Behind the White Wheel

Behind the White Wheel

Thursday, August 11, 2011

To Kill Or Not To Kill

Back in 2008, Elie Kallab sent me some pictures of an extremely rusted, carrying clear marks of the 1975 – 1990 civil war, blue 180b he had bought for parts!

Later on, in 2010, I had the chance to take a closer look at the car…Without any doubts; it’s an interesting ponton from many perspectives:
First, it has the unusual clear blue (DB 356, 335, 353 or 334) color; a rare color for pontons imported to Lebanon if one looks at the available colored old pictures of Beirut. Second, it has never been repaired from rust and thus huge holes exist in its under-carriage. Third it has an extremely rare 45 tours Philips LP player still installed in it. Fourth, it has the gray fabric (cloth) interior which I’ve seen on only one ponton (Farouk El Khalil’s 190b) in Lebanon. Fifth it has 2 front seats (transformed into a bench seat by the former taxi driver) and not a bench seat like most of the pontons intended to be used as cabs.

Few weeks ago, Elie found himself obliged to empty the space where this ponton was parked! He therefore asked me to take it and dismantle it in order to use its parts for his and my ponton should the need arise! Automatically, and with the help of Elie’s brother, we moved the car to my mechanic and the dismantling process started.

Then, my passion for classic cars along with the challenge of restoring it came up; questions started passing through my mind; should I save this car? Is it worth saving? What if it had a special history? Is it logical to own two “identical” classic cars?
From a pure financial point of view, I would say no out loud! It is not worth saving! But when it comes to my passion for classic cars, and to my love of challenges, I would stop and think again! Why not follow a scientific approach in saving it? I.e. why not dismantle it properly, store parts along with tags (specify to where each part belongs) and keep the cleaned; yes extremely well cleaned; body in my garage until times comes up for its restoration?
How big would the accomplishment be if the car hits the roads again after 30 years of “death”?
Restoring this car is in fact rebuilding it from crap! People and societies according to Naomi Klein in her book “The Shock Doctrine” love to re-build from crap! I love, to re-create what time has changed or destroyed… It is a challenge from many perspectives; I’ve always owned a ponton, my ponton that you all know, owning a similar one for most of the people, but a very different one for me is on its own the challenge…
Up till now, I still didn’t take my final decision…I am waiting to recieve the data card of the car; I want to learn more about it…The coming few days will be crucial…

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

When You didn’t Like My Car

It is funny how one remembers episodes or flashes of some events that happened with him few years ago….the “few” suddenly become a decade, then more, making memories become hazy…just like the yellowish old pictures that make us wonder if colors in the past weren’t as flashy as they are today!

I still recall that day, in a certain year, at the beginning of the past decade, I was in my village Kfarhata along with my family, and I remember you came along with your family to have lunch at our place…As a young adult with the teenager still in me, I couldn’t but like you, find you funny, and of course beautiful…Someone had whispered in my ears that I should perhaps love you! I couldn’t back then, ahh that family thing that is always there... All I remember from that day was you not liking my car and hating the silly drive from Kfarhata to Kaftoun. No, I did not impress you with it… but who cared at the time; I was happy and you were beautiful!

When you left Kfarhata that day, I said to myself, destiny, that same implacable destiny that destroys some and helps others will reunite us. I didn’t know “he” had already made other plans and I didn’t assume our ships won’t sail in the same direction. I left to Montreal and you came to Beirut, I came back to Beirut few years later to find out that you had already left… Life evolved differently for both of us and I admit I still feel I missed a chance that happens once in a lifetime!

In few hours I will be looking at you crossing an important milestone in your life, I will be smiling, admiring your beauty and maybe regretting not approaching you when time seemed to be appropriate. It is true people grow up, learn from their mistakes, and evolve; I acknowledge I did so, but by paying a high price! Chance smiles once in a lifetime, but sometimes more…
Till then, I will be evolving in my own way to deserve someone like you!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Yuliya and Her Cars

Many people contacted me after the article “Confessions of a Petrol Head” appeared in the ASW Newsletter. Big thanks go to all those who showed their support and shared my passion for classic cars.

Yuliya Vladkovska, a talented young artist, sent me a special message! She believes she shares my passion for classic cars “in a different way”… in painting!

Painting and drawing is a talent I’ve never had and was never able to acquire. I used to drop art classes at school and I’m known for my inability to even sketch a human being! (Ask my sister Youmna about it)…Hence, I look at artists with a lot of admiration and do my best to understand their abstract work and/or enjoy their colorful paintings…
Generally, Yuliya’s paintings mix basic shapes with lively colors; giving the scene itself an expressive and vibrant aspect.

Specifically, Yuliya combined painting and classic cars in an innovative manner. Something I find completely new. She admits her love for the classic look and the retro style of old cars. Her drawing style echoes, as she says, the time passing, the fine automobile design and a certain sophisticated taste.
Among her work (available at; I loved the paintings showing a Mercedes-Benz 190sl and an Austin-Healey respectively.

These paintings are in my opinion a vivid reflection of Yuliya’s perception of classic cars. This perception tackles the dilemma every classic car owner lives: How can one integrate his/her classic car in every day’s life? In other words, how can a 20, 30, 40 or 50 years old car be part of an environment it was not originally designed to fit in? The answer is a simple and universal one! Make your car a reflection of yourself! Keep it in immaculate condition and perceive it as the ultimate concrete aspect of your passion! Then and only then you will find a way to make it have that special place in your daily life.

Yuliya is the first artist I got really interested in her work. She is the only artist I know who created a link between my passion for classic cars and painting/drawing!

