It’s no longer enough to own an expensive, premium car – not if other people can buy the same thing.
Now a few hundred wealthy people each year will commission a customised vehicle that is unique. In other words, a personalised vehicle.
There’s nothing new under the sun and the practice of automotive coachbuilding stretches back to the early 1900s when discerning customers would employ the services of expert craftsmen to create a customised vehicle body on a pre-manufactured chassis.
Today, this is a demand which prestige car makers such as Aston Martin, with its new bespoke Q division, are now working to meet and even Jaguar is getting into the business of building ‘modern collectables’.
But there are independent operators and perhaps foremost among these is Afzal Kahn, a legendary designer and self-confessed petrol head who abandoned a career in architecture to pursue his interest in the car business.
He is now the proud founder and owner of the Kahn group of companies: Kahn Design, the Chelsea Truck Company and Project Kahn.
He started Project Kahn in 2004 and concentrated mostly on customising Range Rovers.
In the past couple of years, Project Kahn has expanded into modifying and re-engineering Jeep Wranglers and Land Rover Defenders. Kahn estimates that he will sell well north of 500 vehicles this year, including 100 reworked Wranglers – a
large proportion of UK Wrangler sales – and about 200 Defenders.
In 2012, he set up the Chelsea Truck Company and opened a London showroom on Chelsea’s King’s Road in response to the growing trend for the Defender to be used as daily transport in the capital’s fashionable central districts. The group’s HQ is in Bradford and there is also a flagship outlet in Leeds.
Personalisation could involve the installation of extra seats, sound-proofing, new engines and gear boxes but that’s only part of it.
Group spokesman Mo Bhana explains: “At the request of one customer we designed the whole interior of his vehicle in Harris Tweed fabric, the first ever of its kind. Another customer wanted artico sports seats. One lady wanted a totally white interior. She said: “Even though the kids play rugby, I want it white. It doesn’t matter.” So we gave her a white interior.
“A customer wanted the family crest sewn into the front and the back and a football club chairman wanted the club crest sewn into the interior.
“As long as the requests are tasteful, we are happy to oblige.’’
Another venture is Ant-Kahn, in collaboration with Ant Anstead, who runs Evanta, a specialist maker that builds bespoke sports cars ‘inspired’ by 1950s sports cars, particularly period Aston Martins.
As part of the project, Kahn has invested in a coach building firm in the West Midlands where plans range from coach built special editions to series manufacturing.
In his latest move, Kahn has announced the launch of a new coach-built car codenamed the Vengeance. Built on a new Aston Martin DB9 chassis, the Vengeance is a wide body two-door coupe, with a muscular, aggressive design.
Inspired by the Aston Martin designs of the 1980s and 1990s, the Vengeance is the culmination of Kahn’s lifelong pursuit to create the car he has always wanted to drive.
In a departure from contemporary design conventions, Kahn has favoured volume and flowing curves over angular surfaces for the Vengeance. The result, he believes, is a fusion of modern engineering and classic streamlined design.
The car has widened rear wings, emphasised by lines projected from the signature bonnet bulge, sweeping rearwards from the unmistakable grille centrepiece through the roof and along the length of the car.
The polished stainless steel roof halo and window trim curve to meet at the diminished rear windows to enhance the coupe style of the Vengeance.
The car sits on staggered wheels, with a 16 spoke 20” wheel at the front on 225 tyres and an 18 spoke 21” wheel on 335 tyres to the rear. The multi-spoke design and inner rim was inspired by the classic roulette wheel, with a two-tone finish juxtaposing the central section in body colour with the diamond cut outer section.
Production of a limited series of vehicles (about 25) – aimed at discerning collectors and investors –began this year in the Midlands. Each vehicle will be hand built by Kahn’s team of craftsmen and will carry an engraved plaque in the boot bearing the names of every member of the British team who worked on the car. The cost will be “towards the £300,000 mark’’.
Vengeance owners will be given unique previews of future coach-built projects, as well as advance invitations to purchase new vehicles.
Kahn says: “Launching the Vengeance is the realisation of a dream I’ve had since childhood, to design and produce my own car. I’ve worked in the industry my whole career, and I want to leave a legacy which I can be proud of. The design has gone through several iterations over the years and I’ve taken my time in selecting the right partners to prototype and manufacture the car, ensuring it represents the pinnacle of quality and perfection.”
“I’ve kept every aspect of the underlying car from the crash structures to airbags. Mechanically it’s unaltered – why change perfection? This is coachbuilding in its traditional sense – taking a tried and tested product and working solely on the aesthetic.
“The Vengeance underlines Kahn Design’s expertise in design and coachbuilding. With a team of over 25 designers in house we’re involved in all aspects of product design from automotive to timepieces, interiors, retail space, clothing and accessories.”
“Aston Martin has always been an inspiration, in particular the early Vanquish and the V600 Vantage wide bodies, and I’m grateful for their agreement, and for wishing us success on this project. The Vengeance pays homage to those classic designs while using modern engineering to create something unique and original which reflects my own style.”