Meet Pakistan's Jay Leno and his miracle restoration of the Jinnah Cars
Meet Pakistan's Jay Leno! I did a double take when I first bumped into him in Kuwait at an international concours of elegance back in 2012. 'You know who you look like right?' I blurted out. 'Yes, and you know who you look like?' he retorted. We laughed and hit it off immediately - although I'm still not entirely certain who I actually resembled to his mind (your suggestions welcome in the comments below!).
All pictures supplied by Mohsin Ikram
Mohsin Ikram from Karachi runs a travel agency, but his real passion is vintage and classic cars. He has restored more than 100 cars and has an eclectic collection of his own, some with extraordinary provenance: the Maharaja of Patiala's 1929 Packard Custom Eight Phaeton; the former King of Afghanistan's 1947 Lincoln Continental V12; a 1951 Volkswagen Split Window Beetle (the oldest example in Pakistan); a 1954 Chevy truck; a 1963 Mini Clubman and the car he's regularly seen campaigning on long-distance rallies – a 1954 Austin Healey 100.
Restoring old cars is a luxury
In some parts of the world, old cars are just, well... old cars. Junk and scrap to be recycled or binned. Pakistan is one such example. It's a country with far bigger concerns, such as 58% illiteracy, a 39% poverty rate with 22% of people desperately lacking regular access to food, and ranking 154th in 195 countries for quality and accessibility of healthcare. The good news is things are improving.
More good news – there is a thriving modern and classic car scene there. Even so, while astonishing feats of car restoration are unlikely to be rare stories to seasoned readers here on DriveTribe, sometimes you need superhuman determination to overcome the odds. Believe it or not, it's been a near quarter of a century journey between Ikram first finding a 1955 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible and a 1967 Mercedes Benz 200 and finally restoring them – during which they had deteriorated to crumbling condition.
These cars are part of Pakistan's genesis
What's so special about these specific cars? They belonged to the sister of Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Fatimah Jinnah herself is a noted and much respected figure in the nation's history due to her role in the formation of the country. When she died in 1967, the cars remained stored at the palatial Jinnah residence in Karachi.
Fast-forward to 1992 and whilst on a hunt for interesting old cars, Ikram found himself at the disused Jinnah residence sweet-talking a guard into letting him inside for a look. A locked garage within required a little more substantial persuasion, and eventually they broke into it and found the two classics in reasonable condition. Sometime later Flagstaff House, as it's also known, was sold by the Jinnah Trust to the Government and it was decided to restore it and turn it into a museum.
These are proper barn finds
Here's were classic car fans will need to sit down and steady their nerves. The garage was pulled down and the cars were carelessly and unforgivably left out in the open – bear in mind temperatures can reach 48°C in Summer and there's up to 85 inches of rainfall during the monsoon season. If that's not bad enough, builders would sit on them and parts, including the wheels and some interior trim were stolen. Oh, it gets worse – they were then dragged, sans wheels, and left closer to the sea and the metal corroded heavily.
A sad sight, isn't it?
It wasn't until a friend told Ikram that he had the dashboard clock from the Caddy that he learned of their fate, and potentially their doom. He frantically wrote letters to the government and not getting a response whipped up a storm in the local media.
It took several years but he was finally asked to submit an estimate for restoration, even though he offered to restore the cars at his own cost. Shenanigans and bureaucracy meant another few years went by before he was invited to submit a tender along with others to take on the restoration of the cars. There were no others.
It then took him 21 months between 2016-2018 to carry out the epic double-restoration. Considering how bad the cars looked, admirably Ikram didn't want to simply replace the engines, transmissions and body panels because then 'they wouldn't be Jinnah's cars anymore'.
That also posed the biggest challenge though as 20 years of rain seeping through the bonnet into the engine through the carburettors and open tappet covers meant 'the aluminium parts inside the engine had become like toothpaste,' eek!
Ikram and his team restored and re-fabricated as much as possible, with some parts like the trim, wheels, convertible hood etc, being sourced and imported through the internet. Pakistan doesn't have a classic car restoration industry on the scale of what we have access to in the West, although there are unbelievably skilled technicians and craftsmen that can fix just about anything.
Like any automotive perfectionist, Ikram isn't entirely satisfied though: 'too much red tape hampered the work - we had to stop for almost a year - and when we restarted there was an urgent deadline from the Ministry of Culture to get the cars ready.'
Having said that, some patina of ageing on the panels and bumpers serves to testify that these are original cars. They were finally driven once again under their own power back home to what is now Quaid-i-Azam House Museum and are on permanent display in a specially constructed glass garage. Ikram will continue to be responsible for their maintenance.
If you happen to find yourself there, do check them out, not just for their intrinsic and historical value, but as manifestations of the passion and persistence of Pakistan's very own Jay Leno.