If you happen to live in the La Romaine area by the Gulf City traffic lights or have taken a Sunday morning trip in the vicinity, chances are that you have caught a glimpse of a parade of vintage and classic vehicles just off South Trunk Road or at least a view of a parked lineup of the old-time vehicles.
The convertibles, station wagons, pickups, trucks, and other automobiles from the 1920s right up to the 80s, often create a spectacle as many people slow down to take photos or record the awesome sight.
The owners of these vehicles are a group of old-school car enthusiasts known as the T&T Classics Antiques Replica Club (T&T CAR Club) who meet every Sunday for breakfast from 9 am at the Gulf City traffic lights in front of Starbucks. Every last Sunday of the month, they assemble on afternoons to allow for members unable to make Sunday mornings, and depending on whether or not it is a holiday weekend, a few Saturdays are thrown in. They are a passionate and dedicated bunch, the club’s president Ishwarlal Mongru told the Sunday Guardian.
“It’s really a nice (family-oriented) activity. We have our wives with us, we have the family with us, so it’s a nice hobby where you can incorporate your whole family and that’s the beauty of it,” he said.
Initially formed in 1986 by a group of car lovers, including Brij Maharaj, Hendrickson Seenath and Derek Smith, who are still currently involved, the T&T CAR Club hosted car shows, parades and other car-related activities like the San Fernando Grand Prix for many years. Mongru said he and others re-energised the club in 2013 and as part of the management team of their affiliate the Brij Maharaj Auto and Heritage Museum in Vistabella, he set out to get young people involved in developing an appreciation of T&T’s automotive heritage, national heritage and historic preservation.
Maharaj is a retired mechanical technician and businessman whose personal collection of vehicles is showcased at the museum alongside other vintage and classic additions and interesting old-time household artefacts.
Apart from their Sunday morning gatherings, the club’s 1,200 plus members keep in touch via a WhatsApp chat and Facebook page, exchanging advice and encouragement, and organising and advertising events. The bustling Gulf City corner also acts as their meeting point when they go off on trips and other activities monitored by their close to 1,800 Facebook followers.
The first choice among ladies is the club’s MGA convertible.
Mongru nurtured a love for old-time cars since first seeing an unrestored Morris Minor, a small British car that rivalled the Volkswagen Beetle, in his youth, and because his father had also come to own one.
“I always liked old cars. I love seeing them on the road. I always admired them, but obviously, common sense had to prevail and life’s priorities came first. When I reached 40 years, there’s a joke: I told my wife I have to get ah ole ting and I got permission to buy the car, so I went ahead,” he joked.
The car Mongru purchased was none other than a 1967 Morris Minor, and the owner happened to be a retired newspaper columnist and photographer named Derek Aleong.
Launched in 1948, the antique car series was manufactured up until 1971 by Morris Motors, British Motor Corporation and British Leyland.
“That was Britain’s response to the Volkswagen and it was a very small-engine (1.1 cc) car to assist with the high fuel prices after the world war,” Mongru explained.
Part of the car’s appeal for him too was that it was a rare vehicle kept in “pristine” condition by Aleong. Mongru’s Morris Minor is probably the only vehicle of that era in Trinidad running regularly with the original factory paint, he said.
The vintage car connoisseur also has other rare vehicles, most of which are British-made.
The club classifies the vehicles into three broad categories. Any car manufactured before World War II is considered antique, classics are cars that were made after World War II up to the 80s or are generally over 30 years old, and replicas are locally assembled kit cars with imported parts. Mongru said replicas were rare as they were only allowed in this country before restrictions by the Licensing Authority. An example of a replica is a 1929 Mercedes on show at the museum.
Some the T&T CAR Club’s antiques line the road near Gulf City.
The club’s favourite vehicle is perhaps a modified 1937 Buick nicknamed “the Boat” because of its large size. Of course, the fact that it is a convertible may also be cause for its popularity among members.
And the public’s favourites? There are a few, Mongru said.
“People go crazy when they see the (Ford) Model T (produced from 1908 to 1927) which might be the oldest running car in Trinidad. We had that in Southex (car show) last year and they just went crazy. It’s the nostalgia; that was the first mass-produced car.
“You would find that with the Mini (Morris Mini Traveller) what made it great was that it was the pattern that subsequent manufacturers took to make front-wheel-drive cars,” he explained, adding that the first choice among ladies was the club’s MGA convertible, “that red little car with white tyres.”
He said the Ford Capri was also well-loved and had won many trophies.
He said, surprisingly, ladies were the most die-hard fans of the club’s vehicles and the most faithful event planners and participants. Still, the vehicles excite feelings of nostalgia for many and children and teens also show an interest.
“We just like to display the cars, let people have a little bit of fun, admire them because when people see those vehicles they remember: you know my father had this, I learnt to drive in that, I used to go to school and ten of us used to sit in the back seat. You hear all the stories and emotions coming out. You really bring smiles to people’s faces,” he said.
