Bujar Muharremi makes himself a cup of tea, sits down in a chair in the middle of his small garage in Southend, stifles a yawn and relaxes.
It’s probably a nice, albeit brief, change of pace for the 29-year-old designer. Everything about his life is fast – the motorbikes around him that he makes with his brother, the fact they work so hard that it only takes a couple of months to build them, the way their business has taken off and now attracts celebrity clients. He even reveals that they bought Microsoft Surfaces to design new bikes on because they’re the only devices that can keep up.
“The original sketch to completion is so close together that you almost feel like you blink and the bike’s finished,” he says. “You walk the bikes outside and the sun is setting, everyone has gone home and you can really admire them. A rideable work of art.”
Others think so, too. The bespoke motorbikes that Bujar and his brother, Gaz, produce under their AutoFabrica brand have featured in GQ and Vanity Fair, as well as countless galleries, events and shows across the world. It’s an impressive CV for a company that was only set up in 2013 as a hobby.
“We just wanted to build bikes to ride, and we were bored of people telling us that we couldn’t do it. We just did it to see what would happen. I think a lot of people are scared to start that process; they look at the end product and think ‘actually, no, forget it’. We thought: ‘Let’s go, let’s do what we want’.
The confidence Bujar and his brother Gaz, 42, have in their work is the result of many years of training and experience, built on top of a huge amount of passion for automotive design. “We’ve always been petrolheads, it’s in our DNA,” Bujar says with a smile. Gaz nods.
The older Muharremi introduced his younger brother to cars and motorbikes when they were growing up in Mitrovica, Kosovo. The area is a hub of creativity, boasting a large number of musicians and artists.
Gaz moved to the UK with one of their sisters in 1996, two years before the war in their homeland began. As the fighting intensified, Bujar, along with his mum, dad and other two sisters, left the country and joined the rest of their family in England.
“My family wanted to give us a better chance of an education and a good life,” Bujar says of the move. “Sadly, because of the war, Kosovo has a very young population. The people who live there are known as the Young Europeans, because the majority are below 40 or 50 years of age.”
School life in the UK gave the brothers the chance to explore their passions for fast cars and bikes. Gaz went on to study product design, while Bujar focused on automotive design at Coventry University – it was there he learnt about styling, engineering, ergonomics and many of the metalwork techniques that would later give AutoFabrica’s bikes such a distinctive look.
Bujar landed a job designing the interior of Etihad’s fleet of commercial airliners; and it was during his time there that the Muharremi brothers began restoring motorbikes, storing them in the garage attached to the family home. They quickly outgrew that and rented the garage in Southend. In fact, AutoFabrica has grown so fast they are moving to bigger premises nearby in the next few months.
They restored their first bike, the Type One, for themselves. One day they decided to ride it to The Bike Shed – a motorbike show in London which is now a huge event – and were unprepared for the crowd’s reaction.
Bujar says: “People just gathered round it, saying: ‘What is this? This is crazy.’ We got three spots allocated to us for the following year’s show, so we took the Type One, Type Two and Type Three. We sold the Type Three as soon as we wheeled it off the van. Someone walked up and said: ‘I need that bike’. We didn’t know this was going to happen so we didn’t have a price in our heads. We just threw a figure at him – £4,800, very cheap at the time – he said yes, gave us the money and took the bike.”
Despite their early success, it took a while for them to quit their day jobs and build bikes full-time, with Bujar meeting potential clients after his working day finished at 6pm. Selling the Type Five for £10,000 to a biker in Los Angeles was the turning point.
“It rubber-stamped our approach and how we design and build bikes,” Bujar adds.
In these early days, every bike would start as a hand-drawn sketch, before it was replicated on a tablet. However, the technology wasn’t able to keep up with their work pace. Bujar and Gaz looked at other devices and finally found the perfect fit – the Surface Pro.
“We make bikes really quickly, and the Surface can cope with that pace,” Bujar says. “Before we got the Surface, we felt like we slowed down when we went to the desktop computer in the office and sped up again when we went back to work on the bikes. The Surface Pro bridges that gap.”
