Chasing down spooky spirits in the UAE, at the wheel of the Pontiac Firebird-inspired Firebreather

In keeping with the spirit of Halloween just gone, I was reminded of this feature I did back in 2015 for Motoring Middle East – tracking down ghosts and ghouls in a Pontiac Firebird-inspired Chevrolet Camaro modified and customised by Classic Design Concepts. Did I find any demons? Well examine the pictures carefully and then let me know in the comments! Read on, if you dare…

I don’t think there are any Jinn in Dubai. There are zombies of course – you see them walking awkwardly around malls, eyes glazed over, hypnotised by their phones, helplessly drawn to gluttonous feasting in hellish food courts (particularly on Fridays) and ransacking designer shops along the way, but that’s an essay for another time.

Back to Jinn though, and I fear even they’ve been scared off by the zombification and retrenched to places quieter and more isolated than potential abodes in the big city. So I gun the big V8 motor of the car I’m in and head out of town: my mission to capture them on camera with the Jinn-catcher ride I’m rocking.

But I’ve lost you, haven’t I? You’re bubbling over with questions right now: what are Jinn, why am I hunting them, what is this car, isn’t Pontiac dead? And so on. Well dear reader, I shall enlighten thee on things most people don’t know, and on some that people simply wouldn’t want to know.

What are Jinn?

Let me take the opening lines from the very film that inspired this whole escapade, a 2014 movie aptly named ‘Jinn’. It explains that: ‘In the Beginning, Three were Created. Man made of Clay. Angels made of Light. And a Third… made of Fire. This third race, born of smokeless fire, was called the jinn. Similar to humans in many ways, the jinn lived invisibly among us and only under dire or unusual circumstances were our paths ever meant to cross.’

The Jinn is the spirit world – the ghouls and the ghosts. They’ve been here on Earth longer, but we were made the dominant species. There are good and bad Jinn though, just like us, and whilst most jinn just learned to live with the new world order, some (the devil’s disciples – Shaiteen) are rather pissed off with humans.

Hmm… perhaps it’s not such a good idea to be seeking them out after all? Yet I feel somewhat confident and assured: I’m packing a couple of bottles of Holy water (Zamzam), I’ve written down Quranic verses to protect me, and most importantly of all, I’m at the wheel of a Firebreather.

What is the Firebreather?

Now you’re thinking: surely this so-called Firebreather must itself be a Jinn, or something from the spirit world, because isn’t it a car that does not exist, or at least is out of time and place – a renegade from an alternate dimension where the Pontiac brand that made the Firebird wasn’t killed off in 2010?

Well this isn’t a Pontiac. This is actually a Chevrolet – a Camaro SS to be specific with an Eibach suspension package, sports exhaust and a new body ‘forged in darkness, born in flames’. Okay that’s a slight exaggeration, the body was made by Classic Design Concepts which actually features in the film itself. It’s where the main protagonist and lead character works, as a car designer and creator of the Firebreather.

Hence this ‘Hero Car’ has a central and starring role in the proceedings in which it is driven hard and talked about in a manner that is not at all purely an advertisement for CDC (notwithstanding the giant logo prominent in the background of one of the key scenes!). No, no not all. Much.

Okay, it actually is precisely that, but c’mon, have you seen the Transporter movies? The ones in which there’s a bit of Jason Statham engaged in fisticuffs amidst the luscious long sequences of Audi’s flagship being all superheroic.

Besides, the Firebreather was actually designed by movie’s writer and director, Ajmal Zaheer Ahmed, who turns out to be a fully paid-up petrolhead that actually studied at California’s Art Centre College of Design – the same place automotive designers Chris Bangle and Chip Foose came out of. Who are we to deny Ahmed this level of gratuitous automotive self-indulgence? After all we’d do the same given the chance!

And it’s actually quite a clever idea – to tie in a movie’s hero car with a real outfit known for producing aftermarket packages for cars, and then offer that same car to punters to buy. And not necessarily as just SS models, but also as ZL1 versions, or modified further with stacks of supercharging – well when it comes to getting away from demons you can never have too much power.

And designing it to resemble what might have been a modern day version of the 1977 Pontiac Firebird/Trans Am is a stroke of genius. Firebirds were traditionally Camaro-derived anyway. But there is a lot of affection for the nameplate that gave us superstar cars like the Bandit Trans Am and KITT from Knight Rider. The Firebird, along with the GTO, are probably the two models missed most from the defunct Pontiac range.

The blunt rear of the Firebreather with its claw-like slashes of red brake lights, married to functional rear fender vents and mean side skirts accentuating the lowered ride height, thrusting forward to a sensational Shaker-style hood and swooping down into the point of a vicious firebird’s beak, is all enhanced by the glowing red pinstriping around the dual light binnacles in the front facia. This car looks seriously cool.