“Don’t have cars and leave them in your garage. Let people see them and remember them so they can show their children: this is what we used to do, the car had this kind of gear, that kind of suspension, this was the engineering. And you could probably inspire some young children to go into mechanical or electrical trades.”
The Ford Model T is a favourite among the antiques of the T&T CAR Club.
The club’s activities are numerous, ranging from fun events to more serious causes. The most recent edition of their annual Classic Cars n Cuisine in April drew from the museum display, featuring bicycles with a sno-cone man and a doubles man riding the bicycles, Mongru recalled.
“We sold the doubles ten cents for one for the fun of it. We wanted to create a longtime era and in that Cars n Cuisine, we used bicycles from the museum.”
He made sure to add that the sno-cone was made from shaved ice manually grated or shaved down from big blocks of ice reminiscent of back in the day and people welcomed the old-time touches as they gathered to see the array of the club’s vehicles.
Recently, the group visited Sammy’s Residence a historic house in San Fernando with permission, took memorable photos and held a mini-parade through the city. The group’s other activities include participation in the annual Southex car exhibition at Gulf City, a regular Sunday Breakfast, virtual car shows and decorating the cars with Christmas lights and driving around to bring cheer during the pandemic.
The club also embarks on social work like attending social rallies and distributing hampers “on the low” as their aim is not to draw attention to their charity initiatives. At the height of the pandemic, they organised a literal vaccination “drive” where, along with police escort, they drove through the streets of San Fernando with signs to raise awareness of the benefits of the COVID vaccine when they felt the nation was slow to respond to taking the jab.
Pointing out that it was important to have an understanding and supportive wife to have such a demanding hobby, Mongru said his wife, Rhonda, enjoyed the car-club life and he even restored a 1984 Jaguar XJ6 as a present for her. The car is less complicated to operate than some of the other antiques or classics and she proudly drives it around at times.
They also go for drives with their two children around the city, up to Chaguanas or Sangre Grande or as far as Fyzabad, Debe or Penal in the south.
Ishwarlal Mongru’s wife Rhonda with her Jaguar XJ6.
Mongru who has a passion for restoring antiques in general like old radios, said they have remodelled their garage, signs and all, to fit a vintage theme. They have even devoted a part of their home to family mementoes Mongru has preserved. His father’s Texaco badge, driver’s permit and camera, his mother’s wedding dress and a pottery jug his grandfather used are on full display for guests to their home, he laughed.
As for the response from his children who are teenagers attending prestigious secondary schools, they had objections at first, but have had a change of heart towards their father’s old-time vehicles over the years.
“The children now, when they were younger, they would say: ‘Daddy, that’s ah ole car, we not going in that’ or ‘Daddy, don’t carry we in school in the ole car nah.’ But after they got a bit older and saw that these cars would be in malls at car shows, they realised that these are special cars,” he said.
His children’s friends at school would also come around and comment on the beauty of the cars and this led his children to appreciate them even more. His daughter even asked recently which car Mongru would be passing on to her one day.
Mongru who works in finance said the club encourages vintage car owners to make use of their vehicles whether or not it is fully restored and added that once you keep your car parked, it tends to give more problems.
He said although restoration costs could be high, the club also insisted that car collectors not do quick fixes, but invest the time and finances to do worthwhile restorations on the vehicles. He recommended that people drive their vehicles while fixing them gradually.
Locally, parts shops in Rio Claro and Claxton Bay specialise in antiques. A few others may carry some old-time parts, he said. Sometimes parts have to be imported. He revealed that the most challenging aspect of restoring a vehicle was the labour as it was hard to find mechanics and vehicle body specialists dedicated to sourcing the parts and seeing the job through to completion.
A Ford Model A from the T&T Car Club.
He said the club usually recommended parts and body shops, but most members do their own mechanic work. He expressed disappointment that most car repairmen had lost the art of taking down an engine, rebuilding it and returning it to the vehicle. The same could be said of car upholsterers, he said.
Mongru believes that if properly harnessed, an antique car industry has the potential to boost T&T’s economy like King of the Hill circuit racing rallies in Barbados (although they use modern cars) or old-world cars used for tourism in Cuba. He is currently collaborating with the National Trust to see what could be worked out.
In the meantime, he feels the old-time vehicles offer us beauty and qualities that can benefit our society.
“For me, the cars represent eras of where we came from. They were eras when we were humble and we didn’t need any air-conditioning etc. We operated with a certain level of technology and we were happy with it. When you sit in an old car, you don’t try to drive it like a new car. You put your frame of mind back to the old era it belongs to and it brings you back to where your family came from and how far you have come. It keeps you humble,” he said.
Stay tuned this Father’s Day–Sunday June 19 for “A Car Story”, a heart-warming tale sure to intrigue.
Follow the T&T Car Club on Facebook @ ttcarclub