Merry Christmas, Brunei, Bad Taste & de Tomaso Cars

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Sultan of Brunei, intent on underlining his South-East Asia nation’s Ruritanian image, decided his 2015 gift to the Christmas media silly season would be banning Christmas.Well it’s not Islamic is it? Santa Claus and Christmas trees aren’t exactly religious images either, but never mind, they’re now banned in Brunei and public displays in the Brunei capital Bandar Serai Begawan (even wearing a red Santa hat) could send you to jail for five years.

Brunei uniform ibtimes - 540▲ The Sultan of Brunei in full Ruritanian splendour

Last year the Sultan decided his tin pot (but oil rich) nation would also flog gays, amputate thieves’ hands, stone adulterers and generally engage in all the most medieval aspects of Sharia law. After writing Bad Lands I’ve commented for years on Gaddafi’s (he was still in power when I visited Libya on my Bad Lands travels) enthusiasm for silly outfits, particularly military ones. Well he has nothing on the Sultan of Brunei who takes dictatorship bad taste to new heights. His Islamic law impositions did no good for business at his five star hotels like the Dorchester in London or the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. Pretty much like (I hope) Donald Trump is doing in his work on turning people off from anything with the Trump name attached to it. Incidentally there was no sign of Christmas being banned at the silly Sultan’s hotel collection outside Brunei.

Brunei car - 540▲ The Sultan of Brunei shows what very bad taste and very large amounts of money can do to a Rolls-Royce

The Sultan has lavished lots of bad taste on a very large car collection although he also owns lots of pricey wheels which he hasn’t felt obliged to tart up and bling out. In 1974, back in my shoestring days, I travelled deck class on an old Straits Shipping cargo-passenger vessel from Singapore to BSB. Maureen and I shared the deck with the Sultan-to-be’s shiny new de Tomaso Pantera, his father was still at the controls at that time. Profligate excess wasn’t the name of dad’s game, he got around the capital in a London black cab taxi.

de Tomaso Pantera -540▲ A few years ago I came across a very nice Pantera from that era, still looking quite contemporary, outside Graeme Hunt’s fancy used car dealership (mostly Rollers and Bentleys) in London.

1969 - de Tomaso factory, Modena - 540▲ Way back in 1969, driving back to England from Greece in a Mini-Marcos sports car I’d assembled myself, I passed by the De Tomaso factory in Modena, at that time making Mangustas. I stopped to peer through the de Tomaso fence and half the factory emptied out to peer back at my car. ‘That is a car?’ queried somebody whom I like to think was Signor de Tomaso himself.

IMG_8731 - de Tomaso Mangusta - 540▲ The Mangusta, with its unusual split rear screen, was the Pantera’s predecessor and this very nice example was on show at Motorclassica in Melbourne last year.

This posting originally appeared on 25 December 2015