The Firebreather is available in other colours, but I think it’s best in black – moody and menacing is what it needs to be, especially going up against the darkness and evil of the Shaiteen. The Firebreather stands out on the street and has more presence than yet another Ferrari on the roads of Dubai. It attracts attention, perhaps even evokes fear and it certainly intrigues.

Is it worth watching the movie?

No, not really. Well okay, that’s not really fair. It’s only about 90 minutes long and it does feature Ray Park (Darth Maul from Star Wars), William Atherton (the annoying reporter from the first two Die Hard movies) and Faran Tahir (Captain Robau from the first Star Trek reboot movie, the one who gets killed by Nero in the first five minutes). And of course there’s the girl from, well various TV shows.

So the acting is not too bad, the car stuff is cool (especially for us petrolheads) and it introduces a great new concept in horror, one anchored in the history and mythology of the Middle East, and drawing on stories and tales that Muslim readers might be more than a little familiar with.

Oh yes; I’ve heard stuff in my own past, felt stuff, and potentially seen stuff that was unexplainable. So some of this fiction feels like fact to me. As such I like the overall premise of this film, the execution was weak, it plodded along and fell way short of what could have been expected in dramatic terms. The whole thing feels like a pilot show for a new TV series that never really made it to commissioning.

Still, the Firebreather is real enough. It’s here. I’m driving it. And I’m heading out in search of demonic deserts, macabre mountains and beastly buildings. Plus I figured if anything could awaken the sleepy spectres from their slumber, it would be the guttural roar building to a freaky crescendo from the gurgling rasp of the bellowing exhaust on this mighty machine.

So were any Jinn actually found?

No. I didn’t. Or at least I don’t think so. Although I’m not so sure now, but I’ll come back to why in a minute.

I drove through the creepiest construction sites, parked up in reeking ruins, searched in the sepulchral sands of solitude, ransacked the rocky roads of RAK all the while openly taunted the spirit world. Yet apart from an ominous sense of alarm, I can’t honestly claim to have actually seen anything.

However the foreboding sensation of choosing to drive through the deepest, darkest, dankest places I could find was akin to having just switched off a late night showing of a really scary movie – for a good while part of your subconscious keeps trying to convince you that there was actually something lurking over there in that dark shadow by the corner.

But as you summon up the courage, and the only half-convincing self-deprecating giggle at your own foolishness, and turn on the lights, there’s never anything there.

It was the same driving around in the Firebreather – I kept doing double-takes on junctions and in side streets, not quite sure if I’d seen something suspicious or it was just a trick of the light.

At one point I glanced at the rear view mirror and could have sworn it had been filled with the most haunting eyes you’d ever see – and probably the last thing you’d ever see. I nearly drove into an oncoming lorry! But pulling over and checking the rear compartment revealed nothing. Okay I admit, I even got out and walk to the back to the check the boot.

Again I laughed at myself, shook my head and drove on to my next photo location. An abandoned Portakabin seemed interesting, but as I set up the shots a couple of cats emerged from nowhere and proceeded to take a good long eerily close-up look at what I was up to and the car itself.

Cats have always had a link with the spirit world – you know they can see things that we can’t, right? Well these two definitely seemed to be aware of something. I wasn’t keen to find out what though. I got my shots and left.

How was the Firebreather?

Ah, you’re trying to take my mind off the spine-chilling stuff hey? Good call. Yes well with the Firebreather Classic Design Concepts has taken a great car in the Camaro SS and made it better – somehow more alluring and sexier. They’ve given it real star quality and oodles of personality – whether it’s a benign personality or a sinister one, is up to you to decide.

The mechanical modifications to the car aren’t even necessary, although I do like the exhaust note when you open it up, even if the drone and reverb at regular speeds did start to annoy some of my passengers after a while. More power would be nice, but really the regular Camaro SS rides and handles so well, you don’t need much doing to it.

You can of course also have a ZL1 version – and with that car’s sheer awesomeness mated to this body’s jaw-dropping star power, I’d take the time to sign up for it even as I was being mauled by a savage Shaitan!

Except that I can’t, not for long anyway, because this Camaro is about to be replaced with a whole new one, and that car (essentially Cadillac ATS coupe-based) will have entirely different dimensions which the this movie-car bodykit won’t fit. Thus it seems the Firebreather is not long for this world.

The pictures revealed….

Remember when I said I would come back to why I wasn’t sure what I’d seen? Well have you been looking at the pictures on this page? Have you noticed the ethereal presences in some of them? Turns out I may have been more successful at Jinn-hunting than I thankfully realised.

So just for a bit of fun, can you spot all the spooks? Let us know in the comments section below how many and where they are in the pictures.

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