These UAE women love fast cars and breaking stereotypes
These ladies stick to the fast lanes
Change is good. Last month saw it on the streets of Saudi Arabia as the ban on women drivers was lifted on June 25. With the limelight on female empowerment on the roads, some UAE-based ladies who truly know their cars - inside and out - tell us about the thrill and freedom that come from being behind the wheel
Alex Hirschi: aka Supercar Blondie (social media star)
Alex Hirschi is easily one of the UAE's best known personalities. Going under the alias of Supercar Blondie online, this social media celebrity, presenter and vlogger has a Facebook following of 4 million and an Instagram following of 1.4 million. And her success all boils down to one things - her love for cars.
Having grown up in the countryside in Queensland, Australia, Alex learnt how to drive when she was just 11. "When I look back, it seems really young, but on a property, kids are encouraged to learn so that they can help out on the property and even drive themselves to the front gate in order to catch the bus to school! Moreover, being on a property means there are a lot of private dirt roads so I learnt in a safe environment. Today, driving makes me feel free, fully independent and in control. It feels like my space, somewhere I can completely be myself."
Her first car was a manual Mitsubishi Lancer passed down from her older brother, and then her older sister. But as much as Alex loved her 'little Lancer' (as she called it), she's always had an interest in luxury cars. It was an interest that only grew when she moved to Dubai in 2008. "It had always been a goal of mine to own a supercar one day and my interest increased tenfold when I started seeing more of these cars. Coming from a small town, it wasn't usual to see more than a handful of supercars during a year!"
Having previously worked as a presenter with Dubai Eye 108.8, Alex decided to take a leap of faith last year, and go into working on social media fulltime. That includes travelling around the world, and creating videos for Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. It may seem like a piece of cake but it actually translates to hours preparing for shoots, choosing locations, getting other people involved, organising interviews, shooting, editing, answering enquiries from all over the world and arranging collaborations. With a fast growing fan base, it's clear she's doing something right - a feat she credits to her alternate take on cars.
"I'm not really a reviewer in the traditional sense," she explains. "There are many amazing journalists out there who are experts in their field. I like to take a different approach and simply make cars look like fun. The automotive world can be quite insular and intimidating in that people feel like they need to be experts to be a part of it and I disagree completely. Every one of us has a relationship with cars and we deserve to feel included."
Today, there are several things Alex loves about her job, such as being able to drive some truly incredible cars around the world. In the past, she's driven a batmobile, the Dodge Demon and the La Ferrari, but her favourite driving experience so far has been driving the special Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport L'Or Blanc which she describes as a 'work of art' (she was the third person in the world to drive that car at that time). Of course, being able to inspire other women to be more confident and enter male-dominated industries,makes her job all the more worthwhile.
However, being an influencer means that Alex also has to deal with something all public figures are subject to - Internet trolls. And, being a woman in a mostly male-dominated industry can make it much worse. When asked if she's ever had to deal with sexism or stereotypes of female drivers, Alex frankly replies 'every single day'.
"I thought, as a society, we had progressed past these thoughts but I am reminded now that there is still a massive issue with women being put down - not only by men, but also by other women," she says. "Much of the hate I have to deal with is from people not understanding how I do what I do, and attributing that success to using my body to get ahead. Every day I get put-downs that I don't deserve to be where I am and that I couldn't have achieved it without the help of a man. Another common thing is when men say women don't know anything about cars - my usual response is that men weren't born with knowledge of cars either! At some point, we all had to learn. While I've discovered that some men are still quite sexist, there are many more men who are not, and have supported me in this journey to no end. And for that I'm really grateful."
Founder of Arabian Gazelles, UAE's first all-female supercar club
Photo: Juidin Bernarrd
Hanan Mazouzi describes her love for cars as something that has 'always been there - for as far back as I can remember'. The Algerian-born car enthusiast especially developed a passion for high-performance vehicles, and over the years, started attending track days and supercar test drives in the UAE. It was at these events that she noticed something strange.
"There was a definite lack of women on track or at motoring events," she says. "Moreover, women were always overlooked by this male-dominated industry. I knew I wanted to change the landscape and so, in order to do something about it, I decided to create a platform for like-minded women. I wanted to promote and share our passion for driving high performance cars and encourage a driving culture among women in the UAE and beyond."
And so, Arabian Gazelles - UAE's first female-only supercar club - was launched in 2016. Its members plan road trips, weekend getaways, track days and other driving experiences while also participating in high octane events, workshops, and events by high-end manufacturers. To be a part of this elite squad, one must be a true car enthusiast (who knows their cars - not just someone who poses with them for the 'Gram), and drive and own a supercar. Today, the club has over 55 members of varying nationalities and ages.
"I was surprised by the number of women who had the same passion and were not able to follow it, or had to bury their passion because of lack of support," says Hanan.
