Wednesday, April 3, 2013


What a wonderful experience it was to visit a car museum where an impressive array of vintage cars are exhibited under one roof! Yes, in the Sharjah Classic Car Museum one can see a huge collection of cars  from the early years of the 20th century;from the early Ford T Model cars to a variety of other Ford cars, Chevrolets,Bentleys, Pontiacs, Cadillacs, Fiats,  Benzes and so on.What is striking is the fact that the cars are kept in excellent running condition, immaculately painted with the metal parts shining. A Rolls-Royce Ecstasy is a great attraction. Then there is a Limousine type Benz 6oo Pullman and a French Citroen with a special hydraulic system and push button brakes! The names and models like Ford Mustang, Ben
tly, MG, Phantom, Pontiac, Land Rover and so on brought back memories of reading these names in the books of Earl Stanley Gardner and James Hadley Chase and other English detective novels in our younger years. An old red  ‘Fire Engine’ is  the cynosure of all eyes.To see all the models of the period was a unique experience as even variations of some of these cars were unavailable in our country then.

Studebaker Champion
Still, there were a few of these brands  in the 40s and 50s  even in our small towns as a bye product of our earlier colonial status. The richer among the rich could acquire these models as well as desi versions of the Morris Oxford (Hindustan) and Standard cars(Vanguard)and the Bug Fiats and the like. There were a large number of rich planters and estate owners, timber lords, contractors, wholesale rice merchants, jewellers and bus owners and so on who used to drive through our narrow streets in their Plymouths, Cadillacs, Impalas, Pontiacs and Chevrolets, Studebaker Packards while people looked at them through wonder struck eyes.There was a rich planter near my home who used to travel sitting pompously in the backseat of his chauffeur driven white Studebaker Champion, with a pipe in his mouth,  which is an enduring image in the mind even now. The son of a rich planter cum bus owner had an enormous Chevrolet Impala Convertible  which used to sail through the beach road with the hood down.There was a businessman sporting his immaculately painted and polished huge black Rolls Royce. A prominent  jeweller used to drive a sprawling long white Buick Sedan and drop his son at our  school. My mind raced back to these images when I saw a similar white Studebaker Champion  and other cars in the museum. The variants of the big Ford, Plymouth and Chevrolet Sedans were mostly run  as Taxis thanks to their huge cabin space . A large number of the U.K. made Morris Minors and Austins , especially A-40s, were also on the roads then. There is a  beautiful orange red and black Fiat 509  in the museum a variant of which was commonly seen in the 50s in  our town.By the late 50s and early 60s these grand foreign models started disappearing from Indian roads as a result of Government’s import policies. The Hindustans, Landmasters, Ambassadors, Fiats and Standard Vanguards,10s and Heralds, all manufactured in India,took over the Indian roads. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

A few other lingering memories of images and experiences came flashing through the mind. The main pastime of students and youngsters of those days in our town was to go to the long beautiful beach  in the evenings and spend time playing in the sea and  watching the lighthouse coming to life and flash its light. We also made it a point to  wait for the flashes from another light house about twenty five  kms. away. In between we used to watch the luxurious cars parading to and fro on the long beach road. The sons of some of the rich car owners, some of them our school/college mates,  made it a point to display their fortunate possessions  by driving the cars as fast as they could making as much noise as possible in an effort to impress. To our great pleasure some of them  waved their hands at us making us feel very important! Several Royal Enfield Bullet motorbikes with their trade mark beats were also on show. Inwardly we longed that one day we will also be speeding through the beach road in our own cars and bikes!

As far as our own mode of transport was concerned, the fortunate among us owned bi-cycles,  a few got them on hire. The rest made it by foot! Several cycle hiring shops were there which hired them at 12 paise(2 Annas)per hour for old ones and 18 paise to 25 paise per hour for newer ones.I belonged to the 2nd and 3rd category but I had the luxury of using my father’s Phillips bicycle on his off days. Among bicycles the coveted brands were the Raleigh and BSA even though the Humber and the Rudge were equally in demand.  While these brands were costlier the most popular brand was the Phillips, known for its toughness and reasonable price. Another popular brand was ‘Hercules’ followed by ‘Atlas’.

A very interesting add-on to the bicycle was the light.The luxury light was the Miller dynamo and head light as it is not easily affordable. It is maintenance free, can be easily operated and threw enough light on the road at night.The most popular and cheap alternative was the cute SARDAR brand paraffin lamps. It used to have two small windows, red on one side and green on the other. As paraffin was not easily available a mixture of kerosene and coconut oil wasused as fuel. Riding a bicycle without light at night was as serious a traffic offence as riding double or riding on the right hand side of the road. Of course, the rules were strictly enforced too!   Bicycles without chain covers, with half chain covers and with full chain covers called gearbox were also there.Those who could  afford  changed the ordinary factory fitted saddle for a comfortable BROOKS saddle! Hand pumps for filling air in the tubes inside the tyres were also there. Riding a bicycle in the rain with one hand and holding an open umbrella on the other was great fun!

I could, in course of time, own a bicycle, scooter and could ride the Royal Enfield Bullet  on the M.G. Road of Bangalore. Years later while driving my car on the old beach road I remembered that it was once my dream to drive a car on the same road . But alas! I felt no joy , no thrill! Those old carefree days cannot be regained. I wondered where the old friends would be that moment.