We sat down for a cuppa with the legend behind A Khan Design Afzal Khan himself – read on to find out just how he started the company and what’s next for the brand.
How did it all start?
It was a childhood hobby that kind of snowballed. I’d always been passionate about cars and about 25 years ago it turned into a business, or at least the very beginning of my career in the industry. I started out working for a company for free, engineering coffins of all things. I learned all about the tools and how to manufacture products from start to finish. It was then onto an advertising plan and generating ideas of how to take my name and my brand forward step by step. It wasn’t something I just enjoyed, it turned out to be something I was very good at, mastered if you will. It was my passion, and now it’s both my passion and my business. When I was a little boy, my biggest wish was to have a shop selling wheels and accessories, now I have a team of over in-house 25 designers who’re involved in all aspects of product design, from automotive to watches, interiors, clothing and more.
Tell us about The Vengeance?
Building my own car was my ultimate dream. The Vengeance Aston Martin project was my toughest challenge to date. I knew I could do it, though. It’s funny because I did stuff like black wheels back in 2002, and now manufacturers are doing them OEM. I really feel like my name and brand starts trends, so it was good to work on developing my own car. Yes, it’s based on the Rapid, but there’s very little left of the aesthetics of the original. The rear haunches are a key part. For me, cars are gradually becoming more animal-like, with some incredible running curves and I wanted to really accentuate this in my design. The distinctive wide-spaced grille is machined from billet aluminium, and gives the Vengeance its unmistakable identity. Not only that, we took the James Bond theme with the wheels and made them look much like a roulette wheel. It shows unique creativity with substance. The whole design has gone through a number of changes – this has literally been going on for years, but I wanted to make sure it was totally right. I’ve taken my time to get it 100%, selecting the right people to manufacture the car etc. The central bonnet-bulge continues to the lines of the roof, flowing toward the widened C-pillars and those wings – all formed in hammer formed aluminium. A new re-designed bumper sees a new crosshair exhaust system and new rear lighting. There will be just five models made. A very special special-edition. We’ve also done a convertible version, which we’ll be showcasing at the Geneva Motor Show next month, as well as being in the process of developing a four-door Rapid Vengeance S Shooting Brake – something I’m particularly excited about.
How do you prep your cars for collection?
Being honest, we have one or two in-house guys that do this. I’m really not one for getting my hands dirty, so we have those guys who do a fantastic job of taking care of the paint and interiors prior to someone picking it up. It’s not like the cars get particularly dirty, I mean they’ll often have had fresh paint, as well as a fresh re-trim so they don’t need much, but it’s important to really showcase just how good a finish has been achieved by our paint and interior guys, so we make sure they’re looking at good as possible.
What was the idea behind your truck arm, the Chelsea Truck Company? Has the price of Defenders not put you off, with Land Rover deciding not to make them any longer?
I founded the Chelsea Truck Company in response to growing demand in the market for stylish and luxurious versions of vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler, Land Rover Defender and Mercedes-Benz G-Class. I wanted to take these iconic models and make enhanced, special version of them for fellow car enthusiasts. Our design and manufacturing is all in-house, and we use local supply chains, firstly because we’re proud to support British industry, but more importantly to keep the personal touch in our work. I’m proud to put my name to each vehicle we produce. Yes, Defenders have gone up in price, but the fact they’re not made any more just makes them much more desirable. Our customers want something rare, so not only are they getting something that’s no longer made anymore they’re able to customise it with our wide range of options into something not seen on the roads before.
What makes you guys unique?
Creativity. Definitely. We have ideas upon ideas. You see that Defender in the front window, the one painted in the Bugatti EB10 blue, well that has a panoramic glass roof, which was completely coach-built in-house – something that’s never been done before on a Defender. We are always coming up with something different and creating our own trends. It’s what makes us so unique in this market. Despite coming up with new ideas all the time, it’s important to have a theme or a running design que, so you know that it’s that brand when you see it out and about. Yes, everything has my name on it, but even without that I think it’s important to know who/what brand it is.
The US is next for me. It’s such a challenging place, yet a sophisticated market, and I feel like this is the time for change over there. They seem so dated in their modifying ways, I’d like to get in the market early on and be one of the main players. Reconnaissance will be required, with us heading out there as much as possible this year to shows etc. and getting a good feel for it all, as well as testing the water with some of my designs. LA will be first on the agenda. Everything is designed from scratch, here, and that’s where I feel we have a bit of a niche. Too many companies are reproducing the same old stuff and not thinking outside the box. We are a creative company and want to be the first (and often are the first) when creating a trend or two. The UK market is a little tough at the moment, and it’s proven difficult for some newcomers, but we keep at it. The Middle-East area and its market has always been a difficult one for us due to us being a ‘white’ brand; we’re simply far too safe for them over there with their gold wraps etc. Following the America dream, we’re aiming to have three-four showrooms in London. Obviously, we have this Chelsea site, but it’s probably a bit too small to really showcase all we can do. Our Chelsea site is a two-car site and we’ve been here for five years, we definitely need more presence in the capital! We still have our Leeds Bradford site where all our engineers and in-house bods are based out of.
What exactly is done in-house, then?
We contract our paintwork out. All the leather and interior works are engineered in-house. I keep a very close eye on everything that goes on, though. If it’s not good enough for me, then it’s simply not good enough. It won’t go out to customers if I’m not happy with something. My name is all over these goods going out, that would reflect bad on me.