Saturday, March 03, 2007

Cars in 1960s Singapore

(Written by Brian Mitchell)

Chun See’s blog on his daughter passing the driving test – and that picture of the Morris Minor - got me thinking about cars in Singapore when I lived there 1960-62 (but first just to tell you that my first car here in the UK in 1965 was a Morris 1000 van, and I later had a light blue saloon just like in the picture).

Our family had never owned a car in the UK – not so unusual in the 1950s and we lived in London where public transport was plentiful. So I was pretty excited not just by going to Singapore but being told we were certainly going to be car owners when we were there! I guess the normal practice for a Royal Air Force officer was to buy one second hand from someone whose tour of duty had ended and sure enough we were soon the proud owners of a rather old, but grand, Humber Hawk - a huge tank of a car, leather seats and all.



This was OK but I pretty soon saw a number of my friends whose families had large American cars, one family had a huge Nash (there were about six kids) and across the road from our house sat another US monster with huge fins. Our Humber Hawk looked pretty out of date and tame in comparison.

We did not have the Hawk long but worse was to come. Our next car was a tiny grey little Standard. Our family of five hardly fitted into it and not only did we travel around Singapore in it but we also travelled across the Causeway to KL and a hill camp beyond (incidentally this was not too long after the ‘Emergency’ and I still recall the gates and fences, unused but still present, around villages on the road up through Malaya).

Eventually before our return to the UK my father decided to get a new car and ship it back to the UK - prices being much lower in Singapore. So we began a tour of the car showrooms, including visiting the Jaguar one for the unveiling of the ‘E type’ (in your dreams were we going to end up with that one!) but at the first sight of a Volvo I knew my father had seen the car he wanted, it was duly bought and arrived back at Liverpool docks in the UK some months later.

Now I guess the Japanese cars dominate Singapore as so many other places but I always associate my time there with those wonderful old American gas guzzlers even if we never actually owned one!



Lam Chun See continues

I happen to have a photo of my father and uncle with a car that looked like Brian’s Humber. I have always wondered if that car was a Hillman. But even Brian could not be sure if it was the same ‘Humber Hawk’ he talked about. Hope some of you can throw some light. But the car next to it is definitely a Morris Minor.

As for the place, Brian thinks it’s an airport. In that case, most likely it’s Kallang Airport. However, I have a few other similar photos which would suggest that this photo was taken at place called Port Swettenham in 1957. Now I leave the younger readers to figure out for themselves where is Port Swettenham.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Either in Butterworth or Penang ?

zen said...

My father was standing beside my uncle Soon, my mother's younger brother, who worked with the British Army (HQ at KL). This picture was likely taken somewhere in KL, maybe at the old airport or sea port there. Sometime in the fifties, my uncle resettled his whole family of eleven (including an amah) to Singapore after the the Army relocated the HQ to Singapore. He visited my mother in the kampong, driving a black morris minor.

Victor said...

As to whether the car was a Humber Hawk or a Hillman, could it be that it was actually the same car but having a different name because the market or country of manufacture/origin was different? For example, in the early 80s, the local Honda Civic was known as Sangyang Civic in Taiwan. Another modern example is the Honda Fit and the Honda Jazz - actually the same car and both can be seen on our roads but the former is a parallel import car while the latter is sold by Kah Motors, the local distributor for Honda cars.

peter said...

This was the old Kuala Lumpur International Airport at Sungei Besi before the airport at Subang was built. Was a shared facility with the RAF during the 1950s. The old airport was later used as a military airfield by the RMAF to house the Caribou transport planes. I remembered passing by the airport on our drive from Singapore to KL. Because it was shared with the RAF, international passengers from KL to Australia/Britain had to be routed through Singapore - Paya Lebar Airport. That is why you see Tengku Abdul rahman, the first prime minsiter of Malaya coming often to Singapore.

My uncle used to own a second-hand Standard Vanguard similar to what John described in 1959. The door hinges were to the middle of the car such that the door opened backwards.

Lam Chun See said...

I have 2 questions for Brian.

1) Can you confirm my description of the Morris Minor's indicator in my previous article; I mean about how the 'hand' flips up from the side of the car.

