The Motoring Ambassador of Pakistan

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Written by The Staff of Motorsport Marketing

From the July 2014 issue

Posted in Features


Story by Dave Ketchen • Photos Courtesy of Hanif Bhatti and Mohsin Ikram

Most Austin-Healey owners drive their cars simply for fun. Mohsin Ikram loves being behind the wheel of his 1954 Austin-Healey 100, but he also has a second and more important goal in mind: Using the Healey to change misconceptions in the United States and elsewhere about his home country. This has led some of Mohsin’s fellow car enthusiasts to dub him “the motoring ambassador of Pakistan.”

In November, Mohsin and other members of the Vintage & Classic Car Club of Pakistan drove a 1000-mile rally from Mohsin’s hometown of Karachi to Peshawar, which lies close to the Afghanistan border. Mohsin’s wife, Saira, accompanied him throughout the whole trek. The Ikrams traveled with the Healey’s top down the entire time despite dust, high winds and cold weather.

Mohsin co-founded the Vintage & Classic Car Club of Pakistan in 1986 with Jim Agha, but his deep affection for cars dates back even further. He bought his first classic–a 1949 Mercedes 170 V–in 1980 at age 16.

Mohsin’s hope was that the cross-country rally would “project a softer and truer image of Pakistan” than what the international media generally portrays. It seems that goal was met. National Public Radio did a segment on Mohsin’s adventures, and they also posted a favorable story on their website.

Although the typical American would view driving a 60-year-old roadster across one of the most notorious countries in the world as overly dangerous, Mohsin’s perspective is quite different. “When I decided to include Peshawar as a destination in our cross-country classic car rally, I met with a lot of resistance,” recalls Mohsin. The Taliban views Pakistan as supportive of the War on Terror, and they engage in terrorism in and around Peshawar to try to discourage that support. “I almost gave in,” says Mohsin, “but then I thought that if we start avoiding our major cities due to fear of being attacked, then we are giving in to the terrorists.”

Mohsin, his wife and three others were committed to continuing on into Peshawar, but he wasn’t sure about the rest of the group. “In the morning, as we lined up to leave,” he remembers with pride, “I was pleasantly surprised to see eight to 10 additional cars lined up whose drivers had decided to come along with us. In the future, Peshawar will be included in our route, and some participants will choose not to go, but 10 to 15 of us are sticking to this route.”

Bonds Cross Borders

Mohsin’s positive approach to life in Pakistan is no surprise to Hyman Ltd. Classic Cars owner Mark Hyman, whose business takes him around the world. Mark and Mohsin met at the 2012 Kuwait Concours d’Elegance. Mohsin was part of a small group from Pakistan that accompanied a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost owned by VCCCP member Karim Chhapra. Mark and his son had a Duesenberg on display next to the Rolls. The two groups bonded quickly and spent much of the concours together.

According to Mark, although Americans tend to view Pakistan in terms of war and internal strife, Mohsin and his friends were “very cool guys, very nice, really warm and very outgoing.” In contrast to the stereotypes that many Westerners hold about Pakistanis, it was apparent that Mohsin and his friends were “very well educated and highly accomplished businessmen.” Mohsin has a sense of humor, too. He did not resist when Mark dubbed him “the Pakistani Jay Leno” due to his uncanny resemblance to the late-night talk show host and legendary car collector.

Mark believes that Mohsin and his friends reflect “the best elements of classic car culture.” Although the Hymans and their new Pakistani friends discussed international relations a little, the vast majority of their conversations revolved around cars. As Mohsin puts it, classic cars are a “wonderful hobby which knows no boundaries.”

In addition to Kuwait, Mohsin also has attended several classic car events in India, a country whose relations with Pakistan are often tense. “I had a fantastic experience every time I went there,” he notes. “The fact is that 99 percent of the Pakistanis and Indians–for that matter, 99 percent of the world’s population–have the same beliefs, same desires, same longing for love, family, education and a job. When we all share the same sun, same blue sky, and the same moon, why can’t we all share brotherhood and peace?” Mohsin plans to invite his Indian friends to Pakistan for a rally in the near future.

