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Retirees shaping Kenya's vintage car market – Business Daily

Paul Chemngorem works on his 1969 MGB GT which he has entered in this year’s CBA Africa Concours d’Elegance. PHOTO | COURTESY
One of the unfortunate things about Concours d’Elegance is that one tends to relax until the 11th hour then you end up losing points for no reason—in a competition where every half-point matters. Sometimes the cars just do not gel and something always goes wrong and you have to work overnight to fix it.
That is what 72-year-old Paul Chemngorem fears as he does the finishing touches on his vintage cars ahead of the Concours d’ Elegance staged by the Alfa Romeo Owners Club at the Nairobi Racecourse.
“This year I am entering two of my old Volkswagens—one a Beetle of 1956 and the other a 1962 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. This is Category 3—that of 1000cc to 1300cc. I have been holding more or less the same cars,” says Paul who has entered the vintage and classic cars competition for 24 years now.
“This is a very expensive hobby. You keep getting new cars to replace the old ones.”
Paul first staked his claim to the vintage cars throne in 1998. He was in his early 50s.
Another veteran who is participating for the nth time is Sati Gata-Aura. The 76-year-old’s first stab in the competition was in 1985.
“I am retired but restoring cars is now my occupation. I still work 14 hours a day,” he says at his home in Nairobi.
Sati Gata-Aura stands beside his 1947 MG-TC during the launch of the 2022 Africa Concours d’Elegance at the Panafric Hotel in Nairobi. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG
Sati owns the 1997 Nissan 160J (1595cc) and a 1947 MG TC convertible.
“I am the only person who has participated in most Concours,” he says adding, “plus, I have the most podium finishes more than anyone else.”
For 85-year-old Anwar Fatehdin, his was a rather zig-zag road to the rodeo.
He has three horses in this race—a Ford 1947 half-tonne pickup F100, the Ford Model A 1929 two-door Sedan and another Ford Model A 1931 two-door Sedan.
“My first entry into the Concours was in 2018. For a long time I was a vintage car enthusiast (since 1967.) However, I was not participating. That changed in 2018 when Alfa Romeo Owners Club approached me to bring my vintage car. I participated in 2019 as well with a view of acquiring top membership into the exclusive club,” he says.
Anwar Fatehdin shows the interior of his 1929 Ford Model A at his home on September 17, 2022. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG
It may seem that the event is heavily-leaning towards the senior citizenry. So how do they get younger people to join?
“It is expensive but it is like going to the casino. It is very difficult for people to appreciate when you do things that are not earning any money. When young people come here {Concours event], they will get to appreciate the heritage of cars that were available back in the day and see how they used to work,” says Paul.
Sati more or less offers a sounding board, going as far as diagnosing the malaise.
“Younger generations do not have the patience nor the time. This is hard work and not many people want to do that. Sometimes you can work on a car for up to two months. You have to be dedicated. When other people are out there enjoying themselves and you are under the car, it is not easy,” he says.
For Paul it boils down to what you like, noting that he is a grandfather but he gently guides with a firm hand but does not impose. A velvet hammer.
“Everybody has a passion. When I was young, I loved cars and admired different types of vehicles. Volkswagens were very popular cars, and I bought my first car, which I am displaying, in 1973,” Paul says.
“I get a kick out of it. It makes me happy,” adds Anwar.
Maintenance of these vehicles does not come cheap. Paul owns over 18 cars, some for daily use, and others as project cars.
“If you love something you maintain it. It is like playing golf, you start with a low handicap as you make your way up. I have been collecting these cars over the years and maintaining them myself.
“I am a mechanic, though not by profession, and learned as a spanner boy for the Kenyan Safari Rally drivers who used to compete in the East African Safari Rally. Now I am in a position to rebuild. And when you do restoration you have to strip the car to pieces. With the help of a mechanic I have been training, I do all my cars by myself,” he says.
However, nothing comes without challenges. “The challenge is spare parts. When I am outside the country I search for them or I import some but it is very difficult.”
“It can take up to two years to rebuild a car. Just not rebuilding but rebuilding for the car to win a show,” adds Sati. He owns eight cars in his collection. In this year’s competition, he has two dogs in the fight.
A 1600cc Nissan 160J and the 1300cc MG TC convertible. For Sati, the goal is parading the kind of vintage and classic cars Kenya has.
At the last Concours, there were 28 entries from outside Kenya. That edition, held before the Covid-19 shut down the world saw John Wroe narrowly beat his daughter Veronica as his 1930 Ford Model A won the 2019 edition.
John Wroe, a vintage classic car collector and restorer at his Karen home. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
In previous editions, overall car winners have included a 1928 Chevrolet, a 1928 Ford, a 1926 Fiat, a 1934 Alvis Firefly, a 1934 Railton, a 1951 Daimler DB 18 Barker, and a 1952 MGTD.
This year’s event has attracted 70 cars and 40 motorcycles. Cars will be categorised into 12 divisions while motorcycles will contain eight categories.
Judging is based on cleanliness, condition and there are bonus points for age. As the Concours is open to all makes and types of cars and motorcycles, it is not possible to assess the originality and this characteristic is not taken into consideration.
As he prepares for the competition, Paul has a few choice words.
“You have to be resilient in terms of maintaining these cars. You have to feel and ride them around. These cars also represent history. I believe in heritage and I love history. If you can, get just one car and try to restore it. Maybe your fathers and grandfathers have such cars, take them. It’s a nice project, it will keep you busy and it is also fun.”
For Sati, it is all about winning. “Concours d’Elegance has taught me that there are two types of competitors. Some competitors take part for the sake of taking part, and then others to win the show. I belong to the latter. I have won three times as the overall winner, and have not lacked a podium finish in many of the editions. This year, I have no plan of losing.”
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