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The Excalibur

A Chevrolet V8 engine with a displacement of 305 cubic inches


derives 155bhp at 4000rpm. The body rests on a square box-type
ladder frame of structural steel tubing with independent wishbone
suspension. An anti-roll bar in front keeps passengers safe.

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Quartermile goes from zero to 100

Power and passion –

on demand
How do you take an expensive car and make it even
more so? Millionaire meets the woman behind
Dubai’s Quartermile and finds out that styling a car,
just so, is a matter of passion – and power

text Shalini Seth


photographs Bala Santosh

A
car collection.
t 22, she’s not a mere heiress, owns more
cars than most women own handbags – and
improves them for a living. A hobby crosses
over into a profession, becomes a dedication
with the loss of a loved one, and does a U-turn into an antique

Meet Ambika Chadha, the director of Quartermile, who says


Add to these a Hummer (“H2, I don’t like the cuter one”),
a Porsche Cayenne, the Mercedes S Class, a Mini, a Range
Rover Sport, the Mercedes CLS and the two antiques – a 1931
Pierce-Arrow and a 1986 Excalibur – and the family collection
is complete. For now.
And for later? “I would like to get my hands on all the others
I don’t have,” she says, and means it. “I know everyone has a
hers must be the only house on the street where there is never dream of owning one car. But what do you do when you get that
any parking space. car? What is the next one? ”
After leading everyone to expect her in a Rolls-Royce What you can do is improve the car you have.
Phantom, she turns up in a Bentley and insists that it is the Quartermile customises cars. Quite simply, that translates
Mercedes McLaren SLR in the workshop that is really her car into taking a fast, expensive car and making it even more so
and that the Lamborghini Gallardo with the three-digit number – by changing the wheels, painting a stripe, chrome-plating the
plate belongs to her little sister. “I don’t drive the SLR around all mirrors and the fog lamps, extending the fenders, adding tailpipes,
the time. I don’t want to add miles to it,” she says. improving the air intake… And adding that grin to the >

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owner’s face when he looks at the world from a car that growls
deeper, revs up faster, holds the road with increased traction and,
by the way, looks much, much meaner and sleeker.
“You can spend anywhere between AED 5,000 and AED
400,000 on modifying a car,” Chadha says, at home in her
showroom on Sheikh Zayed Road, unfazed by all the leather,
chrome and steel around her.
All of this is softened by the spa effect created by candles,
potpourri and pebbles. In the background is the flaming-orange
limited-edition Range Rover Sport, which Quartermile has
customised with a Kahn kit and put stripes on.
“You can increase the horsepower by anything between 25
and 150bhp. It is the whole process of making a car lighter and
delivering more. Quite simply, every little bit you do adds a few
horses,” she says.
“Depending on which car you have, you can push its limits.
Some of the cars we deal with are the Range Rover, the
BMW – M3, M5 and the 6-series – Mercedes, Porsche,
Lamborghini and Ferrari. In a Ferrari, the biggest requirement
will be a body kit and wheels and interiors. While in a BMW or
Range Rover we still have the option of engine modification.”
Chadha’s passion for the automobile effortlessly breaks past
her businesswoman persona.
“With a Range Rover Sport that already delivers 400bhp, you
can push it to 485bhp without any serious modification to the
engine. If it took 4.5 seconds to reach 100kmph, you can tweak
it down to 4.0 seconds. If you had 400 horses pulling your car,
now you have 485. The difference may be that of nano-seconds
but if that car is next to a standard one and you start together,
you will zoom out faster,” she says.
A word of caution, however. “All cars come with a limit. If we
are asked to go beyond the limit we recommend that everything
be changed. Then you have to change the brake callipers, gear
ratios, shock absorbers… It is good to add speed, but you have
make sure that you are able to stop the car when you want to. If
you only enhance the speed, the car will still stop but maybe not
where you want it to. You have to make sure that speed goes
along with safety.”
Where the line is drawn depends on the customer, Chadha
says. “We have customers from basic modification to the ones
who want to go all-out. Most people who are passionate about
cars want more power.”
You have to start young, if you want to think of brake
horsepower instead of homemaking. “It is in the family. I don’t
remember a time when I was not fascinated by cars,” Chadha
says. “When my friends were playing with dolls, I was poking
around in my brother’s toy car collection. We all love cars. My
father, my sister, my mother and my late brother.”
She holds the city responsible for her love and her day job.
“Perhaps if I was living elsewhere, it wouldn’t be the same. >

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The Quartermile car spa on Dubai’s busiest artery – the Sheikh Zayed Road – is named for the
legendary Santa Pod Raceway in the United Kingdom. Built on the site of an old American
airbase, Santa Pod is the best-known drag-racing track outside the United States.
Drag racing began in the US in the early 1940s when youngsters raced each other down
the “main drag” of their Californian town. The popularity of the sport soon made it too
dangerous for the public streets and the authorities moved the races to dry lakebeds and
abandoned airfields.
Drag racing usually takes place over a distance of a quarter-mile. Both vehicles compete
from a standing start and the contest is run in tournament-style eliminations.

