Brunei Royal Family Cars
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  1. #1
    Fellow Frogger! Paul Smith's Avatar
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    May 2000
    Camperdown, NSW, Australia

    Icon6 Brunei Royal Family Cars

    According to this book excerpt the Brunei Royal Family was spending as much as 150 MILLION POUNDS PER YEAR with RR in the mid-90s. They were providing half the company'y turnover!!!!

    Staggering stuff!

    Warning - long excerpt

    In this excerpt from his new book, Kidnap of the Flying Lady: How Germany Captured Both Rolls-Royce & Bentley, British journalist and former Automotive News international editor Richard Feast tells how roughly half of the revenue at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars during the mid-1990s was attributable to a pair of stupendously wealthy Brunei princes.

    Roll-Royce Motor Cars CEO Peter Ward was at the preview to the Geneva motor show in March 1991 savoring a moment of good news. The previous year had been excellent for Rolls-Royce and the revived Bentley marque, but the first indications were coming in of what was to be a fearsome economic recession. Ward knew what the implications would be for Rolls-Royce and its work force at Crewe. In Geneva, though, he had just unveiled the prototype of the Bentley Continental R, the first dedicated Bentley product since the 1950s. The reception had been terrific. Ward knew the company would have a winner when production of the Continental began the following year.

    On the company's show stand, he chatted with a representative of the Brunei royal family. As the sultan of Brunei was generally acknowledged to be the world's richest man at the time, Ward paid close attention. Rolls-Royce had supplied a number of cars to the Brunei royal family, including several six-door limousines in the 1980s, and orders kept trickling in over the years. The buying stakes were about to be raised to levels no one in the world had previously experienced.

    "My client wishes to buy the Continental R," the Brunei representative told Ward.

    "You don't understand. The car is only a prototype," Ward told him.

    "No, you don't understand. My client really wishes to buy this car."

    So began the extraordinary saga of how Prince Jefri and his eldest son, Prince Hakeem, underwrote the Rolls-Royce car business in a quest to build the greatest private car collection the world has known. The princes got their Continental, of course. Over the next few years, they complemented it with 22 more. These, though, they specified should include some Continental four-door station wagons. They were indicative of the men's tastes and the scale of their funds.

    The cliche about life imitating art was never more apt. The Brunei royals seemed almost like real-life replicas of the Eddie Murphy character in Coming to America. The central character of the 1988 movie was an immensely wealthy African prince with feudal ideas and unlimited funds let loose in the United States. By coincidence, Murphy's fictional pampered prince was called Akeem.

    Small, but wealthy nation

    Brunei is a tiny country with a population of about 330,000. With a history stretching back 1,000 years, Brunei was formerly a British colony and only became fully independent in 1984.

    Its phenomenal wealth stems from oil and natural gas. The people are mainly ethnic Malay, predominantly Muslim, but there is also a significant minority of Chinese origin. Located on the island of Borneo, Brunei is wedged between the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. Government departments employ 75 percent of the working population, who pay no tax and enjoy free education and health care. In this most generous of welfare states no one is poor, but some are definitely wealthier than others.

    Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, trained at the British military academy at Sandhurst, rules this tiny realm from a gold-domed palace built on the edge of the Borneo jungle. The palace is on the scale of Versailles and is said to contain over 1,700 rooms and a banqueting hall that can seat 5,000. As a younger man, Sultan Hassanal knew how to have a good time, but more recently, mindful of his obligations and aware of the rise of Muslim fundamentalism in the region, has led a less flamboyant life. There were no such constraints on his younger brother, Prince Jefri, during the early part of the 1990s.

    The sultan, who also acts as prime minister and defense minister, made Jefri the country's finance minister and the head of the secretive Brunei Investment Agency. The agency was established to invest the country's enormous financial reserves said to be worth in total over $100 billion. It may not have been the shrewdest appointment ever made by a prime minister.

    Jefri also owned his own conglomerate, Amedeo Development Corp. There were times when the prince clearly found it difficult to differentiate between BIA and Amedeo. When Amedeo - named after the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani - collapsed in 1998 in the wake of the Asian economic crisis, it had debts of $3.5 billion.

    And when Hassanal sued Jefri and 75 of his hangers-on in 2000 for "improper withdrawal and use" of
    $40 billion in state funds in order to prop up Amedeo, some idea of Jefri's lifestyle began to filter out. Court documents revealed Jefri - apparently known as P.J. among his advisers - had a daily spending habit of $747,000 over a 10-year period. He bought the Plaza Athenee hotel in Paris, the Palace hotel in New York, the former Playboy Club in London and Asprey & Garrard, the London jewelers, where he was the firm's best customer. If Jefri bought an Airbus airliner, Hakeem decided he needed one as well. Jefri's most famous purchase was a 46-meter yacht. And a man with four wives, 35 children and 2,000 polo ponies to support clearly needed plenty of spending money.