She is currently looking for new prototypes to complete her series “retro”. Well Yuliya, my car is at your disposition in case you decide to make it part of your portfolio…

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Confessions of a Petrol Head

The ASMALLWORLD (ASW) attaché Cara Clinton asked me few questions about my passion for classic cars...

She published an article and sent it to many ASW Members!

By clicking on the title "Confessions of a Petrol Head" you will be directed to it.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Many Thanks to Auto Retro Magazine

Since August 1996, I've been buying my favorite monthly classic cars magazine Auto Retro. Throughout the years, I read more than one hundred articles, discovered unusual old cars, learned many reparation and maintenance tips...etc. Truly Auto Retro became a part of my routine...However, I always wondered why the Mercedes-Benz Ponton series was never mentioned nor written about...

Last month, I finally sent an email to Auto Retro's team, asking them why the series has never been mentioned and inviting them to Lebanon to test drive my car and write about it...

Surprisingly, Auto Retro's team published my email along with a photo of my car in the May 2011's issue and commented about it.
The scanned page says it all...

I admit I was kind of satisfied despite my growing desire to host the magazine's team in Beirut and help them realize an exceptional article that would, as they said, constitute a distinctive experience...
One day maybe!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Postcards From Here and There...

I’ve been collecting postcards from the 1960s and 1970s for a while! Most of them, of course, show cars (pontons, Citroens…etc) while others show the daily life in some cities.

I scanned (thanks to my sister Youmna) few ones and decided to share them with you…

First, this painting reproduced on a postcard shows two couples in a Mercedes-Benz 190b leaving a theater or a music hall on a rainy night...

This other painting reproduced on a postcard too shows two couples in a Mercedes-Benz 180b enjoying a sunny day on a mountain road...

An entire industry of commercial artists flourished during the 1950's and 1960's when this type of postcards, toys boxes...etc. was trendy.

These two postcards promote the Mercedes-Benz 180b/190b Models as economic family cars for the babyboomers. They were published by Mercedes-Benz in the early 1960's.

An old postcard showing the "Place des Martyrs" in downtown Beirut. The Martyrs Square was one of the most crowded areas of Beirut prior to the 1975-1990 civil war.
It was the hub of its economic activity where, consequently, all taxis (Pontons, Fintails...etc.) used to gather and go to all the regions of Lebanon.
The yellow and red bus in this photograph is presumed to be a french made Saviem-Chausson. The bus system lasted only from 1964 till 1975.

This postcard circa 1969 shows Riad El Solh Square in the heart of Beirut. The two buildings in the picture are still in place. The Square itself changed a lot though! The traffic directions, and of course the type of cars are not the same anymore!

This postcard is from the late 1960s or early 1970s. Hamra street is still almost the same, although the old and prestigious "Modca Cafe" closed its doors! One can notice two Mercedes-Benz 180b/190b (pontons), a Mercedes- Benz 220SE Fintail, and a beautiful Porsche!

This photograph of five Mercedes-Benz Ponton taxis hangs on the wall of the American University of Beirut Hospital. It was taken on February 6, 1969 by a photographer from the Nassif family.

The environment in the photo has changed since 1969. In place of this old building there is a huge underground garage for the "new" American University Hospital (AUH). If you have a look at the road, you will notice two parallel lines. This was a railway that used to pass by the AUB on Daniel Bliss Street. The train traveled on this and other main streets of Beirut. It was replaced in 1964 by a new bus service which only existed till 1975 because of the civil war.
On the right, next to the first black Ponton, you see a sign painted black and white. These signs were used to show designated areas where taxis could stop.

This is the Abdel Hamid Karami Square in Tripoli- Lebanon circa 1969. The square has changed a lot since then. Karami Statue does not exist anymore.
Note the 3 pontons, the VW Camper and the VW Beetle.

"La Promenade des Anglais" and "Le Mont Boron" in Nice (South of France) appear in this postcard circa 1976. As you can see, a Mercedes-Benz W114/115 follows a beautiful red Alfa Romeo coupe. On the other side of the road, a cute blue with white top Citroen Ami reflects the typical popular cars of that era.
On the parking spot in the middle, a Peugeot 504 and many Citroen 2CV wait clamly for their owners...

This postcard from Cannes (South of France) shows "La Croisette" in the early 70s. On the right side of the road, a beautiful Citroen DS is parked behind the legendary Mercedes-Benz 600. Also, a red Opel Record is parked on the left side of the road in front of a white Alfa Romeo.
Notice: The buildings on the extreme left reflect the 1950s and 1960s architecture.

This postcard from Spain, precisely from the region of the "Vall d'Aran", shows some cafes along with two beautiful Peugeot 403 and 404 in the front plan and a Citroen Ami.

Finally, my favorite postcard from Ventimiglia in the North-West of Italy. Notice the amazing Fiat 500 with the Webasto sliding sunroof and the beautiful walk by the beach.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Retracing History

Every New Year, people make resolutions! Some decide to be positive, others decide to lose weight, change jobs, travel…etc. One of my 2011 resolutions is to find all the possible details in relation to the history of my car before its 50th birthday on the 16th of February!
The information I have till now is the following:
 The car rolled out of the production line on the 16th of February 1961
 The car was sold by T.Gargour & Fils (the Mercedes-Benz agent in Lebanon) in 1961 or 1962
 The previous owner of the car is from the Soueid family from Btaaboura – Koura

I will start by contacting T.Gargour & Fils to check if they have any archives pertaining to cars sold in the 1960s, then I will contact the family of the late previous owner to try to know when he bought it, from whom, and for how long he kept it...

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