‘I will race in 1964 Popemobile gifted to Mother Teresa’: UAE historian tells story behind iconic vehicle

The Lincoln Continental is a 4-door convertible that was custom-built for the pope when he visited India


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Wed 9 Nov 2022, 2:48 PM

Last updated: Wed 16 Nov 2022, 1:42 PM

A 1964 Lincoln Continental — which the then pope used and gifted to Mother Teresa — will be part of the 1000 Miglia race when it comes to the UAE next month.

It will be driven by UAE-based motoring historian Mohammed Luqman Ali Khan, who shot to fame for finding and restoring Sheikh Zayed’s old Rolls Royce. Joining him as co-pilot will be the car’s owner, Indian industrialist Yohan Poonawalla.

Khan, who has been working closely with Poonawalla to curate his prolific collection for years, says he is excited about the race.

“It is going to be challenging for sure but exhilarating as well,” he said. “I have been living in the UAE for over 12 years, but I have never taken the route that this rally has gone through. What better way to do it than in this legendary rally that is known as the most beautiful race?”

The 1000 Miglia — popularly known as ‘Mille Miglia’— is coming to the UAE for the first time, bringing together 100 of the most unique classic cars. Described as the most beautiful race in the world, the race began in Italy in 1927 and is iconic among car lovers.


The car

The Lincoln Continental that the duo will drive is a 4-door convertible that was custom-build for the pope when he visited India and is commonly called the "Popemobile".

In 1964, when the Pope Paul IV visited India to attend the International Eucharistic Congress, the vehicle was imported for the pontiff. The open touring, long wheelbase car was considered ideal so that the millions of devotees that thronged the Indian streets to catch a glimpse of him could see him well. Photographs from the visit show him travelling in the car, which is fitted with flagpoles on each side.

Before leaving India, the pope gifted this Lincoln to Mother Teresa, the Calcutta-based Nobel laureate, who then auctioned it off and donated its proceeds to a welfare trust.

Poonawalla acquired the car and had it restored it to its original glory, by changing the colour back to the earlier white shade and maintaining the interiors. The luxurious car, designed by Elwood Engel, is the only Lincoln that will be participating in the rally.

The race

It will be for the first time that the Mille Miglia is coming the UAE and in its inaugural edition, it will feature over 100 cars - 60 from the Arabian Peninsula and 40 from other countries. According to Martin Halder, CEO of Octanium - one of the organizers of the event - the cars will be classified into three classes:

Original Mille Miglia class: Manufactured between 1927-1957

Jubilee class: Manufactured between 1957 and 1971, to honour the founding date of the United Arab Emirates

Contemporary cars: Hand-picked unique cars manufactured after 1971

To be held from December 4 to 8 as an extension of the celebration of the UAE's National Day on December 2, the event will see cars race across 1600km across the seven emirates of the country. The racecourse will traverse iconic locations including Jebel Jais, Downtown Dubai and Emirates Palace of Abu Dhabi.


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