    The sultan and his brother eventually settled the dispute out of court and an order was made for a collection of Jefri's awesome trinkets to be auctioned to repay some of the debt. The sale, organized by British auctioneers Smith Hodgkinson, took place in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital, in August 2001. It took six days for the auctioneers to dispose of the contents of 21 warehouses crammed with the treasures bought by Jefri during his years of excess.

    Bizarre items

    The items that went under the hammer ranged from the bizarre to the exquisite. What they had in common was that they were all extremely expensive. They included multimillion-dollar simulators for an Airbus A340, a Comanche attack helicopter and a Formula One racing car. They included gold-plated lavatory brushes and 16,000 tons of Italian marble - enough to build another palace. There were 400 Victorian lamp standards, a couple of unused Mercedes-Benz firetrucks, a bronze rocking horse over 3 meters tall and several hundred Louis XIV-style chairs.

    What was not auctioned was the stunning collection of cars collected in the 1990s by the playboy prince. In this mission, Jefri was encouraged by Prince Hakeem, a sports-mad, slightly overweight young man then in his early 20s. Estimates of the size of the collection range from 2,000 to 5,000 vehicles, most of which were kept in four air-conditioned, two-story warehouses in the grounds of a Brunei palace.

    Just as the 19th century's newly created railway and industrial barons in the United States scoured the old world for artworks and other treasures to decorate their own palaces back home, so Jefri's and Hakeem's representatives scooped up the best cars from Europe's best manufacturers. The big difference was that, unlike the 19th-century Americans, they appeared to be interested only in the present, not the past. Thus, examples of classic cars from history such as Bugattis, Duesenbergs or Hispano-Suizas were given scant attention. Jefri and Hakeem wanted their cars to be modern, fast and unique, which meant regular Ferraris barely passed muster. They had to be versions that no one else could buy. Money was not an issue. The exact details of the collection are vague because the Brunei royal family is not in the habit of inviting Hello! magazine into its palaces for happy snaps of smiling princes. It insists on privacy and employs Ghurka troops to ensure its protection. In addition, while the legal dispute with his brother was settled out of court, hundreds of Jefri's other creditors are still owed money. It seems prudent to keep a lower profile.

    Royal financial pain

    The companies that supplied the cars in the first place are not prepared to discuss their clients' purchases. At this end of the car market, they never do unless a dispensation is issued by the buyer. The manufacturers take the long view. Prince Jefri may have stepped back from the exotic car market when his financial problems blew up, and the settlement with his brother reduced him to an allowance of only $300,000 a month, but his obsession with cars has not evaporated. Some time in the future, the circumstances may change. Carmakers will be keen to pick up where they left off with their former customer.

    However, there are enough anecdotes from people involved in the creation, transport and maintenance of these cars to build an overall picture of the shape and scale of the Jefri collection. There were plenty of standard production Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and Porsches, but they were almost beneath contempt. There were even rarer exotica like several McLaren F1s and Jaguar XJR-15s, but a Mercedes-Benz was not worth having unless it was tuned by Brabus or AMG. There was, however, at least one acknowledgement of the past when the princes ordered half a dozen 6-liter AMG-powered Mercedes 500SLs with special bodywork that made them look like the classic 300SLs of the 1950s. One source says little Aston Martin sold cars worth 15 million British pounds (about $26.4 million at current rates) to Jefri one year, equivalent to around a fifth of the firm's sales income around that time.

    However, to set the princes' pulses racing, appearance, rarity and performance were paramount. Their cars had to have special bodies built to their approval or be fitted with more powerful engines, or both. They bought fully working versions of cars the world only knew as concept cars, such as the Ferrari Mythos from Pininfarina and the Bentley Java. Interestingly, in view of the subsequent ownership change at Rolls-Royce, it is understood no BMWs are in the collection.

    No crash testing

    For the carmakers involved, meeting emissions, noise and crash-testing regulations were not issues. The completed cars were air freighted in secure containers to Schipol airport in the Netherlands, where Brunei aircraft then flew them to their final destination. Once in Brunei, the royal family sets the rules and owns the roads, what few there are.

    Autocar magazine in Britain published an eight-page illustrated feature about the Brunei cars in September 1998.

    Among the cars pictured were versions of the Ferrari 456 as four-door station wagon and convertible, a Pininfarina-bodied Aston Martin Vantage and road-going editions of Dauer's Le Mans Porsche 962. The publication wrote about the secret collection's even more secret section where, it reported, every Formula One Championship-winning car since 1980 was displayed.

