Haris Aziz (left)  is a classic car enthusiast and one of the organisers of the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride in Islamabad
Haris Aziz (left) is a classic car enthusiast and one of the organisers of the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride in Islamabad

Haris Aziz is a chartered accountant by profession who has been instrumental in bringing the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride to Islamabad.

He moved to Pakistan when he was doing his O Levels, and became interested in classic cars and motorcycles a few years later.

We caught up with Haris and talked to him about his interest in vehicles and his project.

What was your first car?

Haris: My grandfather gave me his 1974 Mazda when I was 19. Since then I have been obsessed with old cars, but it is a very expensive hobby. So you can have lots of old cars where none of them work right or have two or three which you keep running in mint condition.

Every car needs a lot of maintenance. I moved into motorcycles when I qualified. My batch-mates got me my first motorcycle because I graduated at the top of my class and the tradition is that you get a gift for the person who comes first.

That was a 1964 Vespa that cost Rs18,000. Since then I have painted it and made it very colourful. A friend and I painted it together three years ago.

It’s not just cars – it is cars, bikes and other classic things.

I read a Welsh word, Hiraeth, online which means to long for a place or time you’ve never been to. If you look at old pictures of Pakistan, if you look at old pictures of Karachi or Lahore, it looks so amazing and you can sense something that doesn’t exist anymore.

When you ride an old motorcycle down Margalla or Embassy Road, the sounds, sights and smells are like you are back in time, because this is exactly what someone would have been doing 50 years ago.

Who does the maintenance of your car and bike?

Haris: I try to do it myself. I’ve tried a lot of mechanics but unfortunately had some bad experiences. This is a hobby, so people know that this guy is willing to spend money so they take advantage of it.

I have found some excellent people as well who are mechanics but also into the hobby, so they know exactly what that has to be done. It is a learning curve. Something goes wrong and you try to figure it out, you look online, look through old papers and listen to others.

How much time does a hobby like this take up?

Haris: It doesn’t take up time; it takes up your whole life. Your life revolves around it, as every day you are talking about old cars, you are going to see one, or you are fixing your own.

I read about classic cars or motorcycles and engineering books. I just got a lead on a 1958 Triumph in Karachi. Even though I’m not buying it, I was telling a friend about it so he could buy it.

There are collectives of cars in Pakistan, like the Vintage and Classic Cars of Pakistan and that is huge. I’m a member of all of them since it is a small community but where I am most active is the Vespa Club of Islamabad.

I have two motorcycles at the moment. It took me two years to rebuild one of them, a 1977 Honda, which was a super bike of the '70s. The larger motorcycle groups, the ones with newer bikes, go all the way to Karachi or Khunjerab. The Harley Davidsons go anywhere. The smaller motorcycles mostly do local rides. Vespas are very small and unreliable, since they are 50 years old.

Tell us about the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride.

Haris: The DGR started in 2012, but I was studying then. In 2015, I approached all the classic motorcyclists, because DGR is an event for classic styled motorcycles – classic motorcycles and new motorcycles with the same styling cues can participate. They look old but are very technologically advanced.

The DGR is for a good cause – to support research in prostate cancer, and my grandfather also had prostate cancer. It is a horrible disease that most people don’t know about. In the first year we only had 36 riders in Islamabad and about 120 in Pakistan. This year, at the fourth event, we had over 200 in Islamabad and over 700 in Pakistan.

Are you involved in any other causes?

Haris: Earlier this year some friends and I were instrumental in stopping the sale of the famous 1970 Pullman 600 used by the former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and president Ziaul Haq.

That car is a legend and it is a legend worth well over a million dollars, and Pakistan was going to sell it for peanuts. It was extremely technically advanced for its time, it was the most expensive car and the most luxurious. There are some old videos of Mr Bhutto going to the National Assembly in that car.

When Romano Karim, Moin Abbasi and I heard about the auction, we wrote to the Cabinet secretary and other relevant people and the auction was cancelled.

The car is now in the Monument Museum where they have Quaid-i-Azam’s Rolls Royce as well.

I really want to promote the preservation and use of these cars. We’re also not allowed to import older cars into Pakistan and we’ve made a case for allowing such imports that wouldn’t hurt the local industry. We have skilled mechanics and labour that could begin to rebuild and restore such cars and can develop the comparative advantage in the global industry.

Originally published in Dawn, November 1st, 2018