2) Your neighbours' American cars - where they left hand drive? I remember seeing cars on our roads with a warning label that it was 'left hand drive'.

Thanks.

Brian Mitchell said...

Chun See

yes the early Morris Minors had the flip out signals, in the 1960s a friend of mine had one of those models - they sometimes also had the split windscreen. The later models had a bigger engine and were called Morris Minor 1000 and most of the cars you see were this model, they had little flashing signals, sometimes like a pair of ears on the roof of the car!

And I can't remember if the US cars were left hand drive, I imagine they were and I guess although I particularly noticed them (including the way they rolled around corners and their suspensions went up and down on bumps) they were a small minority of cars at the time. There were a lot of old British cars and of course those Holdens - Australian ones.

Lam Chun See said...

Speaking of Volvo, do you know which model was the most famous in the 60's?

The Volvo sports model driven by Roger Moore in the hit TV series, The Saint.

iml said...

Port swettenham, is today's Port Klang?

zen said...

When we were attending primary school, I remembered my mother arranged with a 'pirate-taxi' guy named Ah Yong to fetch my sister and I to school and back. This type of service was something like the present mini school bus system except that it was illegal. His large black Vauxhall car could easily squeezed in about 6 kids. The seating was quite comfortable despite of the sardine-packed space. The Vauxhall car had a very quiet engine with a column gear. Ah Yong was a quiet fellow but had a quick temper and we kids were rather obedient when travelling in his car.

Lam Chun See said...

Yes. Port Klang is correct.

JollyGreenP said...

The car in the photo is almost certainlya hillman Minx. See side on photo of a classic car at this link.
http://www.oldclassiccar.co.uk/visitors_hillman_minx.htm

John Harper

Lam Chun See said...

Hi there John, good to hear from you; and thanks for that bit of info.

zen said...

Our kampong folks drove an assortment of British cars which had quiet engines unlike the volks and fiats which were rather noisy, but had better consumption - more miles per gallon. Older models of the bettle operated on a small battery of 6 volts and many a time, Chun See and few of us had to push-start the 'German Tank', when the battery became weak.

Brian Mitchell said...

By a strange co-incidence I found myself yesterday in Coventry in the UK in the Transport Museum which houses a good array of cars built in or near that City. There in front of me was a rather wonderful Humber Hawk, even bigger than I remembered it. Despite have a lot of Standards they did not have a Standard 8 like the second car we owned but that Humber Hawk was something to see!

zen said...

Brian - Do you remember the box-like, black Mayflower the car which my grandma described as the 'coffin' car. To be honest, this car had a very refined quiet engine, again column gear stick, a popular car feature at that time. The column gear had the advantage of squeezing in an additional body in the front seat. Apparently, European car manufacturers are not aware of Asian superstition of box-like cars and their resemblance to coffin. A Swede manufacturer makes similar mistakes, not enough homework being carried out.

Anonymous said...

The American cars in the 60s were all right hand drive. The last one I saw was this huge Chevrolet Impala in 1974 at my secondary school carpark. Some rich kid's dad had arrived to pick him.

zen said...

My cousin studied in one of the top schools in Singapore. It was then referred to as a school for rich men children. My cousin, though one of the school top students, was shy to be seen in his father's Austin car, whereas his fellow students arrived in their fathers' Mercs or other luxury cars. Was this not social snobery ?

Brian Mitchell said...

Zen

I certainly remember the Mayflower and its wierd sharp edges! And I saw one the other day on my visit to Coventry. I am not sure they were ever very popular but might well have very good cars. At least the maker was prepared to take a risk, for its time it must have been a very innovative design. I also well remember the Ford Anglia with the raked back rear window 0 another car breaking the rules!

autosellernetwork said...

This type of service was something like the present mini school bus system except that it was illegal. His large black Vauxhall car could easily squeezed in about 6 kids.
Autoseller Network

Garage Door Installation said...

This was the old Kuala Lumpur International Airport at Sungei Besi before the airport at Subang was built.

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Lam Chun See said...

I just found out that that photo of my father and uncle was taken at an airport in Sungei Besi outside Kuala Lumpur. Brian was right after all is thinking that it was an airport.

My apologies for misleading the readers.