Life in the Fast Lane

by BTM

Wed, 06 December 2023

Salah Salahuddin Bahrain

Salah Salahuddin has been a passionate petrolhead since his youngest days, and has made huge contributions to Bahrain’s car scene with both his exploits on the drag racing strip and his customisation business, SMS Design and Performance. Bahrain This Month sat down with him to find out more. 

When did you first take an interest in cars and how did it shape your career?
I started at a very young age by drawing cars. My Dad had a 1970 Pontiac Firebird, an amazing V8 which really grabbed my attention. My uncle was also a car nut, and I used to hang out at my grandmother’s house where his garage was. My cousins and I would always play around and under these cars, which is where I found a fascination with the mechanics of them and how they work. 

This progressed to my teen years messing with remote controlled cars and modifying them, before this extended to my first car, a hand-me-down Land Cruiser which I turned into the coolest-looking Land Cruiser around! People then started asking me how I managed it and thus the car consultancy began. I went to the United States and starting building cars and putting them on the show circuit while racing on weekends. I did this for nearly a decade and it fuelled my passion even more. 

Could you tell us about your achievements in Bahrain’s drag racing scene? 
Bahrain’s drag racing scene started in 2004 but really, I’ve been doing it for 32 years mostly paying out of pocket without sponsorship. Of course, I have won many races and even set records, but I’d say my main success is supporting younger drivers, sponsoring go-karters, painting their helmets and giving them confidence. 

One record you did set is particularly special to you; can you tell us more?
In 2017, I set a record of 7.5 seconds in the quarter mile in a Ford with a naturally aspirated V8 small block engine, meaning it doesn’t rely on any kind of aid from a turbo, supercharger or nitrous oxide. It still stands today and I’m incredibly proud as I’d spent over a year and a half collecting parts and fine tuning the car.
Tell us about SMS Design and Performance and how you got the idea to start in Bahrain.

One of the main problems in this industry is when you want to complete a car with modifications, it involves taking it to so many different places, often five or more, until it’s done, by which times other things break or lose performance and tracking it is a nightmare. So I thought: “Why doesn’t anybody have a shop that can do everything?” That’s where the idea for SMS came from.

How do you inspire yourself to continuously customise cars in a way that stays relevant?
In this line of business, the variety is enough to keep me going. I channel that excitement of what the next project is going to be and I find ways to think outside the box, never copying anything else I’ve seen. It’s hard work and requires dedication and patience, as well as expertise. The number one requirement to work here is to be a car enthusiast and everyone I’ve hired is hand-picked based on their passion. Collectively, my staff has more than 400 years of experience combined with cars, which is an incredible amount.

What would you say is your most memorable project?
Once, I bought a 1966 Mustang and a friend of mine visited the shop to have a look at it. A couple of months later, I decided to clean the car and opened the glove compartment. I pulled the papers out, and I found out that the first owner of the car was my friend’s father-in-law. I told him and he immediately wanted to buy it. We finished customising it and it looked like brand new 66 model but with a modern engine, transmission, AC etc. We then unveiled it for his wife as a gift and it was very emotional for them as a family.