I’ve just returned to the crankandpiston office in Dubai after a very pleasant long weekend in the capital of Lebanon, Beirut. I’d never been before and had a smashing time, visiting museums, historic ruins and nightlife spots aplenty.
But perhaps the most interesting sights I saw during my time in the Levant were the cars. As someone used to the pristine, up-to-date world of the UAE, where police wag a finger should you not keep your car clean enough, Beirut was an incredible sight. Cars I’d not seen on the road for 20 years were here in abundance; swathes of Renault 12s, processions of battered old Hondas.
Among the occasional supercar or luxury sedan sat ancient Mercedes 230s that appeared to be held together with tape and happy thoughts, rally cars parked at the side of the road, ancient Jeeps still doing daily service. It was a petrolheads dream – sad in some respects to see such old machines in such a state, but also brilliant to see the people keeping them going against the odds.
Odds that include some of the worst driving I’ve ever seen, where it seems lane markings are just decoration and traffic lights merely a suggestion. Where parking is done in the colonial French manner of bashing one’s way into a space using the cars either side as parking sensors.