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    Volume 9 Issue 33| August 13 , 2010|

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Redefining Car Enthusiasm

Karina Zannat

The group gets together post rally. Mehdi Hassan inspects the lineup after the rally.

If your idea of a Dhaka car enthusiast includes images of a spoilt young man blowing his parent's money on their cars, the Wheels BD Automobile Club Ltd may make you think again. In an age where youth culture is allegedly full of speed freaks seeking to emulate their favourite Hollywood drag racers, Wheels BD has risen to be the biggest car club in Dhaka with a strong social message and mature club culture. It is on a Friday afternoon, that their annual pre-Ramadan rally kicks off from Banani.

Initially founded by Meer Tauhid Hussain in 2007 as a website that would serve as a parent organisation for car enthusiasts around the country with a structured agenda, Wheels BD has expanded to independent branches in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet that organise car rallies and participate in auto shows. In 2009, the club became the first and only registered automobile club in Bangladesh. The club has its own server hosted in the US and members maintain and update the website for free. Boasting 8,500 registered members online, their February 21st rally in 2009 drew 200 cars and far more spectators. For the Dhaka Motor Show, a member's customised Honda was transformed into a DJ station, complete with an LCD screen.

Part of the sub group Wheels BD Underground, this car sports the Underground logo in Japanese.

Unlike other car clubs of Dhaka, membership is completely free. Owning a car is not a requirement, and the online forums are a mix of veterans with cars, newbies seeking to learn about customising cars, respectful discussion of ideas, and lots of advice ranging from topics of custom engines to restoring vintage cars to buying a car the right way. Funding for events come from the club sponsor companies and the executive board members, who pay fees. Members still sport stickers on their cars discouraging drivers from using mobile phones while driving from Wheels BD's joint social campaign with Goodyear Tires last year. Radio Foorti advertises the club's car rallies and events, and crewmembers, who for the most part contribute to maintaining www.WheelsBD.com wear club shirts advertising their main sponsor, Acer.

Beyond increasing the growth of members, the 11-member executive board of each club branch consistently aims to spread a social message to youth, provide an environment for enthusiasts, and organise community projects such as the 2009 charity clothing drive in Sylhet. CEO Mehdi Hassan, 26, who kept the cars in strict formation with a megaphone from the patrol car, says “We have no form of entertainment in Dhaka and lots of young people get into drugs, so we want to provide an alternative to a bad lifestyle”. Hassan discovered the club on Facebook in 2008 and enjoyed the Summer fest event so much that he became an active member.

Drivers have to maintain strict formation on the drive to Uttara as the patrol car watches over.

General members talk positively of the club and hold high hopes for the future. Seventeen-year-old Noman, who joined a few months ago, says he joined because “Wheels BD doesn't do anything crazy. It's more disciplined and anyone can join. It’s less about showing off and more about having fun”. Self-proclaimed PC addict and car lover Anika Anjum, 15, whose older brother is also a member, says Wheels BD gave her a community that accepted her. “There are people who are into cars for the hype. We're actually serious, and most members fix their own engines and want to learn more about cars. We help family members fix cars and understand prioritising studies. On the website it's not just a community. It's a huge family,” she adds. Asif Tanim, a member since 2007, says the club “Is a great way to meet new people who are into cars”. Wheels BD hosts bi-weekly member meets that range from informal get-togethers to structured event planning. New member Ehsan Haque, who has been a member for two months, says his favourite part of the club is the exchange of ideas. “The best part is definitely seeing cars for the rallies, but I love making new friends and getting advice on working on cars on the website.”

For the true engine connoisseur, Wheels BD Underground, a co-existing offshoot of the club is the right place. No membership fees apply, but a clean driving record and a valid driver's license is required. Hameem Hasan Joey says, “We choose quality over quantity for our rallies. Members of Underground are still mature members who uphold the club's reputation and image. They're just more into working on their cars and often customise their cars more often. No matter what, none of our members disturb public peace.” Sometimes, another private club, such as Team Igniters, will be allowed to join Wheels BD's car rallies, provided that they hold similar beliefs about safe driving.

The rally ends successfully in front of Scholastica in Uttara. The 25-car line-up includes the occasion BMW, a few SUV's, and numerous Hondas, Nissans, Mitsubishis and Toyotas. The unquestionable show stealer was a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 10 with a customised engine. Old and new members crowded around to take pictures and discuss the aesthetics. Personal cameras are brought out, silly Facebook shots are posed, and everyone hung out for half an hour and dispersed their own ways. Wheels BD undoubtedly stands out as a rare gem amongst the clubs of Dhaka, combining passion and community.



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