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Nineteen Fifty Meets: Bassam Acaf

 Published: 01 August, 2022

Classic car collecting is not for small hobby enthusiasts but is part of understanding world evolution through the lens of the industrial era. Enthusiasts are not only interested in collecting cars but are passionate about them and the stories of how they were developed with each unique models’ role in history.

They like to collect, restore and even drive these antique pieces of engineering. One such enthusiast is Bassam Acaf, a man of many talents whose left his mark on the Lebanese classic car scene. Last week, I got the chance to interview him and get a better understanding of what shaped his love for everything vintage. This interest is both expensive and rare, making it equally unique.

From a young age, Bassam was intrigued by what went into a building such a piece of machinery, finding joy in taking toy cars apart and customizing in a way he saw fit. Throughout the years, he’s launched a car marketplace, a high end restoration garage and even dabbled his feet in racing.

We spent the better part of an afternoon talking about his passion for cars, his dreams and aspirations and his advice for newcomers!

Can you tell us more about yourself? What got you into restoring cars? Where did this passion come from?

Since I was a little kid, my father used to take me to car shows and buy me a lot of model cars. And I used to take them apart and do some color changes on them, customize them the way I wanted them. I can easily say that this is what got me into the world of cars. I also used to love everything vintage, like radios, music, sunglasses, sewing machines, and anything that comes with that old feel. I used to collect random things basically.

When the time came for me to go to college my father bought me a Kia Picanto, as you can imagine, I sold it and bought a classic car. It was a 450SL,  the 101 of classic cars, that’s the one you get when you want to start collecting. I bought that car for 12,000 USD. It was always breaking down, and cost of maintenance was insane. And one day, I was out having dinner, and a valet comes in and tells me that there is a woman outside who wanted to talk to me. I go out, and she wanted to buy it for 20,000 USD. It got me realizing that you could actually make money out of classics. So I launched back then the Lebanese Classics page. That was 12 years ago. I got to selling some cars through the page while managing it from Qatar. And when I saw that I had traction, I came back and this is when I started restoring cars.

What do you specialize in? Do you restore specific cars? And only to specific clients? Do you have clients outside of Lebanon?

We are now specializing in classic Range Rovers. I also restore a small amount of Mercedes SLs, because they sell more frequently so these are the cars that keep the business running. Usually the 560 SLs, because these cars are the most demanded right now. They have modern power, modern technology but have the classic look. So it’s the car that everyone wants. But our core has always been Range Rover. At this very moment we are working on 6 of them. In a country where everybody restores BMWs, Mercedes’ and American Muscle cars, this is what makes us very special. No one specializes in Range Rovers properly here. The way we do it is different.

At the beginning I did not want to open a workshop, but then a guy approached me wanting to sell me a Defender. It was very clean. And I asked him where he had restored it. He told me he did it under his house. And if you saw the car, you would literally think it was restored at Land Rover Classic. It was brand new. This guy was living three minutes away from my house. So I took the opportunity to ask him to partner up with me, and to start the Lebanese Classic workshop. I had the clientele, and he just completed the package. He specializes in Range Rovers, and he goes by the book. For example, every bolt is painted on so that we know if anybody has tempered with the car. Because we give warranty on our products. Every bolt gets tightened to the factory spec bolt and then we give it to the client.

My clients are very special and close to the heart. We don’t restore cars to anyone unless it’s someone we know, we trust, and he trusts us back. The plan is to keep it on the down low, we don’t want any car coming in for oil changes and stuff like that. We want to keep it as factory.

The transition from a random car page to actually restoring and selling cars is something I am really proud of. We are delivering products with super high international standards. I never thought this would happen. We even have international clients. We currently have 4 cars coming in from Qatar. It’s a very nice challenge because those cars can only enter the country for 6 months, so I told my partners that we have 4 months and 20 days to finish them and the rest to test them. If something goes wrong with a car here, it’s easy, in two hours I’ll be at theirs with the whole equipment and the team. But if something goes wrong with the car in Qatar, we have to fly there.

Can you tell us more about the cars you are currently working on?

At the moment are working on Range Rovers and FJ40s – FJ45s. We have a 1973 Suffix B Ranger Rover. In the 70s the Range Rovers were called Suffix by the way. And we have a 1980 FJ45, which is the pickup version of the FJ40. We like this combination because the FJ40 is an easier car to restore. So we like to keep them going along. As soon as we finish an FJ40 we bring in another one and whenever there are troubles with the Range Rover parts, we work on the FJ40. It keeps the workshop on its feet at all times. Nobody likes to sit down here. We like to work when we’re here and everyone likes what they do, it’s a passion for the entire team.

We also have a 2002 BMW and other cars that we think are special which we work on part-time.

