I’ve been trying to put some order into my digital photo files lately, which led me to recover this gem, which a friend and I happened upon while walking in Yangon about four years ago. Classic American cars are few and far between in Myanmar, but this one was probably part of a collection I was to uncover by chance sometime later. Yes, there is a huge treasure trove of classic cars in the middle of the city. This Chevy is a hint of it.
Not far from the Shwedagon Pagoda, right next to a supermarket, lies a nondescript warehouse made of corrugated iron. I once was in the area and needed to get something at the supermarket. As I came out, I noticed that the warehouse door was cracked open and three or four guys were busy uncovering and dusting a superb late ‘60s Mustang convertible. I approached to take a look, but was soon rebuffed by the Burmese folks tending to the Ford, as well as by a security guard, who stood in the doorway.
I only managed to see, very briefly, that the whole warehouse was full of cars. Classic shapes and glistening chrome were just visible in the unlit building – an early Camaro, a couple Tri-Five Chevys, a post-63 Stingray, hints of big American sedans and British or Italian (Euro-sized) sports cars… I had no chance to catch much more than a glimpse inside this house of delights and had to be on my way. As I drove off in my trusted Tokyo taxi, I recalled how, every once in a while, a pristine classic American car would show up in traffic, always too fast for my camera. This is where they likely slept at night. But the heavily guarded treasure was safely kept out of everyone’s sight.
I made a few inquiries, but understood that the man who owns the building and the cars was not the kind of person one could just walk up to and ask for permission to see his collection. I sensed fear – or at least reticence – in the Burmese people I talked to about this, so I let the matter drop. The only other (semi-)classic American car I saw regularly in the city was a Lincoln Town Car. Slim pickings.
But at least my mate Luwi and I managed to capture this 1961 Bel Air. Not the most glamorous of the breed, to be sure, but the low-end (and with few options, probably) nature of this particular sedan is quite pleasurable. I prefer snapping this than a Mustang or a Camaro – not that they’re not great cars, but they’re a tad ubiquitous. It’s not impossible that this car was bought new in Burma back in ’61: the country was still pretty open back then, and a bog-standard Chevy was seen as extremely durable and reliable in Southeast Asia.
Hopefully, I can dig up enough pics to string together a couple posts on old Rangoon’s traffic, as I always meant to do but never actually got done.