At first glance, A Kahn Design’s central Bradford HQ looks like any heavily glazed modern small office block, with tinted windows on the upper floors.
But as you get closer, you notice the ranks of Jeep Wranglers on the forecourt and a handful of big Range Rovers. Walk inside and you’ll encounter the Kahn workshop. It’s not huge, but the projects under way are impressive.
A customised Range Rover Sport is nearing completion and the amount of detailed work that has gone into its transformation is striking. It has been given wider wheel arches, new wheels and a Kahn grille and spoiler. But the whole interior has been retrimmed in red and black and it even has a pair of matching leather-trimmed child seats in the rear.
It is very eye-catching and has clearly been reworked to a high standard. Sure, it’s not something that I would have commissioned and it is much brasher and brighter than anything that a car maker would normally turn out.
But that’s hardly the point. Afzal Kahn is profitably meeting a desire for individuality among a few hundred wealthy people each year.
These buyers can commission a customised vehicle that is unique – and the trend among the most affluent car buyers to make their cars unique is something that has had super-premium car makers – such as Aston Martin, with its new bespoke Q division – racing to meet demand. Kahn was very early to this trend. He started Project Kahn in 2004 and concentrated mostly on customising Range Rovers.
“I started off in the car business as a hobby,” he says. “I had been studying architecture but I pulled out. I wasn’t interested in building property. I was a petrolhead.”
By the late 1980s, Kahn had set up in a small factory building glassfibre components. “I gained experience in that small shop, making body parts for rally shops in the UK, arches and wings and [replica] Sierra Cossie parts,” he says. “By the time I was 19, I had 30 staff. But trends change and I decided to move into making wheels.”
Kahn took his own wheel design to Italy to have it manufactured and the demand for the finished product was overwhelming. “Kahn Design became the number one aftermarket wheel brand in the UK,” he says. Of course, this was the Max Power era and there was huge demand among young petrolheads for eye-catching and individual wheels.
With immaculate timing – a trait that seems to run through Kahn’s business life – as the Max Power trend died almost as suddenly as it had arrived, Kahn switched to the more serious business of modifying Range Rovers with a new business called Project Kahn.
Today, Kahn’s business employs about 100 people, including multi-lingual sales staff and 15 designers trained in the Alias computer design programme. He also has his own in-house photographic and video team.
In the past couple of years, Project Kahn has expanded into modifying and re-engineering Jeep Wranglers and Land Rover Defenders. Kahn estimates that he will sell well north of 500 vehicles this year, including 100 reworked Wranglers and about 200 Defenders.
He further expanded the business in 2012, established the Chelsea Truck Company and opened a London showroom in what was a defunct Sony retail unit at the western end of Chelsea’s King’s Road.
Again, Kahn had spotted a micro-trend, as the Defender became increasingly fashionable as daily transport in the centre of the capital.
Within this trend for automotive "authenticity", he spotted another opening by championing the Jeep Wrangler, buying the vehicles directly from the importer and adding “£7000 worth of Kahn kit and selling them for £30k, the same retail price as the standard car”.