Driving the Bufori Geneva, Malaysia's Kevlar-Bodied Answer to Rolls-Royce

It's a high-speed, high-tech ultra-luxury sedan wrapped in a vintage-style body made of carbon fiber woven with Kevlar.

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Bufori

Bufori Fast Fact Number 1: It takes 9000 man-hours to build a Bufori Geneva, and that's if you don't opt for the passenger-compartment tea-making machines and aromatherapy infusers, popular with Chinese customers. For comparison, the average Toyota requires about 30 man-hours to complete.

"Every five or so years, we might go to a motor show," Gerry Khouri tells me, "but we probably don't need to do that." We are seated in a hospital-clean, funeral-quiet conference room furnished to a standard of chrome-and-leather minimalism that would make Ludwig Mies van der Rohe fidget. Below us, there is a factory about the size of your average Home Depot, in which the Bufori Motor Car Company makes the carbon-kevlar body of its Geneva ultra-luxury sedan, the stainless-steel frame on which it sits, and other components down to the circuit boards that control its unique and bespoke electronic functions. On the other side of the glass window in front of us is the frenetic hustle and bustle of a Malaysian industrial district, where the roads are filled to the brim with motorcycles, trucks, and draft animals.

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You've never heard of , and that's just fine with Khouri. His customers know who he is; he, in turn, knows them exceptionally well. After ensuring that this part of our conversation will be off the record, he gives me a few names and titles, mostly from the Middle East. It's an impressive list, and it explains why Bufori is currently working on a backlog of orders that will take more than a year to complete at their current rate of 30 to 40 cars a year. Each one is made to order; the company does not build inventory for its dealerships. There isn't even a precise agreement on what constitutes the "base-model" Bufori; no customer has ever foregone all the options. As I pore through the contents of a leather-bound briefcase containing hundreds of pearlescent pain samples, Khouri offers humbly, "we don't really sell very many basic specification cars."

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The Bufori Geneva
Bufori

Bufori Fast Fact Number 2: The company does not list a base price for the Geneva, but notes that "basic specification cars" usually cost in the range of 1.4 million Malaysian Ringgit, or about $330,000 US.

In the beginning, mind you, Khouri didn't want to sell any cars at all. It was 1986, and the three Khouri brothers were living in Australia. On a whim, Gerry decided to build a car for his own use. (How he acquired the resources to do this is a subject on which the man is politely but firmly nonspecific.) He was inspired by neoclassic cars like the Excalibur and Clenet that had made such a splash in Jimmy Carter's America.

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Like many of those neoclassics, his first effort featured an air-cooled VW drivetrain. Unlike the American builders, however, Khouri decided to fabricate the bulk of his car from scratch. That freed him from the constraints of an existing frame or body panels, allowing him to draw the car to his preferred proportions. The original Bufori is best described as the car that the Clenet wanted to be.

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A scale model of the Bufori coupe, molded in the same carbon-Kevlar material used for the automaker’s body panels.
Jack Baruth

It was also the car that a surprising number of friends and acquaintances wanted to buy. So Khouri got serious, opening up a small production facility to build his designs in small batches and swapping the aircooled VW engine for a modern Subaru boxer. The next step was to find a new body material. "We needed something better than fiberglass," he states, "something that other people couldn't do, something that would give us an edge."

That edge came courtesy of a unique material: Woven fabric that contained strands of both Kevlar and carbon fiber, shaped into body panels and then hardened with hot resin. "How did you even know about Kevlar at the time?" I ask. "How did you get it in bulk? Did you have s in the military or defense industries?"

"Oh, no," Khouri responds with a smile. He offers no further details. Another decision taken around the same time: Shifting production to Malaysia. "I love it here," Khouri tells me. "We have to work very hard to produce cars in Malaysia, it can be uniquely difficult. But I would not leave." The conference room features a massive Malaysian flag; having been personally invited here by the government a few decades prior, Khouri is patriotic about his adopted country and takes considerable pride in his workforce, which consists mostly of Malaysians.

Bufori Fast Fact Number 3: Most of the cars sold by Bufori are exported to China or to the Middle East.

For about a decade, the definitive Bufori was the La Joya ("The Jewel"), a two-door hardtop neoclassic body rendered in Kevlar over a stainless-steel spaceframe with a transversely-mounted 2.7-liter V6 behind the seats. At Khouri's urging, I take a seat behind the wheel of their La Joya demonstrator. It's nearly a decade old and it's been crashed twice, but it looks, smells, and feels like a brand-new car, having been periodically updated to current spec. The pearl-white paint has an unearthly glow. "Of course, we take real mother of pearl and crush it into the paint," Khouri explains. "Each batch is therefore subtly different, and unique to the car for which it was intended." The last time I saw an automotive finish of this quality, it was on a Rolls-Royce Corniche, laid down before today's environmental regulations replaced those fine enamels and lacquers with today's water-based, orange-peel mediocrities.

