Alain de Cadenet took his Alfa way out East for some tropical motoring
You may well be wondering what this event was all about. Why would over 70 entrants send both cars and themselves from all over the world to Singapore? Surely it wasn’t just for a reliability rally and driving test?
Adventure, of course, is the answer. The greatest privilege of owning old cars is the maintaining and the driving of them, particularly in the conditions that they were constructed for in the first place. The idea of driving around Singapore city, up to the Straits of Johore, across into Malaysia and thence via not so very well-kept metalled roads to Kuala Lumpur may not appeal to everyone. However, add in some off-road excursions into 4×4 country littered with overhanging palm and rubber trees and precarious mud alleyways up hill and across ditches and this event became a definite no-no for the all-too-common poseur who has infiltrated the vintage movement.
Jim Profit, from Long Beach, California, entered the oldest bolide. This was a 1914 Mercer Roadster on correct artillery wheels. Amongst the Australian entry was a 1924 Alvis from Ian Diffen, a Buick Marquette Tourer from Lloyd Hart and Peter Briggs’ gorgeous Franay-bodied 1936 Bentley. There were several Jaguar XK120s, 140s and 150s from Japan and the ‘locals’ — i e from Singapore or Malaysia. There was a Model T Ford, a Stutz Speedster from 1927, a great looking 1929 Le Mans-bodied Bentley that was entered from Belgium. There was a Phantom I and a Phantom II and several MGs from TA to MGA. Richard Leeson sent his Bugatti T 40 from the UK and Antoine Prunet sent his smashing little Bugatti T 37 from France. At least he had lights and cycle wings on it; his friend Maurice Sauzay sent his 1926 T 35 out in full GP spec — no lights or wings whatsoever. I sent out my trusty old Alfa Romeo 8C MM to keep David Baylis company in his 1928 6C 1500 MM.
Cars started at one minute intervals, off a very slippery ramp on the cricket pitch. The road book gave very explicit instructions on where to go, via ‘tulips in both kilometers and miles. If you had an accurate odometer, then it wasn’t too bad following the directions. The object was to recognise Route Checks as you came to them and not to arrive at the controls either early or late which gave you penalties — a bit like the Mille Miglia but with a lot more to do, on roads that were a lot worse, and with no signs to help. Haldas and the like were banned, but we soon learned to correct our wonky odometer as we drove along. Actually it was hardly ‘drove along’ as a torrential downpour continued all afternoon and aquaplaning was more the rule.
The next day produced very warm and humid weather. The route took us up into the hills, through jungle plantations and some very serious scenery including equatorial rain forest. My old 8C was suffering a bit on the off-road sections and needed some remedial attention at the stops. I kept thinking of Maurice in his T 35 and told myself that I had nothing to worry about. However. I did have a piston pick-up just before lunch. It was caused by running too lean a mixture and then driving too fast for the setting. At least I still had 7 pots to complete the course with.
The final police-escorted thrash into Kuala Lumpur was as good as in the Carrera Pan-Americana. I love following policeman on bikes at 80 mph down Main Street! (Not to be recommended the other way around.)
Several things amazed me about this escapade. The number of finishers was remarkably high with very few drop-outs or mechanical horrors, apart from the usual bumps and scrapes and the odd excursions into ditches.
Great credit must go to the organising club, the Malaysia and Singapore Vintage Car Register. All their members and officials worked extremely hard to put this show on. Getting all the cars there in the first place was a miracle and getting them back from Malaya was also not easy.
My final words must lie with the Louis Vuitton people who seriously know how to sponsor events. From directors to PR ladies, they all got stuck in and helped out in a very 5-star way. They can all feel very proud of themselves, promoting international concord and for me, most importantly, bringing joy to thousands of children watching en route. A de C