Fri, 11 Jul 2003

More people turn to old cars for hobby and fun

Sudibyo M. Wiradji The Jakarta Post Jakarta

To many people, an old, rusted and wrecked car left in the corner of a garden or a scrap heap is no more than just discarded and useless junk -- but not to old car enthusiasts. Even such cars that have obviously seen better days are considered invaluable items that might augment their collection.

Collecting old cars has become a trend over the last two years amid the appearance of a wide range of new models in the country.

The number of car collectors continues to increase from year to year, with old or classic car buffs not confined to wealthy businessmen or former high-ranking officials as in the past, but now inclusive of ordinary people. Driving an old or classic car in a tour or rally has become a new lifestyle, with many collecting old cars as a genuine hobby or just for fun, and others doing so as a way of invoking nostalgic experiences.

More car clubs have emerged in response to the increasing number of old car enthusiasts, with each having its own criteria as to what constitutes an old or classic car. The Indonesian Old Cars Lovers Association (PPMKI) with 300 members, for instance, insist that only cars produced before 1965 can be considered old.

However, many other clubs specializing in particular brands such as Mercedes Benz, Fiat, VW and Land Rover consider cars produced before 1970 to be old or classic.

PPMKI secretary general Robby Djojosaputro said that in line with the increasing number of old car owners joining the association, the number of automotive events, such as tours, rallies and exhibitions is also on the rise. "In the 1998s, only a few events were organized by the association, but since two years ago, the association has organized around 40 events per year," said Robby, who owns several old cars himself.

Through the association, members can regularly share the fun and pleasure of driving their favorite old cars in a tour or rally around town. "We also hold a tour covering thousands of kilometers, traversing several areas outside Java, such as Sumatra, Bali and Lombok," he said.

Like PPMKI, the clubs also regularly organize rallies, such as those in Yogyakarta, Central Java, or Surabaya, East Java.

So, don't be surprised if one day you witness dozens of old cars of different makes such as Chevrolets, Buicks, Jeeps, Chryslers and Mercedes Benzes rolling out into street to join a rally in the capital.

One's passion for owning an old car, however, will be tested by time, considering that maintaining the vehicle, as Robby puts it, has many challenges. "We should not be too easily flustered when we find that the car has broken down all of a sudden in the middles of heavy traffic, because there isn't enough water in the radiator or there's an electrical problem," he said.

"So, before taking the car out for a spin, we have to make sure that it will run well, although at the same time, we have to stay alert in case something goes wrong while on the road," he said.

As an old car collector, Robby hears about old cars by word of mouth. He will first take a close look at the old car on offer, checking the body, engine, make, model and registration documents, before eventually deciding whether or not to have it sent to a car restoration shop.

"The old cars I purchased were not necessarily in a good state but, quite frequently, I get the ones which are 50 percent good. Others are only 10 percent good.

"As long as the body and engine are the originals and the registration documents can be processed, I will take it," he said. "But of no less importance is the make."

Robby, who is now 53, fancied American old cars as a child. His dream of owning an old car did not come true until 1980, when he bought a '48 Chrysler from a relative in Bandung, West Java. Since then, he has collected dozens of old cars of various makes, but "I let other car enthusiasts collect them, especially those I've already tired of," he said.

His collection includes a '60 Chevrolet Impala, a '62 Chevrolet Impala, a '57 Dodge Coronet, a '54 Dodge Kings Way, a '47 Chevrolet Fleetmaster, a '65 Dodge Valiant and a '45 Ford Anglia.

"Three of them are still at the garage because they were in a very poor condition when I bought them," said Robby.

The ones he considers a "masterpiece" is his '62 Chevrolet Impala that he bought directly from its first owner, who rarely used the car and kept it in a garage. Most of the various components of the car were original, including the engine, carpet, seats, chrome an paint. "When I bought the car in 1999, the odometer showed only 20,000 kilometers," he said proudly.

Owning old and rare cars can also mean a different kind of luck for collectors. "Occasionally, my cars are rented out for different purposes, including wedding parties, film productions and advertisement photo shoots," said Robby.

Roy Suryo Notodiprojo, 37, is a newcomer at collecting old cars. He specializes in collecting Mercedes Benzes. His passion for this particular make stems from his childhood, when he deeply impressed by a black, classic Mercedes Benz driven by James Bond's adversary in Goldfinger in the 1970s.

His admiration for the car kept growing in his mind, and his dream of having his own classic Merc came true only three years ago - he now owns a model similar to the one that inspired him. Since then, Roy, who is a lecturer and a noted multimedia consultant, has purchased several other old Mercedes Benz models.

Roy's passion for disassembling and restoring cars has greatly helped support his hobby of collecting old cars. He has an automobile workshop at home where he spends his spare time, with the assistance of a technician or two, restoring his newly bought old cars.

"I try to restore the car to resemble its original as much as possible, by first seeking information on the original Mercedes Benz from websites," he said, adding that the vintage of cars should be retained.

Now, his Mercedes Benz collection includes vintage models from 1955 (180), 1961 (180), 1962 (220S), 1965 (190), 1967 (200) and 1972 (280S).

Finding spare parts for the old cars is not an easy task, but that's the challenge, the collectors say. They usually hunt for spare parts in Asem Reges, Sawah Besar or in Senen Atrium, Central Jakarta. But if the spare parts are not available at shops in those areas, they will place an order with a shop owner who will then contact shops outside Jakarta, such as in Semarang, Central Java, or Surabaya.

"Once, I tried to find a windshield wiper motor, but I couldn't find it in the shops. So I asked my e-mail pal in the U.S. to do me a favor and look for it in junkyards over there," Roy said.

Unlike new models that can be used as a means of daily transportation, old cars are generally used for an event. But as part of their maintenance, it is advised that the old cars are driven once a week, said Robby. "But if the owner has a really tight schedule, he should at least start the engine every day to keep the engine working," he said.

For Roy, who lives in a small town in Yogyakarta, he can drive his old cars every day, alternating between them. "To me, collecting old cars is not about storing 'distinct' items. But they have to be used regularly so that the engine and other components such as wheels, the steering and brakes keep running smoothly," he said.

Roy said restoring cars has given him a sense of belonging. "That's the pleasure of driving my old car," he said.