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The Bufori La Joya
Jack Baruth

The La Joya's interior is jarringly modern, with a wide variety of function switches and seat adjustments set side-by-side with 24 karat gold-plated instruments. Bufori says it offered Bluetooth communications before any German, American, or Japanese manufacturer, and the company prides itself on providing up-to-date electronics. There is a massive subwoofer mounted on the far side of a footwell grille. The leather has the feel and smell of the old Connolly Autolux hides from before the major automakers started plasticizing their cows.

There's a lot to like about this car, including the stout running gear with its polished bespoke shock absorbers, Brembo brakes, and BBS cross-lace wheels. Yet at six-foot-two and 240 pounds I'm a bit cramped behind the wheel. Khouri explains to me that the La Joya has been very popular in the Chinese and Middle Eastern markets, particularly among women buyers, which perhaps explains the interior proportions. "The Geneva is different," he promises.

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Bufori La Joyas on the assembly line
Jack Baruth

And so it is. I do not know if you could describe this imposing, Phantom-meets-Mulsanne, suicide-door sedan as "handsome," although I find it to be very impressive in person. The first example of the Geneva was commissioned by the family of a top-tier Malaysian businessman as a birthday gift; the factory stayed open 24/7 for three months to put it together in time for a very public unveiling. The response virtually guaranteed that the Geneva would become Bufori's volume model.

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Bufori Fast Fact #4: The original Geneva is kept on Bufori property and maintained on behalf of the owner's family. It's delivered to them when it is required, an arrangement that is surprisingly common with Malaysian customers.

At my request, Khouri walks me through a few of the production stages for the Geneva. I cannot adequately stress the degree of bespoke work at Bufori. They make almost everything that goes into the car, including the lighting and the CANBUS network. A second-floor workshop houses an electronics fabrication area, but it's not available for examination. "We are working on something for a third party in there," Khouri notes. On the factory floor below the workshop, there are several vehicles that have been hastily covered with sheets. "A few other engineering customers," Khouri states. It would be impolite to say whether I recognized any of the locally-produced mass-market vehicles under those sheets.

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The Bufori La Joya
Jack Baruth

Bufori Fast Fact Number 5: The La Joya was designed to use Jaguar XJ6 Series III taillights, but Khouri was disappointed in the quality of the OEM lenses. He made his own. As a former Series III owner, I was something between astounded and aroused to see how much better the Bufori-made lights are.

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Around another corner I find the molds for the Geneva's bodywork. With the exception of the hood, trunk, and doors, the body is one single, massive piece. Try not to crash it, because it will be an expensive replacement. But that's exactly how they get the weight of this Ghost-sized car, complete with 6.4-liter SRT-spec Hemi V8, down to about 4400 pounds.

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The single-piece body of the Bufori Geneva
Jack Baruth

Oh, did I mention the Hemi? The Geneva was originally supposed to use a quad-cam German V8, but a chance encounter with a privately-imported 300C convinced Khouri of the merits of Chrysler power. Customers can opt for naturally-aspirated or supercharged versions, the latter being an in-house engineering development rather than a Hellcat powertrain.

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The Geneva’s lengthy engine compartment makes a Chrysler 6.4-liter Hemi V8 look small.
Bufori

Bufori Fast Fact Number 6: Malaysian road tax on a 6.4-liter Geneva is approximately $13,000 each and every year. You can have your Geneva with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6; it will drop your tax down to $3,300 per year, but the price of the car is the same regardless of powerplant.

"You won't truly understand this car," Khouri states, "until you drive it at speed." The next morning, I meet the Bufori team at 5:30AM at a workshop outside downtown Kuala Lumpur. They've brought two Genevas: The pearl-white, Pentastar-powered example I'd seen the previous day, and a champagne 392 Hemi variant. Together with the staff and about 60 devoted readers of , we'll be driving in a convoy to the border with Thailand to the north. At that point, the gentlemen from Bufori will turn around and head back, because both Genevas are scheduled to be shipped to their new owners in the Middle East as soon as possible.

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Jack Baruth

At Khouri's encouraging, I take the wheel of the champagne car while he sits with my wife, the infamous Danger Girl, in the spacious back seat. Virtually none of Bufori's customers drive their own Genevas, so the front and rear compartments are proportioned differently than they are in, say, a Phantom. The driver's area is tight but sensibly provisioned, in the manner of a modern C-Class, while there's room for a third person to stretch out between my rear-seat passengers. Viewed from above, the Geneva seems to swell into the space of its fenders as your eyes travel from windshield to decklid.

Bufori Fast Fact Number 7: The company declines to say whether or not it has constructed bulletproof variants of the Geneva.

