With over 15 years experience as a motoring journalist under his belt, on top of a lifetime of passion for cars and motorbikes, Gilbert Rahme has driven all those cars you ever hoped to drive, and more. He’s Beirut-based, but rarely at home. You’re most likely to find him at an airport lounge, behind the wheel of the latest luxury, sporty and just every-day model, or at his workstation editing the words of a review or uploading videos for his highly-regarded YouTube channel.
First car? In 1995 I bought a white, 1962 VW Beetle. I’d seen it every day as I passed by, it never moved. If it was going to be mine it would need a lot of fixing up, but I decided it was exactly the car I wanted. I managed to find the owner and, although he was too ill and was never going to drive it again, he didn’t want to sell it either – he wanted to give it to his son. I found the son in Belgium, and he agreed to sell it to me. I bought it for $3,000 and then started on the job of changing and replacing everything over the next year before I could even drive it.
“I like to drive, I’m not a very good passenger. It’s that simple”.
At some point this passion became a living for you. What happened first? I started as a freelance writer with the Lebanese motoring magazine – AutoLiban. Then, after two or three years, in 2005, I bought the magazine fr om the owners.
What is your schedule during a typical month? Every month is different. It depends on the manufacturers and their plans for new launches. One month might include trips to Dubai, Europe and the States. For sure, there’s a lot of travel and I go where the cars are. It sounds glamorous, and I guess it is. Being constantly on the move is part of my life. I sometimes think I’d like to travel a little less, spend a bit more time with my family, but every time I get an email from a manufacturer… I just can’t say no!
Which was your most memorable drive? One of my best experiences was around three years ago in Iceland with the Land Rover Discovery Sport. It was minus 21 degrees, and the only place to drive was on the snow and ice. It was a great time for me to discover a new country, a new culture as well as a new car. And what a great place to push that car – a perfect location.
Over the years you’ve been a motoring writer, technology has advanced hugely – and not only amongst the cars themselves, but also your reporting. The most notable change has come in the power and relative ease of video production – coupled with social media. We have to work much harder now. When it was only the magazine, we used to go, drive the car, they’d send us a few photos, sometimes they’d send us some B-roll footage if in case we wanted to create a video. Some weeks later we’d publish it in a magazine. Today, with technology and social media we have to constantly take photos to post, produce short videos for uploading during the drive, and I produce a series of ‘Drive With Me…’ videos for my YouTube channel. All of these need updating all of the time. Thankfully, the technology is easily available and easy to use – for me it’s mostly GoPro and the latest iPhone… plus some clever video-editing software.
Everyone wants your job though! I get many messages, every day, from people asking what I’ve done in my life to get to this position. They ask what my major was, where I studied – but this isn’t what it’s about. It’s about passion! I’d advise any young student who’s thinking they’d like to do my job, the best course to go for is to study mechanical engineering. That way they’ll learn about HOW cars work – then he can move to doing test drives, he’ll understand more about the science of why a car behaves the way it does in certain conditions, and about how the engineering makes the car everything that it is.
What about where you’re reviewing a car, how truthful can you actually be? I know there are some in the region who don’t criticize the cars they drive, and it’s certainly easier to only focus on the positive points of any car. But, if there’s something I notice that doesn’t reflect the brand, then I’ll say it. If it’s my opinion, it’s worth sharing. No one benefits by reading a review that basically just says “this is a bad car”, but if it’s a balanced critique then everyone benefits – both manufacturer and reader or viewer. Reader’s know when someone isn’t being truthful.
Which car has most surprised you? Well, I was coming off a series of very nice drives with a line of supercars, and next on my list was the Honda Accord. You can imagine the thought of it didn’t get my heart pumping, but once it got in to the car I found it was really good to drive. Honda know how to work technology to its best advantage. It’s a regular car for a family man, but comes with a fine drive and plenty of high-tech under the hood and in the cabin.
A tough question now. Of the cars you’ve driven – pick two. Okay, of supercars I’ve driven, the Ferrari 458 Speciale is still my favourite. When this car was launched (2009) it was so far ahead of all others in performance levels. The technology was amazing. The gearbox was so fast – it almost changed as quickly as you could think about it. For a regular car, a sportscar, I’d go for the BMW M3 or M4 – for me these are still the best sportscars ever made. Even when they made the M5, M6 and M7, the M3 and M4 remained the best. The weight distribution was always perfect. I have a 2010 normally-aspirated V8. I think this is the best of the best. 420hp, but you can drive it every day.
Best roads to drive on? I had a great time with Porsche on the roads from Stuttgart to the Black Forest. Amazing roads, amazing scenery – and in the home of Porsche. I’d keep going back there to drive any car, or motorbike, on those roads and enjoy it more every time.
Follow Gilbert at: