‘You have the sexiest babe out here’, I say to Andrew Webster’s face, the moment I walk into him with my sketchbook and pen. He grins. ‘You think so! Well, people do like her colour…but there are many beautiful ladies out here.’ he says modestly and scans the row of luscious dames standing in a neat array with information plates displaying their names, make and other interesting snippets.
National Heritage Board(NHB) of Singapore with Malaysia & Singapore Vintage Car Register (MSVCR) had jointly organised “Motoring Heritage Day 2013”, a spectacular display of 50 vintage and classic cars from the 1930s to 1970s era. The location for the exhibition – the 79 year old art deco Tanjong Pagar Railway Station which had ceased operations two years ago and was gazetted as a national monument – couldn’t have been more befitting.
The day is muggy and grey and the platform is ageing, monochromatic but the burst of colours on the glistening bodies – in sparkling shades of blue, red, yellow, green and so on – along the abandoned railway track is all it takes to swing the mood. Scores of visitors pour in to view the finest, immaculately preserved historic vehicles in Singapore – photographing, videotaping, sketching or just gaping at them, documenting the scene in some way, imprinting in their memory this rare once in a year exhibit.
Some owners of these million dollar beauties sit behind their cars impassively, in mild coloured polo necks matched with a beret, semi-casual shorts and moccasins, smoking cigars, talking about the yesteryears, reminiscing, while others in Tees, sneakers and sombreros make rounds, mingle with the crowd and answer questions.
I have never drawn cars before, but am instantly drawn to these period vehicles. Their exotic features, classy design and scrumptious colours make each one seem like a work of art and immeasurably desirable.
Desire catapults inexperience, and soon enough I start outlining their smooth and flowing bodies with deeply valenced fenders and elegantly cowled back wheels, footboards, long hoods and showy chrome radiator jackets, glass windscreens with sunshades and snug leather seats and the distinctive cockpit-like wooden dashboards. “If I was a guy, I’d marry her’, says an overwhelmed vintage car enthusiast. I’d show her off all the time, if I had one. Wishful thinking! Not only because they are ridiculously expensive to buy and maintain but as per Classic and Vintage Vehicle Schemes in Singapore, there are usage restrictions on these cars as they ‘are not meant to serve day to day transport needs of their owners’. “Many of these cars can be used only upto 28 days in a year.” says the owner of a 1972 Morris Mini 1000. I get back to sketching.
What a joy it is to swerve and glide the pen, outlining the undulating curves, the sinuous stretches and lithe trails that make the retro bodies of these vintage and classic cars. To pick out few favourites, I try to scan the complete row by walking briskly from one end to another, but stop before a 1936 Armstrong Siddley and gape lasciviously at it before moving on to a 1969 Aston Martin DB6 which gets my pulse racing; then double back to catch the 1973 Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet that I had missed, turn mushy, slowly tear away and forge ahead till the end with many such intermittent stops.
I am spurred on to get all 50 cars down in my sketchbook, but my hands don’t move fast enough, in fact they turn clammy when I panic about the lack of enough time, my perspective goes awry, too many people block the view, pushing and shoving and then comes the rain – the hard hitting tropical rain that wipes out spectators, dulls the fun and drowns my plan.
To escape the rain, we climb the sprawling platform and join the car owners now eating lunch out of plastic trays, still posted dutifully behind their vehicles. The rain hardly perturbs their composure. But the inclement weather lets me appreciate the rear of the vehicles which is no less striking than the front. I take out my tools and resume sketching. Andrew is happy with my pen-and-ink rendition of his bright red 1938 MGTA Midget and flips open his iPad to take a picture. “There’s another one down this line that I own. Want to take a look?”.