The wrong car, for all the right reasons

Audi race car

It was definitely the wrong car, at the right time. Last August, I found myself driving a 392-HEMI-powered, Kevlar-bodied, starlight-headliner-equipped, refrigerator-and-humidor-sporting, hand-built suicide-door luxury sedan on a public highway at just over 130 mph—on the left side of the centerline. This was a left-hand-drive Bufori Geneva, built in right-hand-drive Malaysia and destined for the Arab market. The high-speed certification drive, however, was being performed by yours truly—on a freeway where the fast lane is really the slow one. 

Bufori’s owner and founder, Australian-Lebanese expatriate, and enthusiastic Malaysian citizen Gerry Khouri was seated behind me at the time, chatting idly with my wife, the infamous Danger Girl. Neither of them seemed particularly worried about the breathtaking rapidity with which such distinguished vehicles as the Perodua Nippa and the Proton Wira were flashing past their windows. Khouri, in particular, exuded a preternatural serenity—but he has reason to. A few years ago, he spun out on an eight-lane superhighway while avoiding an incident ahead of him and hit the steel barrier at over 100 mph. He was driving the Bufori LaJoya, a sort of Zimmer-esque neoclassic made from Kevlar and carbon fiber, in his factory outside Kuala Lumpur. The steel barrier was destroyed, but Khouri was unhurt and the car was returned to service as a dealer demonstrator a few months later. “We design and build for exemplary situations,” he noted. 

So the man trusts his cars. Getting other people to trust them is another matter. The Bufori Geneva costs as much as a Rolls-Royce Phantom, and it has the HVAC panel from a $29,500 Chrysler 300. Why would you buy something like that? It was a question I heard every time I discussed the Geneva with other auto writers. “A Kevlar neoclassic with a Chrysler V-8… and it’s how much?” Let me tell you something, however: I’d buy a Bufori Geneva over a Rolls-Royce Phantom in a heartbeat. I don’t mind driving a car which requires a bit of explanation. I’m not the only one; there’s a waiting list for the Geneva, even at $400K. 

The fellow who introduced me to Gerry Khouri and the Bufori brand is known as “Bobby” Ang, and he runs a Malaysian enthusiast website called EVOLTN Malaysia. A handsome six-footer with a deep and sonorous voice, Bobby is the Millennial dean of Southeast Asia’s auto writers and the driving force (pun intended) behind the infamous series of “EVO Enduros” that criss-cross Malaysia and Thailand on a regular basis. I participated in an Enduro last year and got a couple dozen speeding tickets from Thailand’s photo radar system. Bobby paid each and every one of them without telling me. “The point,” he said with a laugh, “is to go fast, and you did that.” 

Don’t think that the Enduro is some sort of Bullrun or Gumball kind of elitist Vegas-on-the-move thing. We generally drive on empty roads and maintain the speed limit among the groups of pedestrians and motorcyclists who appear in staggering numbers throughout southern Thailand.

Bufori Geneva shell
Jack Baruth
Bufori Geneva shell

Unlike those high-roller European and American events, Bobby’s Enduros have a perfect safety record. Nor will you find a generic assemblage of vinyl-wrapped supercars indifferently piloted by trust-fundies trying to “find themselves” in champagne rooms. Bobby’s participants bring diesel Benzes, old Miatas, Honda Preludes, air-cooled Porsches—you name it. They come from Australia and America and Singapore and points in between. Men, women, some rich beyond my wildest dreams, and some who live on the equivalent of $10,000 a year. 

This diverse group is united by a single idea: they all bought the wrong car. Bobby explained to me. “When you buy the wrong car, you’re buying a car you can’t explain to your family, your friends, your co-workers. You buy a car that might cost too much. Or it costs too much to operate. It doesn’t always start. The police pay attention to it. People try to steal it. It’s the car you buy based on emotion.” This is a very big deal in Southeast Asia, where people tend to have a strong sense of family and community. The people who buy the wrong car can face serious consequences. You could lose your job, or find out that the person you were going to marry has been counseled otherwise by their parents. 

And yet Bobby’s people keep buying the wrong car. Worse yet, they do the wrong things with it. Last year, I met a fellow named Suresh, a Malaysian of Indian ancestry who bought a first-gen Lotus Elise with the intention of driving it all over the continent. He fixes it on the move, at scooter shops and roadside mechanic stands, using motorcycle parts and duct tape. It’s common for him to drive a thousand kilometers a day on roads that don’t appear on anyone’s map. While most of the Enduro drivers were relaxing in Hua Hin, a Thai beach town and tourist trap, Suresh was scouting out a private racetrack of which he’d heard rumors during another journey. The next morning he produced cell phone shots of his yellow Elise on the track. “I paid them a little bit and they opened the track, just for me, and just for three laps.” That’s the spirit, right there.

In his day job, Suresh is an executive, a suit-and-tie type of fellow who would be indistinguishable from the sophisticated crowd you’ll find around the Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur. Put him in his Elise, and he’s an adventurer. In the wrong car. Can’t you relate?

When I think of my personal automotive history, which started with a Marquis Brougham Coupe and has included everything from a pair of VW Phaetons to a metallic blue Lincoln MKT EcoBoost, I realize I’ve been buying the wrong car my whole life. I don’t regret that. Having the wrong car has opened a lot of doors for me over the years. I think that a lot of our readers at Hagerty are people who love the wrong car. Whether it’s a Pacer or a Mustang II or a full-size Bronco. Even something relatively “normal” like a Porsche 911 can be the wrong car if you’re using it to commute or to travel across the country. 

In a few weeks, I’ll be returning to Malaysia for another one of Bobby’s events. I don’t know what I’ll drive, or whom I’ll meet, or even where we are going. But I know I will be in good hands, surrounded by all those people who made the wrong choice, an island of misfit toys on the move, as fast as we can go but no faster. Then I’ll come back home and take delivery of that five-speed 2006 Milan I bought a while back. I know what people will say: Why would you buy something like that? 

“Well,” I’ll respond, “I can’t say why, exactly. It’s definitely the wrong car.”