Exotic cars and the international students who own them

The fast and furious drivers of this city’s coolest whips

Vroom, vroom. - SERGIO GONZALEZ
Sergio Gonzalez
Vroom, vroom.

When the Jaguar’s roar echoes down the painted block of Argyle Street, a mother yanks her kid away from the edge of the curb. Moe Basha laughs. Basha is used to the attention by now—he has been driving the red Jaguar F-Type since last October. Basha is a student at Saint Mary’s University. He is 22 years old. His first car is valued at $70,000.

Although we meet less than a block away from where I live, Basha offers to drive me home the long way—it’s hard to refuse, the Jag runs from 0 to 100km/h in five seconds.

We turn onto Spring Garden Road and roll down the windows so we can listen to Mark Shababy’s playlist. Shababy is following directly behind, blasting tunes from his all-chrome Nissan Murano (valued at about $30,000). Originally from Yemen, he graduated last summer from the Nova Scotia Community College.

Basha and Shababy are part of a local (and private) exotic-car-owner’s club which runs the 902Exotic Instagram account. Only 16 weeks old with a couple dozen posts, the account has already amassed over 1,000 followers. Ninety-nine percent of those are non-Canadians, says Basha.

According to the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission, about 7,000 international students live in Nova Scotia. More than a few of them have the funds, and the desire, to cruise the streets of Halifax in style.

“It’s a big piece of the pie that a lot of salesmen aren’t taking advantage of,” says Steven Croft, sales consultant at McPhee Ford. Croft says many international students use dealerships to purchase a new car for the simplicity, and their parents can relax knowing that the vehicle is guaranteed to work.

Xiangyao Hu, a 25-year-old Dalhousie student, drives a $50,000 Mustang GT V8. After surviving his first Halifax winter using public transit, his parents wanted to buy him a new SUV. Hu put in $25,000 of his own money to buy the black muscle car.

He describes it as “low-key,” but the car is impossible to ignore, and it’s a thunderous ride. It’s so loud that Hu prefers not to drive it to school—to avoid unwanted attention.

“It’s my dream car,” he says. But in China’s Hunan province, where Hu is from, “only older wealthy men can afford them.” In China, $25,000 would only buy him a small and simple sedan.

It’s the same for Shababy and Basha. The chrome Murano would be twice as expensive back in Yemen, where Shababy is from. Basha’s Jaguar would be three times the price in his home country of Egypt. Of course, driving in Halifax has other costs.

“The roads are shit,” Shababy says. “My back tire broke because of the potholes…the third one within 12,000km.”

Shababy has custom after-market tires. Replacements from the US cost $970 a piece.

“Once you get on the 102, there are a few potholes, and at night or in the rain you can’t see them,” says Basha. “Last week I lost a tire.”

There’s also snow. Once winter arrives, the rides go into storage. That’s later, though. Today is the perfect weather to cruise the downtown and turn some heads.

“Cops love me,” Shababy says. “When I first changed the colour to chrome…[and] cruised at night…they would follow me down Spring Garden, through the clubs, then Barrington Street, until I reached Bedford Highway. It happened at least six times.”

He chooses instead to focus on the compliments he gets driving around.

“Old folks love it,” Shababy says. “They always want to know if it’s spray-painted.”

It isn’t. The once-black Nissan was completely chrome wrapped—something Shababy says he wants to do to all his future rides. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s been a target of vandalism. Both Basha and Shababy have had their rides keyed a few times. Shababy’s Murano was once so damaged that he had to replace the entire wrapping—at a cost of $5,000.

“Some people..think we are douchebags,” says Basha, “They see us driving in these cars...[and] think that since they are loud or flashy that we are showing off. But we’re just driving the cars we want to drive...our dream cars.”

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