Our ‘first’ this month features the first car to enter Kuwait, interestingly enough it was also the first in the Arab region, which gives us a reason to celebrate a century’s anniversary.
In a day where cars are an indispensable property to every person with an average of three cars in every household, with state of the art technology starting from pocket keys to installed phones, navigation systems never mind television and DVDs, we look back to history where owning a car was like owning your own private jet today. After 100 years a car has shifted from being an extreme luxury to the elite into an absolute necessity found in every household.
The story begins in the year 1911 when a Belgian made car called Minerva was bought from India by Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah with an Indian driver. But not long after the car broke down and was returned to India along with the driver and his Kuwaiti assistant Ali Hussain Khanfar, who then got trained there and soon became the first Kuwaiti to drive a car.
One year later, a wealthy merchant Jassim Bin Mohammed Al-Ibrahim, who lived in India, gifted a new Minerva to Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah with Ali Khanfar as his driver. He used the car daily in his local movements. This same Minerva was used also during the era of Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak and Sheikh Salem Al-Mubarak. Later on Kuwaiti merchants started to buy their own private cars and soon learned to drive them, until Mr. Mohammed Alsayed Omar took responsibility of issuing driving license in co-operation with the Kuwaiti Municipality.
Soon enough, the domino effect happened and more and more Kuwaitis started buying their own cars. In the 1930s the emergence of taxis came in. The first taxi drivers included Abdullah Salem Al-Sederawi, Abdullah Al-Masoud, Abdullah Ibrahim Al-Mutawa, Saleh Sulaiman Al-Fahad, Abdulaziz Ibrahim Al-Mullah and Ali Mubarak Al-Doub.
Interesting enough the first strike in Kuwait was carried out by taxi drivers in 1973 in response to the government’s law of forbidding the drivers to wander outside the borders of old Kuwait city and because there were no unions for each profession at that time they had no other choice but to protest. Some of them were sentenced to ten days in jail and it was eventually contained.
As years passed pay the car become a necessity so there was a rise of car agencies that were basically representatives of international automotive companies. The first agency was in the late 1920’s when Mr. Ali Ibrahim Al-Kulaib got the right to distribute General Motors cars (Chevrolet, Buick and GMC) and in 1936 Mr. Mohammad Bek Al-Naqeeb partnered with Al-Humaidhi followed him by getting the agency of Ford cars.
But one of the main and most famous car dealer in Kuwait was Yousef Ahmad Al-Ghanim who became one of the biggest General Motors agent in the world, starting with Hudson cars then Chrysler and eventually ended up with General Motors. The other agencies were given up for other Kuwaiti merchants like Al-Mullah and Behbehan .
And as for the first Kuwaitis who bought their own private cars they were Hajj Hamad Al-Khaled who had a Ford that was driven by Mr. Mohammad Al-Sayed Omar, Shamlan Bin Ali Bin Saif and Hajj Helal Al-Mutairi . After them came Hajj Hamad Al-Saqer and Mullah Saleh. The first Porsche owner in Kuwait was Sayed Murad Behbehani in 1956. While the first Kuwaiti to own a Rose Royce is Mr. Yacoub Al-Ibrahim.
The first Kuwaiti woman to drive was Shaikha Badreya Soud Al-Sabah although some stories say it was Miss Dawla Abdullah Al-Nouri.
Another car worth mentioning linked to Kuwait’s history was the “Humber“as it was called back then that emerged in the 1950’s that had installed special balloon tires to prevent them from sinking in the sand and which was used by KOC to cross the desert of Kuwait to reach the oil wells. However they discontinued their production by the end of the 1960’s. One Humber survived till this day and is displayed in Dickson House Museum.
First published in Men's Passion issue #27 December-January 2010-11