Although her idea was met with scepticism at first, today, Hanan says mindsets are changing - Saudi Arabia is proof of that. "I think we are seeing the end of an era," she says. "With the ban being lifted in Saudi Arabia, driving is no longer seen as a male privilege. Even within the UAE, men have taken notice of the group and they respect and support us as we are all supercar enthusiasts and bona-fide drivers who share the same passion and rush behind the wheel," she says. "Besides, we are lucky to have started this club in Dubai which is at the forefront of women empowerment."
Hanan is all set to take things to the next level. In the future, she's looking forward to planning the first supercar tour in the region, which will see 25 supercars explore the UAE and discover its scenic roads during a packed four-night tour. It's been a long ride so far, and has come with plenty of life lessons.
"I don't want to sound corny but I use the early naysayers and their criticism as fuel so as never to run out of energy to pursue my passion," she says. Meanwhile, when asked about advice she had for women on the road, Hanan merely laughs.
"They already know all too well what to do
Photo: Juidin Bernarrd
Like the other women here, Nona Dobbs has been interested in cars ever since she was little. So, it seemed only natural that, when a mechanics course was offered in her school in Canada during her teen years, she gravitated towards it. Although her father, mother and grandfather were interested in cars, she was the first to choose a career in the field.
When she moved to Dubai eight years ago, she discovered that it was a lot harder to get a job in a garage, with it being mostly dominated by men. She started working with Emirates as cabin crew, but left when she found work as a mechanic with Hammerhead Auto Specialist in Al Quoz. So, were people in the UAE surprised to find a female mechanic tending to their cars? "Honestly, not too much," she muses. "When people realise that you know what you're talking about they're much more accepting."
It was during this time that she also began trying to find the perfect car for her personal use. "I spent a lot of time searching for the kind of car I wanted - and then finally settled on a Datsun. It's an automobile brand that is owned by Nissan and was discontinued in the 1980s (although it was relaunched in 2012). The classic car was in a pretty good shape considering it was made in 1976 - but it was in California, and I had to find a way to import."
Nona eventually found a supplier who helped her bring the car to the UAE - and has spent the next five years tinkering and working on her car to make sure it always remains in ship shape. "It is a work in progress," she laughs. "It had been sitting in a garage for about three to four months prior to this, so I had to fix the brakes and make other small changes and adjustments - from the wiring to the lights. But it's all worth it to keep the car on the road because it has so much character. It's 42 years old. And even people who don't know a lot about cars love it."
Working on her car is, undoubtedly, more than just a project for Nona - it is a release, a hobby and an escape. Nona even describes it as something of a relationship. "This is my baby," she laughts. "Maybe I'll have other projects out there in the future, but this one is the first and I'll always keep it."
It's one of the reasons she truly enjoys zipping around town - not to show off her classic car, but for the sheer thrill of driving around. "There's a satisfaction that comes from knowing this is something I have rebuilt in a way. Every chance I get, I take it out. I've put a lot of miles on it already."
Founder of ALBA Royal Car Care
Photo: Neeraj Murali
By profession, Marina Perkins is a diplomat and has previously worked with the United Nations Department of Peace Keeping Operations. However, since she and her husband retired, they started looking for business and entrepreneurship opportunities, and that, in turn, brought them to the UAE four years ago.
"My husband got a job in Abu Dhabi and I was actually looking to open a small business," she says. "And I've always loved cars. They are a means of transportation and a necessity, and in this country, you can't live without a car. So, having a car can give you that positive attitude or emotion. At the same time, I was hearing a lot of complaints from the expat community about services that provide polishing and cleaning services for reasonable prices. We saw an opportunity in a niche market and decided to take it."
Which is how she and her son decided to launch ALBA Royal Car Care, a company that deals with the detailing, restoration, and 'total care of a car's exterior and interior'. A car enthusiast herself, Marina owns a Range Rover ('it's a big car that is sturdy and comfortable - like a seasoned gentleman!') but also enjoys driving fancy cars (her personal preference would have to be a Rolls Royce). But isn't all this a far cry from her previous job as a diplomat?
"Well, it was a process to learn the business from scratch," says Marina. "At the same time, it is not rocket science. You have to have a little experience and knowledge about car maintanence, and then you learn as you go. I started looking into polishing products, equipment, vacuum cleaners and steamers, and this is all easy to learn about.
Marina describes herself as a hands-on owner, coming in six days a week. "I try to meet clients as well, and sometimes, when they see that it's a female owner of a car business, I'm met with astonishment, surprise or disbelief! But most of the time, people are pleasantly surprised."
Her favourite part of her job is seeing neglected, abused and disregarded cars come into the shop. and leave looking brand new. And, of course, helping her customers.
"Something I think everyone should know about their cars is that it is like a living creature," she laughs. "It has to be fed a full tank of gasoline, has to go to a doctor regularly for checkups (by this I mean a mechanic). This will stop it from breaking down in the middle of the road - something that can be especially problematic for women. And it needs to be well cleaned, touched up and beautified from time to time. So, feed, take care and love your car!"