Released in 2015, the Microsoft device is 50% faster than a 13-inch MacBook Air and can be used as a laptop or tablet. It weighs just 766 grams, so is popular with designers, who can easily hold the two-in-one device and use a Surface Pen on the 12.3-inch PixelSense display at the same time.
The device’s portability was a big selling point for Bujar and Gaz.
“It’s amazing for the size and the spec. We have the i7, and that’s really fast,” Gaz said. “We tried some laptops before the Surface but some of them were really slow.”
Bujar agrees: “If I’m in a meeting with a client, I can email the design to them, on the spot, which is really handy. I like the fact it can open PhotoShop, not a basic version but the full program, or Pro Engineer; you can’t do that on an iPad.
“The Surface is great for presentations, too. If someone says, ‘I don’t like that’, I can change the colours there and then. Being able to detach the screen from the keyboard and give it to someone is amazing, as well.”
Sitting on a workbench nearby, the Surface Pro is one of the few pieces of technology in the workshop. When it comes to physically constructing their motorbikes, “old-school tools are better” because they allow Bujar and Gaz to be more creative.
A 300-kilo English Wheel from the 1930s sits in the corner of their workshop. Originally used to make aeroplane parts during the Second World War, the brothers found it on a nearby farm. It’s now an integral part of AutoFabrica’s manufacturing process.
Combining that equipment with the knowledge and skills that come with years of working with aluminium means the brothers can create bikes that are likely to be in high demand for decades to come.
“Everything in here is aluminium, as it’s always considered to be the go-to material,” Bujar points out. “However, it’s a lot harder to work with, and welding is almost impossible, so you need a lot of skill. On the other hand, using aluminium rubber-stamps the quality. For example, Ferrari only made 99 versions of its 1964 275 coupe in aluminium and they now sell for four times the price of a regular model. In 10 years’ time a new bike made out of steel might start rusting, but you can leave our aluminium bikes for 30 years and they will stay exactly the same. It’s not going to look out of date.”
Bujar and his brother decided to manufacture the bikes themselves after failing to find anyone who could copy their designs in aluminium: “We were only approached by old guys who used to do this back in the day. They thought they might be able to do it but not the way we wanted. They couldn’t think in terms of surfaces, only in moulds.”
This was a line in the sand for them. The pair were adamant they needed specific designs to cope with the levels of downforce and lift their fast bikes would create – problems that manufacturers didn’t have to worry about several decades ago, when bikes were much heavier and slower.
Unable to find anyone who could bring their visions to life, the pair picked up their tools and got to work.
They even skipped the model-making phase and went straight into building full-sized bikes,
Every part is made on-site for a specific bike, down to the last millimetre, so Bujar refuses to reveal the techniques the pair use to bend and shape aluminium. “Companies have their secrets,” he says with a smile. “People think it’s easy to make bikes, but the fact it looks simple is the difficult bit. The best designs in the world make you feel like you should have thought of it first. A lot of our competition are not design-orientated, they’re mechanical; they just put together some bits and pieces. But you can see an AutoFabrica bike from a mile away.”
Bujar and Gaz believe some of the best designs can be found in old Bugatti cars, because their style is so simple. The pair regularly go to the Goodwood Festival of Speed and walk around studying the classic cars, looking for inspiration.
So far, they have ploughed that inspiration into 24 full-sized motorbikes, including the flagship Type Six.
“That was the real stake in the ground that this is what we do,” Bujar says. “We spent a lot of time on that bike; it’s very sculptural and everything is handmade. We sold it for £48,000. Since then people have been emailing us every day wanting bikes.”
Fans include footballers, football managers, young professionals and photographers who love the designs.
Bujar and Gaz want to continue making bikes but eventually branch out into sports cars, which will see them take on more staff. They also have an online shop, where they sell AutoFabrica T-shirts and jumpers.
At one point, they even talked about building a speedboat. How do you start making a speedboat? “Like you do with anything, you just do it,” says Gaz.