22/06/2000 Open sesame: The collection of the Sultan of Brunei A Report
His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has been listed as the world's richest man for longer than most people can remember. As absolute sovereign of the little Sultanate that neighbours Malaysia, the Sultan pockets around half the profits from the state's oil and gas reserves for himself and his family. It's a personal bounty some analysts say amounts to three quarters of a billion pounds every year.
The garages are like huge warehouses
It's not surprising, therefore, that the Bruneian royals are profligate spenders. But still, no one could be prepared for the sights that await visitors to the multi-billion-pound collection stashed away in the four giant garages and workshop at House Number Five.
"The garages are like huge warehouses," says one source, "wall to wall with exotic cars. My jaw hit the ground when I saw them. It can take an hour and a half just to get a certain car out if it's been parked right at the back."
5000 vehicles, all logged onto a central computer system
Around 3000 vehicles reside in the complex, out of a royal collection of 5000 vehicles, all logged onto a central computer system based in the workshop administration centre on the site. If not driven by immediate members of the family, then they are used by the ministers of state, government officials and members of the royal household.
But the latest word is that much of the collection is now in mothballs as the Sultan assesses the impact of recent changes in the economic climate.
Rolls-Royce supplied 40 or 50 cars a year to Brunei
"The usual order for anything other than the most unique cars would be for at least six examples, all supplied in different colours," another source claims.
Two UK companies have benefited handsomely from the Sultan's munificence: Aston Martin and Rolls-Royce. Aston is believed to have supplied between 200 and 300 cars over a 15-year period, ranging from virtually standard models to customised versions of current cars, such as the Vantage shooting brake and saloon.
Aston has also supplied rolling Vantage chassis to Pininfarina, which has designed and built cars like the AM3 and AM4. Sources estimate the final cost of those machines at 600,000 Pounds, and just two or three of each have been built. Aston also supplied and serviced all the Jaguars on the Brunei fleet after the Coventry-based company refused to send technicians over, bizarrely suggesting the Sultan might like to rely on the local dealer network instead...
Rolls-Royce supplied 40 or 50 cars a year to Brunei, mainly for use as government "runabouts". The cars cost up to 450,000 Pounds and have all in recent years featured a special "Sultan spec'" engine. Reliable sources speak of a twin turbocharger set-up and a series of internal mods that deliver a peak torque figure of 712lb ft at 2400rpm and 542bhp at 4500rpm.
Six Ferrari FX models for the Sultan
The Bruneian royals have also spent millions with Italian coachbuilder Pininfarina which, as well as rebodying Aston Martins, has also produced many unique Ferraris. Convertible, coupe and saloon versions of the standard 456 Ferrari (all codenamed Venice) have been produced in limited numbers, mainly for Brunei but also for wealthy customers elsewhere in the world.
Pininfarina has also produced at least six Ferrari FX models for the Sultan. Based on 512M running gear, the cars feature manual transmission shifted by a button on the steering wheel, a system developed by Prodrive for its rally cars. It predates Ferrari's own paddle-shift system on the F355 by a couple of years.
The family also owns two fully operational Ferrari Mythos road cars - the Mythos was supposed to be a one-off show concept - but Pininfarina's latest proposal, the Bolide, was turned down.
Under the circumstances, perhaps the Sultan will choose to let the cars rot until Brunei's prospects brighten. And that will be a great time to get into the restoration business...