An Italian Dessert In The Desert: Chasing Dubai’s Sunrise With A Maserati Ghibli SS
Photography by Máté Boér
It’s only 5AM. The traffic is still calm at this hour, and Tomini Classics’ impressive showroom emerges from the darkness of its surrounding buildings when I arrive. It’s not far from the iconic, sail-shaped Burj Al Arab Jumeriah, the world’s most luxurious hotel, and not just in terms of postal codes—there is some high-end kit housed here.
In the first corner, an immaculate, low-mileage Bugatti EB 110 welcomes the visitors. The silver French rocket is surrounded by some of the best sports cars and grand tourers produced by European manufacturers since the 1960s. My early alarm was set so I could hop into one such car: a 1971 Maserati Ghibli SS. Riding along with Miguel, Tomini Classics’ Assistant Manager, we head into the desert to catch the sunrise between the dunes on an abandoned road. I’ve always wanted to shoot a classic car in the desert; the scenery provides a minimalist, clean look that you can’t replicate without dump trucks full of sand, and it’s something that I missed in my portfolio until this opportunity.
Classic cars and deep history aren’t the first things that come to mind when talking about Dubai, though. The UAE’s biggest city gained attention by its rapid expansion, huge and complicated construction projects, and in only a few decades it’s found itself among the most expensive cities on the planet. From a petrolhead’s viewpoint in particular, Dubai is home to many extravagant cars—where do you think all these multi-million dollar hypercars end up? Wealth, and in some cases the need to stand out from Rolls-Royces, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and AMG G-Wagens, opened the way for the rare, collectable classics to Dubai in the more recent years, despite the fact that this climate and the omnipresent sand isn’t what one might call an optimal environment for these machines. Hey, at least they don’t get rain and snow!
Tomini Classics is a “side project” of the family-owned shipping company, Tomini Group. The classic department started as a passionately curated private collection, and the first car in the garage was a Series 1 E-type back in 2010. The hobby has since developed into a business with a dealership that rivals the top establishments with lengthier backstories.
The owner, Mr. Shaikh, still drives one of these cars almost every day, and a team of four detailers and eight mechanics maintain the constantly changing herd of 70-100 cars. The Ghibli, though, defines what Tomini is focusing on. A collectible, two-door, postwar European sports car, which was thoroughly inspected before it was shipped to Dubai. “Neither restoration projects nor pre-war machines are interesting to us, the latter would be too difficult—the majority of our cars are older than the country itself,” Miguel adds with a laugh.
The Ghibli’s race-derived, quad-cam 4.9L engine wakes up with a typical V8 grunt. Miguel puts the five-speed ZF gearbox with a cautious and accurate click into first, and we start our journey to Al Qudra Desert. An orangey glimmer shines on the horizon, traffic is sparse and the temperature is way below its daily sizzling peak. In other words, everything is set for the Maserati to show what she does best: high speed cruising. Our grins stretch from ear to ear after every downshift. I assume these shifts aren’t necessary with this torquey engine to sneak trough trucks on the multiple-lane highway, but we want to enjoy the symphony composed by the four down-draft twin-choke Weber carburetors under hard throttle—who wouldn’t?
Car enthusiasts might sooner imagine this high-end Italian gran turismo on a curvy alpine road, rather than out here on the endlessly straight roads between the dunes. But she belongs here all the same: Ghibli is the name of a hot and dry desert wind that occurs in Libya, so we aren’t too far off base out here are we? When the wedge-shaped Maserati was unveiled at the 1966 Turin Motor Show it stole many a heart under the lights of the Ghia stand. Later, the production of the steel bodies (with an alloy bonnet) were manufactured by Vignale. The stronger Ghibli SS followed up on the first act in 1969 with 355bhp and a 285km/h top speed—staggering figures back in the day. In total, just 425 SS Berlinettas left the factory between 1969 and 1973.
The Giugiaro-penned body is sleek a though it has its share of edges it still looks very windswept, although I don’t think the master thought that his creation would once fly through this desolate landscape that takes on a more literal definition of the word. After a 40-minute drive, we find the right spot for the car for some photos, and don’t have to wait long for the show to begin. The light “Celeste” blue paint job changes shade every five minutes as the rising sun paints the sky from deep blue through harsh oranges and back to a daytime blue once more. I whisper “wonderful” to myself several times, and I think Miguel, who sees the car every day, still agrees despite the habitualization. We both understand why Giugiaro named this shape as his favorite piece from the era.