The Excalibur A Chevrolet V8 engine with a displacement of 305 cubic inches derives 155bhp at 4000rpm.

The body rests on a square box-type ladder frame of structural steel tubing with independent wishbone suspension. An anti-roll bar in front keeps passengers safe.

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Quartermile goes from zero to 100

Power and passion –

on demand
How do you take an expensive car and make it even more so? Millionaire meets the woman behind Dubai’s Quartermile and finds out that styling a car, just so, is a matter of passion – and power
text Shalini Seth photographs Bala Santosh

t 22, she’s not a mere heiress, owns more cars than most women own handbags – and improves them for a living. a hobby crosses over into a profession, becomes a dedication with the loss of a loved one, and does a U-turn into an antique car collection. meet ambika Chadha, the director of Quartermile, who says hers must be the only house on the street where there is never any parking space. after leading everyone to expect her in a rolls-royce Phantom, she turns up in a Bentley and insists that it is the mercedes mclaren Slr in the workshop that is really her car and that the lamborghini Gallardo with the three-digit number plate belongs to her little sister. “i don’t drive the Slr around all the time. i don’t want to add miles to it,” she says.


add to these a Hummer (“H2, i don’t like the cuter one”), a Porsche Cayenne, the mercedes S Class, a mini, a range rover Sport, the mercedes ClS and the two antiques – a 1931 Pierce-arrow and a 1986 excalibur – and the family collection is complete. For now. and for later? “i would like to get my hands on all the others i don’t have,” she says, and means it. “i know everyone has a dream of owning one car. But what do you do when you get that car? What is the next one? ” What you can do is improve the car you have. Quartermile customises cars. Quite simply, that translates into taking a fast, expensive car and making it even more so – by changing the wheels, painting a stripe, chrome-plating the mirrors and the fog lamps, extending the fenders, adding tailpipes, improving the air intake… and adding that grin to the >


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owner’s face when he looks at the world from a car that growls deeper, revs up faster, holds the road with increased traction and, by the way, looks much, much meaner and sleeker. “You can spend anywhere between aeD 5,000 and aeD 400,000 on modifying a car,” Chadha says, at home in her showroom on Sheikh Zayed road, unfazed by all the leather, chrome and steel around her. all of this is softened by the spa effect created by candles, potpourri and pebbles. in the background is the flaming-orange limited-edition range rover Sport, which Quartermile has customised with a Kahn kit and put stripes on. “You can increase the horsepower by anything between 25 and 150bhp. it is the whole process of making a car lighter and delivering more. Quite simply, every little bit you do adds a few horses,” she says. “Depending on which car you have, you can push its limits. Some of the cars we deal with are the range rover, the BmW – m3, m5 and the 6-series – mercedes, Porsche, lamborghini and Ferrari. in a Ferrari, the biggest requirement will be a body kit and wheels and interiors. While in a BmW or range rover we still have the option of engine modification.” Chadha’s passion for the automobile effortlessly breaks past her businesswoman persona. “With a range rover Sport that already delivers 400bhp, you can push it to 485bhp without any serious modification to the engine. if it took 4.5 seconds to reach 100kmph, you can tweak it down to 4.0 seconds. if you had 400 horses pulling your car, now you have 485. The difference may be that of nano-seconds but if that car is next to a standard one and you start together, you will zoom out faster,” she says. a word of caution, however. “all cars come with a limit. if we are asked to go beyond the limit we recommend that everything be changed. Then you have to change the brake callipers, gear ratios, shock absorbers… it is good to add speed, but you have make sure that you are able to stop the car when you want to. if you only enhance the speed, the car will still stop but maybe not where you want it to. You have to make sure that speed goes along with safety.” Where the line is drawn depends on the customer, Chadha says. “We have customers from basic modification to the ones who want to go all-out. most people who are passionate about cars want more power.” You have to start young, if you want to think of brake horsepower instead of homemaking. “it is in the family. i don’t remember a time when i was not fascinated by cars,” Chadha says. “When my friends were playing with dolls, i was poking around in my brother’s toy car collection. We all love cars. my father, my sister, my mother and my late brother.” She holds the city responsible for her love and her day job. “Perhaps if i was living elsewhere, it wouldn’t be the same. >

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The Quartermile car spa on Dubai’s busiest artery – the sheikh Zayed road – is named for the legendary santa Pod raceway in the United Kingdom. Built on the site of an old American airbase, santa Pod is the best-known drag-racing track outside the United states. Drag racing began in the Us in the early 1940s when youngsters raced each other down the “main drag” of their Californian town. The popularity of the sport soon made it too dangerous for the public streets and the authorities moved the races to dry lakebeds and abandoned airfields. Drag racing usually takes place over a distance of a quarter-mile. Both vehicles compete from a standing start and the contest is run in tournament-style eliminations.


