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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Remembrance of Things Past: Two Strokes For Different Folks at the Man Shed

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Man Shed, Sanur

It’s amazing what you find when you’re not really looking

Sanur is like a Mediterranean holiday resort. The water is certainly cleaner and more inviting than the tourist strips of the west coast, with a calming offshore breakwater. Walkways stretch far along the wide sandy beach, past tree-shaded cafes, resorts and day clubs clustered with sun lounges for rent. The ocean breezes can be feisty at times but they thankfully temper the heat of the cloudless skies.

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The main tourist street, Jl Danau Tamblingan, is relatively mild, the area’s through traffic concentrated on the near by-pass road. There’s cars and minibuses, which occasionally tangle in what passes for a traffic jam in those parts, but quite a few tourists prefer bicycles, a mode of transport who just don’t see in many other parts of Bali. Try that in Kuta or Seminyak and you’d never play the violin again.

Just on the other side of the by-pass is a sprawling, run-down industrial space that has been reborn as the retro heaven called the Man Shed. Café, bar, pool hall, informal museum and boutique, this amazing hanger-like space is packed with cars and motorbikes, old-timey everyday examples of the internal (and infernal) combustion engine and kitschy musings on such, including bar tables fashioned from old scooters.

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I came across the Man Shed purely by accident as it was close to a friend’s villa where I stayed for a few weeks. I couldn’t quite believe what I found but took to it immediately. The motorcycles were generally of the kind favoured by the locals (or, in Australia, by postmen) and, amongst the cars, a couple of Holdens. New stock seemed to be added continually although where they were found, and how, I couldn’t even hazard a guess.

In this category, I’d place the black 1951 Plymouth, a little battered but a prime example of Detroit steel that I found the mechanics working on one day. It was taking some effort and appeared to be riding far too low to be venturing out anytime soon but I was assured that it would soon be duelling with the SUVs and millions of motor scooters driven really badly. It’ll hold its own, I’m sure.

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One Sunday, the local Vespa club held a giant rally at Man Shed. The forecourt was packed with the bright and shiny and obviously highly-prized Italian scooters, pretty evenly divided between new and Audrey Hepburn-Roman Holiday old. As part of their celebrations, there was a massed Vespa drive-by along the Sanur tourist strip. On their return, the peaceful Sunday afternoon was shattered by what sounded like a squadron of avenging lawnmowers.

Over many visits, I tried much of the menu and it’s a real bonus for visitors. Nasi Goreng is just Rp20,000 ($AU1.84) while a hamburger is Rp50,000 ($AU4.59). A small bottle of Bintang beer costs Rp20,000.

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The Man Shed is one of those places you won’t quite believe, like an automotive mirage of dubious taste, but you’ll enjoy it immensely. It’s a putt-putt down memory lane, a cabinet of curiosities that delights and rewards. And, on an island that has its fair share of the unusual, it stands alone.

Man Shed
Jl Turtanadi II No 9, Sanur
Tel: 0878 6252 2136

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© words and photos David Latta 2014