Hey big spender: Meeting a billionaire car collector

Some people have a fish tank in their home; Tej Kohli has a car tank. The spotlit, part-glazed extension holds five of his most precious motors: a Ferrari 430 Spider, a Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse, a Rolls-Royce Ghost, a Rolls-Royce Dawn and a Pagani Huayra. The Pagani is Kohli’s favourite, which is why it’s illuminated from above by a large, sparkly light panel.

In the garage block next door is a Rolls-Royce Phantom EWB and a Morgan Aero Supersports. Outside, in front of Kohli’s magnificent Henleyon-Thames home, with its manicured lawns, tennis court and curling gravel drive, sits a Bentley Mulsanne EWB and an Aston Martin DB11, finished in eye-popping Cinnabar Orange. Beside it is his son’s Tesla Model S, an 18th birthday gift. Out of sight, in pride of place in Kohli’s office, is one of two Aston Martin DB9s that he owns.

But enough of these dream wheels. What does Kohli – evidently a very rich man (although he won’t reveal exactly how rich), with still more cars elsewhere, including a Lamborghini Gallardo at his Marbella home plus three Mercedes-Benz S600s at his place in his native India (“they would attack me if I drove a Ferrari or a Lamborghini”) and a private jet at Farnborough – think of my 181bhp Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport Nav+ convertible, finished in Machine Grey, parked next to his DB11?

“It doesn’t turn me on,” he says simply. “It has no power. We all started out owning cars like this, but we’ve moved on, and the fraternity is at a very different stage in their lives now.” That will teach me to fish for compliments. But hold on: what’s the fraternity? It turns out this is Kohli’s name for the bunch of car-mad billionaires who he hangs out with. According to him, they’re a rung or two above the Ferraristi and their ilk. “Members of the fraternity are much more discreet and don’t easily follow other people’s rules,” he says. “For example, we would never draw attention to ourselves by driving in convoy or book a track day to be told how fast we can go. Too boring!”

Google Kohli and you will discover, among other things, that he describes himself as a “technologist and investor who backs ventures in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology”. His Tej Kohli Foundation is a non-profit organisation that’s “committed to developing scientific and technological solutions to seemingly intractable human problems”.

Still, I’ve not been invited to Kohli’s home to dwell on any of this, rather to hear about his cars. Before he will meet me, I must submit to a Covid-19 test (before I arrived, Kohli’s chauffeur scored a positive and was sent home). To my horror, I realise that I’m to perform it myself. An assistant hands me a probe in a sealed bag with instructions to open it and insert the slender device deep into each nostril, “up to the wide part or it won’t be effective”. I do as instructed, tears instantly pricking my eyes.

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Bugatti Veyron: “A friend invited me to an exclusive Bugatti summer party in 2007. I didn’t own a Bugatti, but he said he would take me in his. While I was there, sipping champagne and admiring the cars, a Bugatti person asked me if I would like to have a ride in a Veyron. ‘Of course,’ I said. It blew my mind, and a few years later I was able to drive to the summer party in my own Grand Sport Vitesse.”

Pagani Huayra: “This is my favourite car. Most people who say they have a Pagani have a Zonda. Very few have a Huayra and fewer still one such as mine with the Pacchetto Tempesta pack. It’s a beautiful car and very powerful, but you have to be careful. I once took a friend out in it and she asked: ‘What does that switch do?’ I didn’t know, but I pressed it anyway. The car rose a few inches and became very unstable. I quickly pressed it again!”

Aston Martin DB11: “I bought my DB11 at the Geneva motor show. It was the first one that Aston Martin sold. I was bowled over by the looks, the technology, the features and the performance. In contrast, my two DB9s have very dated infotainment systems, but they feel smoother than the DB11, which is quite extreme.”