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A lamborghini is about speed and power. i love it. They make some of the most unique cars. But for all that it is a beauty, not a beast. it is not bulky, it is sporty and stylish. it has an engine that sounds amazing. in tunnels in Dubai, you would see people hit the gas, pull down the windows just to hear the engine. And you hear a lamborghini coming in from a distance.
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in most cities if you expect one or two really expensive cars, such as the Slr – in Dubai, there would be 30. in other places, you would be happy that ‘i have bought this car, not everyone has it’. in Dubai, your car is the same as 10, 100 or even 200 others. So you customise it. and each time there is a new kit, you remove the older one and get another,” Chadha says, explaining the trend that is driving Quartermile into expansion all over the GCC. “after three years of existence we now service more than 300 cars each month. about 40 per cent of these are customers who want their cars customised. most people know exactly what they want. Some clients do not want to touch their engine, only interiors. Some want both. Some want only wheels.” in one year, the company she took over after the founder, her brother, passed away in a car crash, has added a showroom on Sheikh Zayed road to its service centre in the al Quoz industrial area. “When you are young, you need to prove yourself. now, for me, it is about fulfilling my brother’s dream,” she says. “His passing changed me. Suddenly, i was the elder one. and i became more responsible.” The granddaughter of businessman Washesher nath (Win) Chadha and the daughter of Hersh Chadha, learnt about doing business the same way most people learn driving. “i would watch my brother at work, and my father. i observed how they conducted themselves, their problem-solving skills…and with every right decision that i have taken i think i have gained respect. i want to fulfil my brother’s dream. He started this from scratch just a few years ago.” it was, of course, difficult in the beginning. “not only because i am young, but also because i am a woman. and sometimes the really traditional ones amongst our customers were not very comfortable with that,” she says. “our customers, mostly men, are prominent Uae nationals, expatriates – many people with three-digit number plates but then again, there are some who might not be rich or influential but are equally passionate about cars. That is what unites us.” “Having said that, women are getting more involved with their cars. They don’t let their husbands buy their cars for them anymore. While a majority of our customers are male, women are now getting into the grind,” she adds. like fashion, and other good things, it is all in the mind, after all. “The most popular car varies from year to year in Dubai. it depends on which one has become a hit. at the moment, it is the range rover. There must be more range rovers in Dubai than anywhere else in the world. Then comes the styling. Depending on how popular the car is, manufacturers release kits for them,” Chadha says. She has many prescriptions when it comes to a car. “looks, performance and style, in that order,” is her way of choosing a car. “a car can be a beauty or a beast. i like both. >

The Chadha siblings - Ambika with her younger sister, Gauri and elder brother, the late Prabhakar

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“i have customised almost every car i have bought. in the Us, it was the lincoln, Cadillac or a pickup – made it lower, put larger wheels, changed the exhaust and fenders,” says Quartermile’s serial car customiser shadi Elrifai, who is currently vrooming the streets of Dubai in a new, improved BMw 5-series. it is as much about looking better as it is about running faster. • Add front spoiler: looks more rugged and provides added intake for air. • rear spoiler: looks rugged and provides more roadholding capability. • Fender extensions or wider body: makes it look even bigger. • side steps: looks better. • Chrome fog-lamp covers: looks better. • Chrome wing-mirror covers: looks better. • rear muffler with four tailpipes: “it is louder but it is classier. it is a much bigger vroom,” says Elrifai. • light alloy wheels: bigger tyres mean better grip and traction, making it safer at higher speeds. • Paint lower body: prettier. • Paint the brake callipers, rear light, door sills, roof: prettier.
The SLR is mine

The Bugatti, for example, is a beast. a beauty, you drive slowly, cruise around in. With a beast, you want to step on the gas, get that surge. With a beast, you need that thrill.” looks might be important but, “if it looks fast and does not have the speed i ain’t getting it,” she says. “it has to have the power.” Customising a car is a lot about power too. “To burn fuel, you need more oxygen. The more fuel you burn, the more power you have. Power translates into speed,” she says. “The car looks better and goes faster.” But for all that, she only has two speeding tickets to her name ever since she learnt driving. “and i got my driving licence on the first attempt [quite a feat in Dubai], without any vaasta [influence],” she says. But the learning isn’t over yet. Chadha says, “i did learn to change a flat, but i have never had to do it. and i am still learning about actually laying my hands on the insides of a car.” n

Elrifai’s new, improved BMW

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