Get Your Motor Running: Taking Stock of Bali’s Motoring Catalogue of Weird and Wonderful Delights

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After a while, you get accustomed to the unusual. Or at least it doesn’t seem as strange as it once would. Something that may have you doing a double-take anywhere else in the world  becomes “forget it, Jake, it’s Bali”.

Like the back section of an aircraft perched on the roof of a building along Jl Kerobokan and which, I’m informed by the brains trust of Bali expats on Facebook, is a new bar (I’ll report back on that one). That definitely had me doing a double-take, hastily pulling up at the side of the road to snap a photo.

Otherwise, the best WTF moments come from the weird and wonderful cars and motorbikes that can be found here. Bali traffic seriously does your head in. Compressed into the southern end of the island are far too many cars and motorbikes on far too few roads. Simple as that. And, with motorbike rentals starting at less than $AU5.00 a day, petrol at around 70 cents a litre, and the absence of a formal licence and/or previous driving experience being no legal hindrance at all, it appears that every second tourist is piloting their two-stroke alongside every other local in a huge motorised love-in.

1951 Plymouth
1951 Plymouth
Classic Kombi Van tucked away In the  back streets of Kuta
Classic Kombi Van tucked away In the back streets of Kuta
Australian 1961 EK Holden
Australian 1961 EK Holden

The extremely high incidence of road fatalities aside, the heavy traffic and rather haphazard nature of local driving culture doesn’t seem to make Bali the sort of place you’d want to drive expensive or rare vehicles. Yet, I’ve seen quite a few Porsches and Ferraris; I’m not sure how the owners cope with the inevitable nicks, dings and scrapes that every other vehicle on the road seem to accumulate like fleas on a dog. Antidepressants may help.

Night-time is when the truly interesting cars come out to play. Classics, that would have a challenging time maneuvering during the day, take advantage of the lighter traffic. Just as there’s a hard-core band of vintage Vespa fans out there, some surprising classic cars also turn up when you least expect them.

Like the beautiful two-tone 1961 Australian EK Holden that I spied late one night on Jl Petitenget nearly opposite the entrance to the W Hotel. Although brightly-painted and highly-polished, its bodywork showed the heavy toll of the roads.

The garden of mechanical delights that is known as Sanur’s Man Shed has a number of classic Holdens from Australia, along with a 1951 US Plymouth four-door and some whimsical indeterminate curiosities amongst its extensive holdings of cars and motorbikes. It was at a recent Vespa gathering there that I saw a super-cute Heinkel Tourist scooter with matching custom trailer. From the looks of it, it’s a late 1950s 103A-1.

Heinkel scooter with matching trailer
Heinkel scooter with matching trailer
Matching trailer of late 1950s Heinkel 103A-1
Matching trailer of late 1950s Heinkel 103A-1

Scooters with matching sidecars are also a reasonably common sight in Bali. There’s a wonderful candy-striped Vespa and sidecar often parked in Gang Mangga in Seminyak, not far from Café Moka. And the Red Carpet Champagne Bar, nearby in Jl Oberoi, has a scooter with a sidecar fashioned like a bottle of champagne.

Throughout Bali, there’s also a surprising number of vintage Volkswagon Kombie vans. Beautifully restored with gleaming chrome and bright paintwork, they inevitably bear the scars of traversing the traffic.

My Holy Grail, my Moby Dick, is the classic Cadillac rumoured to ply the streets of Ubud late at night. From descriptions I’ve received, it may well be the vaunted 1959 model. I’ll let you know when, and if, I find it.

Vintage scooters and matching sidecars are popular amongst motoring fans
Vintage scooters and matching sidecars are popular amongst motoring fans
A candy-striped vintage Vespa with matching sidecar
A candy-striped vintage Vespa with matching sidecar

© words and photos David Latta 2014

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Author: davidlatta

David Latta is an award-winning editor, journalist and photographer. His work has appeared in scores of Australian and international newspapers and magazines including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Australian Financial Review, The Courier-Mail and Travel & Leisure. During the last two decades, he has largely concentrated on travel and tourism, editing more than a dozen B2B titles and major conference and incentive travel publications. He is the author of critically-acclaimed books on such subjects as architecture and design, Australian history, literary criticism and music. These titles include Lost Glories: A Memorial To Forgotten Australian Buildings, Sand On The Gumshoe: A Century Of Australian Crime Writing, and Australian Country Music. He is currently working on a book about the nightclub scene in 1970s Sydney as well as a sprawling thriller set in Sydney during World War II. As an arts commentator, humourist and trend-spotter, his opinions are sought across the gamat of traditional and social media.

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