    Jefri's fast car fetish was just bubbling up when his representative met Ward at that 1991 Geneva motor show. Unknowingly, the meeting was to provide a lifeline for Rolls-Royce and Bentley at a critical period in their history. Ward cultivated the Brunei connection as Crewe went through the painful restructuring of 1991-92. When Rolls-Royce's financial performance began to improve, the most pressing problem it faced was how to replace the range of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys it had sold since 1980. Vickers' controversial selection in 1994 of BMW over Mercedes-Benz as an engine supplier set the pattern for the future but led to the departure of Ward as Rolls-Royce chief executive.

    His replacement, Chris Woodwark, inherited the Brunei orders just as their engineering development gathered pace. He was not as close as Ward was to Hakeem, Jefri's main go-between, but custom-built Bentleys remained very popular in Brunei. So much so that in spite of having to pay for the development of the new-generation cars (the 1998 Silver Spirit and Arnage) and achieving only half the annual sales of 1990, Rolls-Royce did very well in the mid-1990s.

    Brunei specials

    Brunei made the difference. The company broke even on its regular sales in 1993, and then began to make good money because of the Brunei specials. It achieved a return on sales of over 10 percent, an unheard-of figure in an industry that is happy to get 5 percent and only dreams about 10 percent.

    The company delivered roughly 70 to 75 cars a year - mostly Bentleys and most of them turbocharged - to Brunei for the three years 1994-96 and into 1997. But they were not standard production cars. They were bespoke Bentleys costing Brunei up to 150 million a year. In other words, roughly half of the sales income at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars over a three-year period was attributable to a pair of stupendously wealthy Brunei princes.

    Neither were they single car orders. Jefri and Hakeem initially commissioned two or three cars at a time, but when informed that higher volumes would mean lower unit prices, they bought each model by the half-dozen.

    The vehicles included the Dominator, which combined a unique body shape, Range Rover four-wheel-drive system and turbocharged Bentley engine. The cost was around 1.5 million each. They included half a dozen stretched Rolls-Royce Phantom VIs measuring 6.7 meters in length. The cars, which were built under contract by Pininfarina in Italy, were finished in dark blue and featured hand-beaten brass bumpers. They cost 6 million each. There was a whole raft of other specials, coupes and convertibles.

    The Bentley Java concept car, originally displayed as a fiberglass mock-up without an opening hood and with no mechanical components, became a particular favorite. When Jefri expressed an interest, Cosworth, Bentley's sister company, quickly constructed a wooden engine to illustrate how the installation would look.

    The prince was convinced and ordered half a dozen each of the coupe, convertible and station wagon versions. The cost was 750,000 apiece. One source says the Java's engine was actually a twin-turbo version of the BMW V8 from which all traces of the maker's name were eliminated because of the Brunei disdain for BMWs - a disdain that had its origins in a dispute about a BMW gearbox failure. Separately, Rolls-Royce used the Java as a starting point for an ultimately stillborn production car program that was known as MSB, or Medium-Sized Bentley.

    Marketing to the princes

    The people at Bentley came to know the type of vehicle Jefri and Hakeem would go for. To secure an order, the company compiled beautiful, leather-bound books printed on the finest quality paper. They were pieces of artwork in themselves, the sort of books that would not be out of place on the coffee table in comfortable country homes. Other companies were known to produce video presentations about the cars they thought would interest the Brunei princes.

    Bentley's sales books contained the proposed specification for a car and were illustrated with color renderings by artists or computer-generated images.

    The vehicles, of course, did not exist at that stage. It was the sort of elaborate promotion material that an architectural practice might compile for a major building it wanted to design.

    Having received the order, Bentley then had to design, engineer and build the cars from scratch. In the case of the original Java concept, it was nothing more than a fiberglass shell.

    The project went through the same type of product development program as a car destined for regular production, except the final vehicle was costed over a handful of cars rather than hundreds or thousands. Development testing was done in secret at night at the Bruntingthorpe test track in England's East Midlands.

    The Java and other orders were handled by designers and engineers known as the Blackpool team. They worked within the Mulliner-Park Ward special customer department at Crewe under Jim Orr. However, not all of the cars were made there. The business was very attractive in the short term, but Rolls-Royce was not prepared to gear up with the additional overheads for mini-production runs when the bonanza might not exist in a few years' time. It proved a prescient decision. So while the Brunei cars were designed and developed by the Blackpool team, construction of many of them was contracted out to a variety of top coach-building specialists, including Mayflower in Britain, Pininfarina in Italy and Hess & Eisenhardt in the United States, before being returned to Mulliner-Park Ward for final validation.

    The business proved very profitable. One potentially worrying aspect, though, was that there was no such thing as a written order for any of the cars destined for Brunei. The commissions, which were placed through one of Jefri's trading companies in London called Goldcrest, were conducted on a gentlemanly nod and wink basis. When Bentley's development spending rose to worrying levels, a request for additional funds was dispatched to Goldcrest. The money was always forwarded promptly - at least in the early stages.

