A recent trip to Bahrain, what should have been a fairlyrun-of-the-mill interview with a CEO to discuss the launchof the Middle East’s first sports car plant turned intosomething rather different from the usual chat over coffeein a hotel lobby.
I was informed just an hour before the interview by theassistant to Alois Ruf, the owner of Germany’s highperformance sports car company Ruf, that I was to meet himout at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), home of theFormula 1 racetrack and the location for Ruf’s $20 millionfactory.
When I arrived at the VIP section of the Formula 1 track,my eardrums were subjected to the magnificent roar of adozen Lamborghinis straining at the leash. I hadunexpectedly gate-crashed the Speed Trip, one of the BIC’s200 annual events, at which owners of super cars and Ducatimotorbikes use their machines for what they were meant for:pushing the pedal to the metal and not worrying about overlyzealous traffic cops.
Lined up in the pit stop off the racetrack were the Ruf RKCoupe and Ruf Rt 12, which both looked pretty much likeunmarked Porsche 911s. This was not far from the truth, withthe chassis modeled on the Porsche, but everything else,from the electrics to the engine, completely refitted andseriously supercharged.
Talking with the head engineer while waiting for Mr Ruf toshow up I asked if either of the Ruf cars could take on oneof the Lamborghinis going hell for leather around the track.“The silver one no, the blue (RK Coupe), sure.” With the RufRK Coupe topping 220 mph and the Ruf Rt 12 reaching a mere189 mph, its no wonder Ruf is highly sought after cars bycar enthusiasts in the know.
In business since 1939, Ruf is not well known outside of caraficionado circles but those who can afford them buy them.
Ruf has had a 20-year relationship with the Bahraini royalfamily, inviting sheikhs over for test drives and servicingmodels at the Pfaffenhausen base in Germany. Indeed, LotharDrescher Ruf-Bahrain’s General Manager used to supervise theservicing of the royal family’s sizeable car pool.
With the Gulf awash in petrodollars, Bahrain close to SaudiArabia, a tax-free haven and with the region’s only F1track, Bahrain was a natural choice for Ruf’s first factoryoutside of Germany.
With plans to manufacture 20 cars a year by 2008, Ruf willsoon be pumping out 100 “boutique super cars” a year by 2012for export worldwide.
Ten days later, I was back in Bahrain for the opening of thefactory and in the short time I had been away the Ruffactory had been transformed, lights flooding out of thewindows into the desert, and pools of water shimmeringaround the entrance.
Following the arrival of Crown Prince Sheikh Salman binHamad Al Khalifa and his entourage of assorted sheikhsdecked out in black abayas, a surprise was in store for the200 guests.
Heralded by the revving of a powerful engine coming frombehind the seated audience a sleek, silver matt sports cardrove up to the stage and out swung Alois Ruf from hiscompany’s latest creation—the $450,000, 375 km/h Ruf CTR3.
If rubbing shoulders with royalty and not having a sizeableenough bank account to afford a car like the CTR3 didn’tinform me of my lowly financial position, nothing can putyou further in your place than not attending the Formula 1,and certainly if one is not watching the grand prix from theBIC’s VIP viewing tower.
“Are you coming to the Formula 1?” asked a rather lovelyBrazilian lady. “It’s so much fun up in the VIP box,mingling with the sheikhs and bumping into walls and PrinceAndrew saying, ‘Ah, here are the Brazilians!’ No? Shame.”
Shame indeed, so I headed for the parking lot chomping on afree cigar to locate my rather staid mode of transport totake me back to Manama.
PAUL COCHRANE is a regional business writer based in Beirut