Beauties and Beasts at the Nairobi Racecourse

Next Sunday, the CBA Africa Concours d’Elegance – the most elegant, if not Kenya’s longest running, annual motoring event – will again be at the Nairobi Racecourse down the Ngong Road.

For 47 years our Concours has been held – and this year it has the best-ever theme, Beauty and the Beasts, culled from the name of the children’s fairy tale. The beasts are the competing cars and motorcycles and, as has become usual these last few years, there will be almost full paddocks of both.

The beauties? Well, they are of two kinds: first, the cars, because as the name of the event indicates, this is a competition about appearances – cleanliness and, of course, elegance. Second, the beauties are also the many ladies who grace the event. And the Concours has become a day of fashion: an informal competition, not of cleanliness (more difficult to assess than with cars) but of style.

Increasingly, the Concours is justifying the Africa tag. This year there will be 13 cars from Uganda and 14 motorcycles – 11 from the Uganda Bikers Association, who will again be riding in their throaty convoy from Kampala. There will be three cars from Tanzania and three motorcycles from South Africa.

I am fond of cars. I have had some good ones in my time – a young man’s Austin Healey Sprite in British racing green; a Cortina GT of the kind Vic Preston used to drive in the Safari Rally; and my current Land Rover Defender, made into a beautiful black beast by Rainald Schuhmacher. I enjoy driving, and I like my cars to look good – but I wouldn’t have the patience and the stamina to do all the rebuilding and polishing that have to be done to make a proper Concours entry.

So I decided to find out what motivates a couple of the guys who clearly have both the patience and the stamina to put themselves through the Concours preparation process a few more times than once.

First, I went round the corner in Lavington to have a chat with Magdi Riad, who is entering the oldest car in the competition – a 1927 Dodge. With a lot of pride he flicked through some photos on his phone to show me the state the car was in when it was found, broken and rusted, on a pile of rubble in a building site – and then how it looks now, rebuilt, restored, painted and chromed.

‘It’s taken six months’ work,’ he said, ‘to get it like this – but that’s not really long enough. 24 different people have worked on it, to do all the jobs that need to be done – mechanics, metal workers, carpenters, painters, upholsterers, chromers…’

‘So why do you do it?’ I asked. ‘It’s not about money,’ he said, ‘and it’s certainly not about winning. It’s because I have a passion – a passion for restoring a car to how best it once was. I guess I’m like a doctor who can restore to life a very old woman to be a beautiful girl made ready again for her marriage.’

After a fascinating talk with Magdi I drove on down Waiyaki Way to the Southern Bypass at Kikuyu and then deep into Langata – to find Peter Giraudo and his 1966 Triumph TR6C motorcycle. I found him working on the bike, in his shorts and work-stained T-shirt.

He is also a man of passion – and about many things historical and political, as well as about motorbikes. But my main purpose was to explore his reason for entering yet again the Concours.

Interestingly, Peter came up with a very similar image to the one used by Magdi.

‘My pleasure,’ he said, ‘is like that of a doctor who treats a seemingly terminally ill patient and makes him fit and healthy again.’

But, rather different from Magdi, he emphasised the engineering rather than the cosmetic pleasure of restoring a machine: like finding a collection of old bits, figuring out how they fit together, rebuilding until the machine works, then taking it apart again to do the painting and polishing.

So why not join them next Sunday at the Nairobi Racecourse? The programme is a well-tried one. As well as the Concours competition, there is the Classic Car Sale; the Motor Trade Exhibition, and the Heritage Collection of old equipment and machinery. But it’s not all about things mechanical; the other attractions are a children’s entertainment centre, live bands, a fashion show, and plenty of places for eating and drinking. It must be one of the best family days in the annual calendar.

The tickets are 900/- for adults and 450/- for children, pre-event and at any CBA branch. On the gate, the prices are 1,000/- and 500/-. The gates open for spectators at 9.00 am. If you want to avoid the Ngong Road, an alternative and more relaxed way of getting there is via the Southern Bypass.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation

A Website.