    Jefri pondered bid for Rolls

    But when Jefri's lavish world began to collapse toward the end of 1997, several of the prince's favorite suppliers found themselves seriously exposed.

    They included Bentley, where Jefri had by that stage built up a sizable debt. In pursuit of settlement, one former senior executive of the company recalls being taken to an anonymous office in London's Mayfair district and asked to wait. He was eventually handed a check for 6 million, the correct amount, by a person he had never seen before or since.

    When news broke in the autumn of 1997 that Vickers proposed to dispose of Rolls-Royce and Bentley, Jefri's agents were alarmed. They did not want their favorite car supplier to fall into the hands of any company they did not trust.

    Besides, Jefri's car collection indicated how dismissive he was of BMW products. Ownership by Volkswagen must have been an even more distasteful prospect for the world's greatest car snobs. A delegation representing the princes visited Crewe to decide whether to bid. In the end, they did not, and were certainly discouraged to do so by Rolls-Royce and Vickers. It is not clear why Jefri and his family stepped back from making an offer, but it may have been a reflection of the gathering economic storm in Asia and falling energy prices. Had they offered a large enough check, Vickers would have had to take the proposal seriously.

    When Jefri's world fell apart in the wake of the Asian economic crisis and the failure of Amedeo, the Brunei fast-car frenzy was over for Bentley and every other beneficiary of his and Hakeem's largesse. Even today, car company executives shake their heads in disbelief at memories of the episode. During the mid-1990s, the Brunei royal family's car lust underwrote the Rolls-Royce and Bentley business plan, yet there was never anything in writing to confirm the orders.

    At the same time, the business allowed Rolls-Royce and Bentley to contribute half the profits to the parent Vickers group.

    In other words, the foundations of a respectable public group, which was also a prime defense contractor, were dependent on the whims of wealthy princes with insatiable appetites for cars.

    As it turned out, Vickers had another reason to be grateful for the Brunei business. There seems little doubt that, but for the unexpected cash bonus, BMW and Volkswagen would not have been prepared to offer quite as much as they did when Rolls-Royce Motor Cars was put up for sale.


    Excerpted from the book Kidnap of the Flying Lady: How Germany Captured Both Rolls-Royce & Bentley, Copyright (c) 2003 by Richard Feast. Published by Motorbooks International, an imprint of MBI Publishing Co.
    Paul Smith

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  2. #2
    Fellow Frogger!
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    Sep 2001


    thanks Paul, a fascinating excerpt, I always wondered where the Formula1 cars went !

  3. #3
    Fellow Frogger! GavinS's Avatar
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    and a fool and his (countries) money are soon parted, what a waste of 40 billion.
    This sort of excess can only cause resentment in his poor neighbours and could have at least paid for a decent car or bus for every citizen/subject of the deluded princes. I'm sure we could offer some auto sugestions.
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  4. #4
    Fellow Frogger! NZ_Mi16's Avatar
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    so sumwhere in Brunei ,there are thousands of cars sitting in warehouses ,not being driven!?

    i think they need a full time driver, just to make sure they all work

    i volunteer myself, its a crap job, but somebody has to do it
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  5. #5
    Fellow Frogger! seesully's Avatar
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    I actually met the youngest son, I think it was Hakeem, many years ago, in the early 90's.
    Was a very nice guy and very flippant with his $$.

    One thing that I found very strange is that he was attending boarding school at Luther College in Croydon.
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  6. #6
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    Thanks very much for the thread. Very interesting. I have an old issue of Wheels that contains some of Autocars spy pictures of the collection.

    I read in The Economist once that the princes have (had) a small army of mechanics paid at around $AUD140,000pa. Their sole job was to keep the fleet in good running order.

    You should see the buildings the cars were housed in... If I had a scanner I'd post the pictures up for you. Amazing stuff.

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  7. #7
    1000+ Posts Warwick's Avatar
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    I believe Jefri's 46 metre yacht went by the name of TITS.
    No kidding.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Warwick2
    I believe Jefri's 46 metre yacht went by the name of TITS.
    No kidding.
    And the two run-abouts that launched from the boat .... Nipple 1 and Nipple 2.
    I jest not !!

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  9. #9
    pur-john, not pew-john! peujohn's Avatar
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    I have that copy of Wheels too. There are some amazing cars there, stuff you have never seen before and didn't know existed. Such as Ferrari 456GT four door sedans and wagons! They look fabulous. The princes must be nuts though. I'd rather own and drive my 504 than own and not drive hundreds of exotics.

    John W

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    Previous: 2005 407 HDI manual sedan, 1980 504 GL, 1990 405 Mi16, 1977 504 GL Special, 1984 505 SRD Turbo

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