Back to Life

Mohsin’s Healey has lived quite an adventurous life, just like he has. The car left the factory on May 13, 1954, wearing the same spruce-green color that it sports today. The car was first purchased by the U.S. Embassy in the Netherlands through an agent in Rotterdam named R.S. Stokvis & Zonen N.V. The car was also owned for a number of years by a director of the Karachi Development Authority, Richard Almieda, before it was eventually abandoned.

When Mohsin bought the Healey in 1989, it was in terrible shape. “After decades of abuse, vandalism and two big cars lying on top of it, whatever could be taken out and sold had been stolen,” he laments. “So I just bought a body shell crushed under two cars with no radiator, no carburetors, no manifold, no bumpers, no seats, no gauges, no windscreen, no lights and no wheels.”

Next, Mohsin had to figure out how to restore the Healey. “I bought the car in the non-Internet days, and getting information was very difficult,” he recalls. “The only car magazines available in our shops were Road & Track and The Car. Those magazines didn’t have any information on classic cars or parts.”

Mohsin needed to be resourceful. He started tracking down used copies of Thoroughbred & Classic Cars and Motor Sport magazines. “I would sometimes get lucky and find old copies in old book shops,” he remembers. After Mohsin determined what parts he needed, “it would take forever to get my letter across to the parts shops in U.K. and vice versa. Then, once we connected, there was no easy way to send money across, so I would look for relatives living in U.K. to buy those parts for me and then post them.”

Today, obtaining parts is a lot less challenging. There is one shop in Karachi that still has engine parts for Austin-Healeys, according to Mohsin. “I was able to get original NOS engine bearings and piston rings. But for the rest of the parts, I have to source through eBay and various Healey online shops. Getting the parts is easy, but there is a lot of paperwork and customs duties that are a hassle.”

What does Mohsin enjoy most about driving his Healey? “First of all,” he says, “I love the way it looks with the windscreen in the lowered position. When I drive it, especially on the highways, I enjoy the engine sound when cruising at a constant speed. My overdrive is not working yet, so the engine runs at higher revs when I am doing more than 50 mph, but the sound is fantastic. And the low seat takes me back to an era before I was born.”

Just like in the United States, the sight of a Healey grabs attention in Pakistan. “People have various reactions,” notes Mohsin. “All good. Some give me a thumbs-up, some laugh, some smile. A lot of them ask, ‘What model is it?’ and ‘How big is the engine?’”

Not surprisingly, the Healey poses for a lot of photos. “When parked in a public place,” Mohsin recalls with a smile, “I see from a distance people taking pictures, some standing next to the car and getting photographed. At one of our car shows this year, one of the first owners of this car came to see it along with his wife. They both sat in the car and had their pictures taken.”

Mohsin’s Healey remains a work in progress. “It’s still far from being a proper restoration,” he says. “There are many parts yet to source. I need to fix the overdrive as soon as possible. The gauges are from a 100-6, and they are not connected.”

Another Work in Progress

Pakistan’s international image remains a work in progress as well. Most Americans hold misconceptions about the role of Pakistani women, for example. “Pakistan is a liberal, hardworking nation where women have as much opportunity as men to study and to work,” Mohsin notes. You may be surprised to learn that Mohsin’s mother and sister both earned master’s degrees–in, in English literature and economics, respectively. Mohsin’s 24-year-old daughter works for Standard Chartered Bank following the completion of an undergraduate degree in marketing.

The opportunities for Pakistani women extend into areas of life that have been breached only recently by American women. Mohsin notes with pride that the Pakistan Air Force has about 20 female fighter pilots. “We have a female general in our army, and our national airline has many female pilots,” he adds. Unlike the United States, Pakistan also has had a woman serve as the top leader of its government.

Negative news attracts ratings and advertising dollars, so it is not surprising that the media emphasizes Pakistan’s challenges. As Pakistan’s unofficial motoring ambassador, however, Mohsin Ikram is determined to leverage his Healey adventures to show the world the positive aspects of his country.

Jeff Eakin, Editor for Austin-Healey Magazine, allowed us to reprint this story. Dave Ketchen teaches at Harbert College of Business at Auburn University and is director of special projects at ALARA Garage/Racing.

This story ran in an old issue of Classic Motorsports. Want to make sure you’re reading all the latest stories? Subscribe now.

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