If you order a Hemi Geneva today, you'll get the newest eight-speed transmission, but this car has the old five-speed Benz-sourced item that has served everywhere from the CL63 to the Grand Cherokee. "This car was specified some time back by a fellow who encountered some, ah, personal difficulties in Saudi Arabia," Khouri says. "Happily, it has been sold to a new customer, who was able to skip the line as a consequence." I throw it into D and set off.

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At first, I'm content to simply waft along, the way you would do in any big British luxury car, but that strategy doesn't work in the fast-forward freneticism of Malaysian traffic. Before long, I'm cutting and thrusting this left-land-drive car between miniature hatchbacks built by Malaysia's domestic automaker, Proton, and 125cc "kapchai" motorcycles that flow into every available space on the roadway like water. Then we hit the freeway, where the speed limit is more of a suggestion than a law, and it's time to see what this massive sedan can really do.

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Jack Baruth

Bufori Fast Fact Number 8: The company has never wind-tunnel tested any of its designs, preferring to rely on the founder's willingness to perform his own high-speed testing.

The Mercedes-AMG C43 ahead of me in squats and blats a cloud of direct-injection particulate from its dual exhaust. I floor the Geneva's drive-by-wire pedal and the Chrysler 392 offers a distant roar, as if the engine note were on a radio playing in the background. There is a brief moment while the five-speed grabs second gear, then the nose lifts in rapid but controlled fashion and we are on the move in earnest.

The speedometer clicks through kilometer increments: 170, 180, 190, 200, 210. I use the wheel-mounted buttons to change to English units. We're doing 130 miles per hour, but the wheel is rock solid. Wind noise is faint. In the back seat, Khouri and Danger Girl are chatting about some minor aspect of Albuquerque's weather patterns. When she turns her head and speaks to me, it's as clear as if she were sitting next to me in my Accord. It is nothing less than surreal.

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Bufori

The C43 is behind us now and the Geneva's massive grille is parting traffic like Moses, sending Protons and Hondas scurrying out of the right lane, which is the fast lane in this mirror-image country. There's a wide-radius sweeper ahead and I slow to perhaps 105 or so. The steering bites and the big car turns in with alacrity. All the weight in the Bufori is low; how could it be otherwise, with a Kevlar body on a stainless-steel frame?
"I can't say that I've found a tire that I truly like for these cars yet," Khouri offers in a polite, drawing-room voice.

"Try the Michelin Pilot 4S," I respond as the Geneva leans into the next turn at what feels like about 0.8g. Then I snag the kickdown again and rocket past a massive truck. In the rearview mirror, I see Danger Girl recording the whole episode on her phone. She hands the phone to Khouri for a better angle. Neither of them appears to be the slightest bit worried that we're doing go-to-jail speed on a remarkably crowded and twisty freeway. I, on the other hand, can't take it any more. I slow down to a safe, sane, relaxing speed. Then I look down to see that we're still doing 95mph.

Bufori Fast Fact Number 9: If you wrap a single fiber of the Kevlar used in the Geneva body panels around one finger of each hand and pull as hard as you can, your fingers will bleed, but the fiber will not snap.

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Time passes quickly after that, as it tends to do when you're running near triple digits. Khouri shows Danger Girl the wine glasses that come as standard equipment in the Geneva. He demonstrates Bufori's take on the "starlight" headliner. Unlike the Rolls-Royce variant, the one in the Geneva can flicker in random patterns or assume any combination of colors the owner desires, dialed in by a remarkably complex remote control.

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Jack Baruth

We discuss the future of Bufori for a bit. The company has a new car in the works, which I've been shown only after having sworn to silence on the details. Production will likely increase to keep pace with demand, particularly from Saudi Arabia. European certification for the Geneva is opening up some doors with customers there. And Khouri has a seemingly endless flow of ideas: New designs, new features, new electronics. By the time I have to hand over the key and hop into another car for the crossing into Thailand, I'm a little embarrassed at how quickly, and how significantly, I have come to admire this man and his company. In the scope of his vision and the specificity of his hands-on approach, Gerry Khouri most resembles Dr. Ing. Ferdinand Piech—but that man never displayed the warmth or the wide-eyed automotive enthusiasm that Khouri is both unable and unwilling to hide.

"Come back and try the new car when it's ready," he says, shaking my hand and bidding adieu to my somewhat star-struck wife.

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"Or, you know," I offer, "you could come to the United States, and bring a few of these cars. Maybe even certify them for US sale, so my readers could have a chance to enjoy them."

"Well, that would certainly be an undertaking," Khouri politely replies, "and we do have a long list of customers now." Then he closes the Geneva's door behind him and I'm surprised once again, despite its massive size, at the hollow ring of the car's body. It's a reminder that Bufori has always done things its own way, and always will.

Bufori Fast Fact Number 10: The Bufori Geneva is not available for sale in North America.

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