The title ‘museum’ is something of a misnomer here: there is no information. No plaques. No audio guides. No brochures. There are no set exhibits because everything must be free to move at a moment’s notice lest the owner – Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, colloquially known as the Rainbow Sheikh (he acquired this nickname from the insignia emblazoned across many of his motors) – wishes to drive one of his collection. It is no coincidence that the path around the displays is marked like a road. Only the occasional bench signals that company is welcome. This is less a museum and more a shrine to one man’s passion.
Pulling into the car park there is little doubt that you have reached the right place. A huge, gleaming Mercedes monster truck waits like the Sphinx outside the entrance to the pyramids of Cairo. To its left is the largest motor home you will ever see (replete with balcony), to the right, the famous spherical Globe Trailer; a trailer home which resembles the earth and has allegedly been built to a scale of 1:1 million.
You may need to find an attendant to open the museum, but once inside, the hangar-like size of the place will become apparent. Rows of vehicles fan out to either side. Directly ahead, in a cage of its own, sits the first mass-produced automobile; a glistening black 1908 Model T Ford. Down one row is a Rolls Royce used by Queen Elizabeth II of the UK, another reveals a rare Lamborghini 4x4, a third, a bizarre moon buggy designed for a future where disco is decidedly not dead. Here, the extraordinary (an 1875 steam-powered carriage) mixes with the mundane (a rather grim set of Range Rovers).
Possibly the most impressive sight, however, is the 5m-high replica of a 50s Dodge Power Wagon, custom built in Abu Dhabi to a scale of 64:1. Its wheels came from an oil rig transporter, its wipers from an ocean liner. Inside is a full apartment with bedrooms, bathrooms, a meeting area and a kitchen. Incredibly it can actually drive – it had to in order to enter the Guinness Book Of World Records. Take a step back and between its front wheels sits an ordinary-sized Dodge, and in front of that, a knee-high radio controlled model. Anywhere else this might be considered unusual – here, it makes an odd kind of sense.
The Emirates National Auto Museum
The museum is free and, while often appearing closed, is actually open seven days a week (9am-6pm; closed 1pm-2pm). If the pyramid building is shut, just find an attendant to open it. The complex is home to three shops and cafés (including one inside a two-storey, Land Rover-shaped building). Ask in any of these to find an attendant. The drive to the museum is about 45 minutes from the centre of Abu Dhabi. Take the road toward the airport, and turn off on to the Tarif road (a massive strait that runs right through to Saudi Arabia). Turn off at Junction 306 and head towards Hameem. Pass the giant rainbow gate on the left and the museum will be sign-posted.