The Road to Mandalay
February 1 to February 24, 2015
Singapore - The Day Before
The opulence of the old-colonial surroundings of Raffles hotel was given a further throwback in time today as cars being readied for the Starter's flag took centre-stage in front of the hotel that boasts a history of having seen it all. The great and the glamorous have all stayed at Raffles in the past 100 years but never has the hotel witnessed a motoring event quite as ground breaking as the ERA Road to Mandalay.
The 7½ litre 1907 Itala with big brass lamps gleaming in the sunshine caused passers by to stop, gawp, and get down on their knees in front of the massive radiator to snap photos with their phones but they could just as easily have been paying homage to an awesome line up that including several vintage Bentleys, two Alvis sports tourers, a Jaguar SS100 and classic cars that came and went all day... The bearded turban-topped doorman in his long military tunic admitted that in all his years of service, he had never seen anything quite like this.
It has been a frantic day of final preparations and last-minute packing. Tomorrow the cars will be flagged away for the start of 24 days of driving adventure road on the ground breaking route that cracks open the frontier into Burma. For over 60 years the border-post has been closed to foreign visitors. Never before have the border officials, seen any kind of motor-sporting event. Now they are braced to welcome 140 rally competitors from 20 countries all eager to prove a single point - that the motorcar, as Prince Borghese said on arriving into Paris at the end of the first drive across Asia in 1907, "really can go anywhere, making frontiers meaningless".
It has taken the E.R.A. organisation three years of tenacious perseverance to bring the event to this point. With most creases ironed out - recent floods in Malaysia have tested the route-plan to the full requiring numerous revisions - the rally is now set for the off.
Caroline Greenhalgh in a big Alvis Tourer had electrical issues, among several others, with battery jump leads in much demand as cars had to be coaxed into life in order to get out of the customs warehose. Gary Anderson's Ford Model A had the starter motor jammed, others discovered that their fuel tank had evaporated dry, and a Datsun 240Z from America had a length of rubber fuel pipe disintegrate from the effects of ethanol in the petrol. Talking of rubber, mud flaps haven in big demand by over half a dozen crews who faced Scrutineering officials only to discover the official regulation that insists they be fitted could see a non-start imposed as a penalty for their absence. The sweep mechanics have been busy all day - their next three weeks will probably be even more manic.
Singapore Slings and beers that cost £10 a glass left some feeling a little slung over after the previous night in the famous Long Bar, where the drink was first invented, with the husks of peanuts crunching underfoot littered the wooden floorboards as entrants met each other for the first time. Today's hot and steamy atmosphere hasn't exactly helped to cure several thick heads. Right now, the whole rally is all out on the manicured Raffles Lawn for pre-dinner cocktails before dining together in the Grand Ballroom, with all the chatter and banter centring on the Organisation's earlier route-briefing.