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A Lamborghini is about speed and power. I love it. They make some of the most unique cars. But for all that it is a beauty, not a beast. It is not bulky,
it is sporty and stylish. It has an engine that sounds amazing. In tunnels in Dubai, you would see people hit the gas, pull down the windows just to
hear the engine. And you hear a Lamborghini coming in from a distance.
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In most cities if you expect one or two really expensive cars,
such as the SLR – in Dubai, there would be 30. In other places,
you would be happy that ‘I have bought this car, not everyone
has it’. In Dubai, your car is the same as 10, 100 or even 200
others. So you customise it. And each time there is a new
kit, you remove the older one and get another,” Chadha says,
explaining the trend that is driving Quartermile into expansion
all over the GCC.
“After three years of existence we now service more than 300
cars each month. About 40 per cent of these are customers who
want their cars customised. Most people know exactly what they
want. Some clients do not want to touch their engine, only
interiors. Some want both. Some want only wheels.”
In one year, the company she took over after the founder,
her brother, passed away in a car crash, has added a showroom
on Sheikh Zayed Road to its service centre in the Al Quoz
Industrial Area. “When you are young, you need to prove
yourself. Now, for me, it is about fulfilling my brother’s dream,”
she says. “His passing changed me. Suddenly, I was the elder one.
And I became more responsible.”
The granddaughter of businessman Washesher Nath (Win)
Chadha and the daughter of Hersh Chadha, learnt about doing
business the same way most people learn driving. “I would
watch my brother at work, and my father. I observed how they
conducted themselves, their problem-solving skills…and with
every right decision that I have taken I think I have gained
respect. I want to fulfil my brother’s dream. He started this from
scratch just a few years ago.”
It was, of course, difficult in the beginning. “Not only because
I am young, but also because I am a woman. And sometimes
the really traditional ones amongst our customers were not very
comfortable with that,” she says.
“Our customers, mostly men, are prominent UAE nationals,
expatriates – many people with three-digit number plates but
then again, there are some who might not be rich or influential
but are equally passionate about cars. That is what unites us.”
“Having said that, women are getting more involved with
their cars. They don’t let their husbands buy their cars for them
anymore. While a majority of our customers are male, women
are now getting into the grind,” she adds.
Like fashion, and other good things, it is all in the mind, after
all. “The most popular car varies from year to year in Dubai.
It depends on which one has become a hit. At the moment,
it is the Range Rover. There must be more Range Rovers in
Dubai than anywhere else in the world. Then comes the styling.
Depending on how popular the car is, manufacturers release kits
for them,” Chadha says.
She has many prescriptions when it comes to a car. “Looks,
performance and style, in that order,” is her way of choosing
a car. “A car can be a beauty or a beast. I like both. > The Chadha siblings - Ambika
with her younger sister, Gauri and
elder brother, the late Prabhakar
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“I have customised almost every car I have bought. In


the US, it was the Lincoln, Cadillac or a pickup – made
it lower, put larger wheels, changed the exhaust and
fenders,” says Quartermile’s serial car customiser Shadi
Elrifai, who is currently vrooming the streets of Dubai in
a new, improved BMW 5-series.
It is as much about looking better as it is about running
faster.
• Add front spoiler: looks more rugged and provides
added intake for air.
• Rear spoiler: looks rugged and provides more road-
holding capability.
• Fender extensions or wider body: makes it look even
bigger.
• Side steps: looks better.
• Chrome fog-lamp covers: looks better.
• Chrome wing-mirror covers: looks better.
• Rear muffler with four tailpipes: “It is louder but it is
classier. It is a much bigger vroom,” says Elrifai.
• Light alloy wheels: bigger tyres mean better grip and
traction, making it safer at higher speeds.
• Paint lower body: prettier.
• Paint the brake callipers, rear light, door sills, roof:
prettier.

The SLR is mine

The Bugatti, for example, is a beast. A beauty, you drive slowly,


cruise around in. With a beast, you want to step on the gas, get
that surge. With a beast, you need that thrill.”
Looks might be important but, “if it looks fast and does
not have the speed I ain’t getting it,” she says. “It has to
have the power.”
Customising a car is a lot about power too. “To burn fuel, you
need more oxygen. The more fuel you burn, the more power
you have. Power translates into speed,” she says. “The car looks
better and goes faster.”
But for all that, she only has two speeding tickets to her name
ever since she learnt driving. “And I got my driving licence
on the first attempt [quite a feat in Dubai], without any vaasta
[influence],” she says.
But the learning isn’t over yet. Chadha says, “I did
learn to change a flat, but I have never had to do it.
And I am still learning about actually laying my hands on the Elrifai’s new, improved BMW

insides of a car.” n

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