25km/h at the loop’s apex inversion, then accelerated back down and out of the loop towards a destructible Hot Wheels sign. All in a day’s work, eh?
Dirab Park Autoball
What do residents of Saudi Arabia do with a set of clapped-out Toyota Camry sedans? Affix a whole bunch of padding to them and invent the sport of Autoball, of course. For about the equivalent of $30 Canadian dollars, you and your buddies can knock around a closed course in these well-padded old Toyotas without fear of too much self-inflicted injury. At this level of fun, scoring a goal on the opponent’s net is merely the icing on a very fun cake.