Demand for Makeshift Cars Grows

Strange-looking vehicles assembled from used parts becoming profitable business.

Demand for Makeshift Cars Grows

Strange-looking vehicles assembled from used parts becoming profitable business.

Tuesday, 17 March, 2009
Look along any provincial road in Syria and you might see a strange, almost alien multi-coloured vehicle bearing no branding or license plates.

First produced almost ten years ago, these motoring equivalents of Frankenstein’s monsters are the products of local mechanics in primitive garages.

Assembled from the body parts of old models, the makeshift vehicles have grown in popularity in rural areas in the eastern and northern parts of Syria – with their competitive prices making them particularly attractive during times of economic crisis.

Fouad Ghanam owns the garage in Halfaya, a northern small town near the city of Homs, where the cars were first developed.

He explained that customers can choose the kind of car they would like, and the mechanic will attempt to produce something resembling this.

“If a customer wants a Mercedes, he’ll get a Mercedes. If he wants a BMW, he’ll get one,” he said. “In the end, the car he gets is considered to be made in Syria.”

The Halfawiya cars, named after the town where they originated, come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the brand of their main body parts. They each come with a tractor trunk suitable for storing goods.

The mechanics who make these cars say that it has become a very profitable business. On average, each car can be sold for 3,000 US dollars, but can go for more depending on its features.

Halfawiya cars – which their producers proudly call “Syrian Hummers” because of their heavy-duty features – have come a long way since they were first conceived.

In the beginning, they operated on just three wheels and had a slow engine.

The new improved models have four wheels and a powerful engine, and can travel at up to 180 kilometres per hour, said one mechanic. Some include additional features, such as air-conditioning, CD players and crash censors.

While hundreds of small workshops assemble and sell the cars, it’s impossible to estimate the numbers produced because they are all manufactured illegally and then sold on the black market. Halfawiya cars are not registered anywhere and bear no number plates.

Although the authorities know about the production of these vehicles, locals say they turn a blind eye towards it because they’re meeting the public’s transport needs.

Residents of the northwestern town of Idlib, where Halfawiya cars are common, said that although local officials confiscate them from time to time, they do so only to resell them later on.

But some point out that because the production of the cars is not subject to quality controls, they’re not safe to drive. They are also much noisier than regular cars, creating significant sound pollution.

“The cars are so massive and heavy that having an accident in one could kill or permanently damage [those inside],” said Ali Kajan, who is now physically disabled following an accident in a Halfawiya car.

However, in spite of these problems, mechanics in Halfaya are very proud of their cars.

For the mechanics, manufacturing a Halfawiya is not simply about patching some parts together, but about striving for the best design possible.

Adil Khalouf, who owns a Halfawiya car, says each vehicle tells you something about the personality of the owner.

“One can choose a trendy colour or embellish it with roses, rags, flags, and posters of famous Arab singers,” he said.

Mahmoud Mahmoud, a farmer in Idlib, said that his children prefer the Halfawiya to their other regular car.

“They feel happy and comfortable when riding it,” he said.
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