What car was the most challenging to restore and why?

Range Rover work is very hectic, it’s nice and hard at the same time. The pros are that we can take the chassis and the cabin apart, and then put them back together, we call this a marriage. So basically when we take it apart, we give the bodywork specialist the cabin and mechanical parts to the mechanic. Once the mechanical work is done, we assemble it back to the chassis all the while the guy working on the bodywork is still working on the bodywork. On other cars you cannot put the mechanicals in while the bodywork guy is still working, because you cannot separate the chassis from the cabin. The cons are the availability of parts and the difficulty at which at Range Rover is built. If you bring us a 190SL to the workshop now, it would be a joke compared to the difficulty of the Range Rover.

Another really complicated car would be the Jaguar E-Type, which we are looking to work on in the future as well. This has to do with how British companies build their cars.

Any tips to someone who wants to get into the same line of business?

Don’t! It’s so nice but it’s so hectic, I didn’t know it was that difficult. For example, if you buy and sell classic cars, you would make much more money than restoring. But the downside of that is you don’t get as much satisfaction as actually doing the work, you’ll just be a salesman. To bring back a car to life, for someone who is passionate about that, is like a doctor bringing back someone from near death. The eventual dream would be to have enough money to be able restore cars and then open a dealership in which you would sell them. That is the best way to do it, if you have enough money. But if you don’t have the expertise, the right bodywork guy, the right mechanic, no money in the world will get you to being able to restore properly a car. So even before renting a workshop and thinking about starting a business in that area, you will have to find the right team first. And you can specialize in any car you want, as long as you are doing the right job, because if you’re not the best at what you do, you’ll be one in a million of people doing the same thing.

What are your top 5 favorite cars of all time and why?

This is very difficult question. I will need a week to come back with an answer!

Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, which is one of the most beautiful cars ever made.

Aston Martin DB4 Zagato.


Ferrari F40, which is a bit of a cliché, but it deserves to be there.

Mclaren Senna, it’s a proper car for enthusiasts to drive. Every detail on it is for performance and not aesthetic and when they tested it, the suspension broke down because there was so much downforce.

There are global governmental efforts to end the sale of fuel-powered cars by 2035, what do you think of that?

World War 3! Just joking..

Me and my partner have been talking a lot about that. Let’s face it, we’re going all electric. People are starting to do it in their workshop, but we prefer not doing it here because the technology is still very new. The world will turn electric but we really don’t know what will happen in the future, maybe a lot of things will go wrong, maybe they will create alternative fuels. We will just have to wait till then. But as long as we can provide fuel powered vehicles, that is what we will do. I am pretty sure there will be growing competition in restoration because of that, and we need to keep our standards where they are, to clear out this competition.

A lot of companies are now also restoring classic cars and turning them electric. To have, let’s say, a classic Mini Cooper body with an electric motor in Europe is irresistible, I hate to say it, but it’s beautiful.

You recently participated in the ATCL classic rally category and won, can you tell us more about the selection process, the car, and the challenges you encountered?

Picking the car was not very challenging because I only have one car that works from all of my collection. Because I’m very busy right now with the workshop, I’m not maintaining my cars right now to a racing level. I have this 635 CSI that has an Alpina tuned engine. It doesn’t have the turbos but it has the cranks and the pistons, etc. It was a perfect car for me to use on this specific track, which was the wide Roumieh road.

My mechanic Nabil Feghali, whose son also participated in the ATCL classic rally, went with me on this road and taught me how to drive. At some specific corners he told me to go out of them flat out. For the two first runs I was still second because I wasn’t going flat out, I backed out every time. I finally did it on the third run and it paid off. The competition was a 535 Alpina, a Trans AM and an Alfa Romeo.

We are preparing two new cars for next season, MK1 Golf GTI and BMW 2002. As long as you keep the engine the same, they don’t mind so you can tune the internals.

What are the future plans for Bassam Acaf, Lebanese Classic Cars and is a very professional platform in Lebanon for any individual wanting to sell or buy a car. I launched it because we don’t have a professional platform in Lebanon except for one or two that don’t even review cars properly. We review every single car that goes on the platform and we force our sellers to publish the right information. The crisis hit this company hard, but I will continue running it as a free platform until the country gets on its feet again.

For Lebanese Classics, I want this to become a factory that delivers to the world. I want the cars to go out of Lebanon and reach enthusiasts across the world. And when you open the hood, you will find a plate that says proudly restored in Lebanon.

I’ve used my name to entertain people, to create great and special content. I don’t see myself as a car blogger that Mercedes Benz will hire to review their car in a positive way. I’m breaking down cars, highlighting what I think is important and adding a touch of comedy. I am getting close to people genuinely.

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