The Lebanese love affair with cars – visible everyday on the country’s streets and highways – is the subject of a new exhibition that seeks to convert a buzzing car culture into a unique history lesson.
Beirut’s Classic Car Show 2011 opened to the public Friday at “The Venue” of Beirut Souks in Downtown with support from Byblos Bank and Solidere. With over 50 collector cars on display representing each decade from 1920-75, the event is a gleaming glimpse into the motoring and cultural history that predates Lebanon’s Civil War.
Many of the rare cars on display will impress the most ardent motoring enthusiasts, such as a pristine bumblebee yellow 1967 Lotus Elan convertible – the only one of its kind on Beirut’s roads and one of only 1,200 that exist in the world – or a striking, dark blue Maserati Ghibli of which only 1,170 were produced between 1967 and 1973.
Featuring the vehicles of three of Lebanon’s presidents, the exhibition aims to “retrace [Lebanon’s] history through cars,” says one of the organizers, Neda Ziade.
The elite cars on display – all owned by Lebanese collectors – were selected by a jury composed of members of the Federation Internationale des Vehicules Anciens from a pool of 200 candidates.
This show is not just for the classic car connoisseur but anyone who craves a peek into Beirut’s glamorous past. The walls of the exhibition are adorned with a retrospective of postcards from Lebanon and photographs of Lebanese families, in addition to cultural artifacts from the decades that the cars belong to.
The show’s organizers especially aimed to reach out to youth using cars as a vehicle, literally, to pass on the “golden age” of Lebanon. “You have a whole generation that doesn’t know the history before 1975,” says Roula Douaidy, another event organizer, adding that the show is “not just an exhibition but a small museum to learn about the periods” of Lebanon’s past.
The presidential cars – including the 1951 Mercedes Benz 300 Adenauer of President Bechara al-Khoury, the 1961 Bentley S2 of President Camille Chamoun and the 1963 Chevrolet Impala of President Fouad Chehab – are accompanied by a timeline of Lebanon’s presidents up to 1975 and photographs from eras past that show the city and society of Beirut.
Chamoun’s grandson, Camille, expressed great enthusiasm at the show’s opening event. “It is very important for people to see the classic cars – they are like a painting or anything else you would go see in a museum,” he told The Daily Star.
Himself an avid car collector and frequent participant in the annual classic car hill climb of Deir al-Qamar, Chamoun found the event “rewarding for the owners who have put so much effort into taking care of their cars.”
Chamoun was particularly proud to share his memories of his grandfather’s car with the public, so that people get to see “the pleasure of the older generation who has … grown up in these cars.” “I discovered Lebanon in my grandfather’s Bentley from north to south. We used to go on hunting trips in that car. It is the best souvenir.”
“It’s amazing,” exclaimed one attendee, Samir. “It’s folkloric – a Lebanese president’s car.”
The Classic Car Show runs from July 8-31. The exhibit is open daily from 4-10 p.m. and is free to the public.