Alwyn brice found that if you want to take a break and enjoy an old car show each
day, then there's a classic paradise in the sun-drenched Med... (from Issue 75, June '95).
POSTCARD FROM CYPRUS...
THE DECISION TO take an early summer holiday this Easter was prompted by two factors: one, a busy August and two, the offer of a friend's apartment in Paphos, in Cyprus. It transpired to be an interesting break, not least because of what we saw on the roads
Neither of us had visited Aphrodite's birthplace before so we had no idea of what awaited us. For those of you who are seasoned travellers, skip the next bit; but for readers who are in love with old cars and enjoy seeing them in abundance, Cyprus can surely have few equals.
Cyprus is small enough to be easy to cover from any base yet has enough roads to make travel interesting. Essentially the northern part (with a tiny enclave east of Polis) remains in Turkish hands although you can visit the north by way of Nicosia. But be careful: if your passport is stamped you'll have problems crossing back over the border into Cyprus, such is the animosity between the two races. A slip of paper inserted into the document is the thing to have.
But leaving the north aside, there's plenty of interest in the south anyhow. The Brit, newly-arrived, will find driving a doddle as it's just like over here: road signs, Belisha beacons, zebra crossings and the like are all faithfully mirrored on this sunny island. A culture shock it isn't - and if you really want to make the most of your stay, hiring a car or jeep is essential.
Despite the wealth of donkeys that you'll come across when leaving the coastal strips, Cyprus grows increasingly dependent upon four wheels for transport. Car hire offices are everywhere, with alarmingly disparate prices, based usually upon a week's rental. Take care because you need to know what you're getting: some will make surcharges for sump damage, for example, whilst the cheapish fees of others may not include fully comprehensive cover. This becomes embarrassingly apparent should you have the misfortune to become involved in an accident.
And accidents do happen in this country. This does, at first sight, seem difficult to believe for the pace of life is much, much more sedate than,in the UK. The Cypriots have a word for it: EIJA, pronounced see-gha, which means "slowly". Everyone has time, and no-one is in a hurry. There's only one stretch of motorway on the island at present, between Limassol and Nicosia, so fast driving is not very common. But other reasons conspire to make the likelihood of accidents a reality.
To begin with, there's no MOT in Cyprus, a fact that is reinforced when one daily witnesses vehicles which are 30, or even 40 years old trundling along. True, many are in a good state of preservation but others bear the scars of past encounters, with crumpled bodywork, dangling bumpers and lensless lights. Police, apparently, turn a blind eye to such trifles.
There are other little factors too. Locals will tend to stop their vehicles a good car's length over the white line at any junction, prior to turning left or right, but this you become accustomed to. You can even adapt to the fact that indicating is very much a hit and miss affair in Cyprus - and sometimes it's patently obvious that the car in front has nothing to indicate with. Moped culture is rife here, especially amongst the young or impecunious, and travelling two-up is very much the norm. Twisting and dodging between traffic queues, these jay-riders need to be kept in one's mirror.
But what is potentially the biggest cause of accidents is the road structure itself. Broadly speaking, there are four kinds: the motorway, with acceptable levels of ride, the A roads (which admittedly vary a bit in condition), the tracks and then the rutted ways. Because of the enormous disparity in road surfaces, many cars' suspensions have taken a pounding over the years and this can lead to tired vehicles. In consequence, the jeep is a very popular mode of transport on the island; Japanese versions are everywhere and I strongly suspect that the Daihatsu, Suzuki and Mitsubishi salesmen in Cyprus must have jobs amongst the most envied anywhere in the world. (That said, it didn't stop our jeep getting bogged down in the shingle on a beach on the second day. Three hours, a beach mat, endless scraps of driftwood and two strong Danes later, we still hadn't shifted it. So forget all those World War Two films you've seen where John Mills & Co. dig out the ambulance from drifting dunes - it's a myth!)
And before very long you begin to notice the minutiae. Many vehicles bear distinctive red registration plates with black letters: be wary of these because they are rented transport and, in all probability, are being driven by tourists just like you who don't know their way around! Locals can be identified by more familiar white and yellow plates, as found in the UK. If you see any with a V in the centre, this signifies a visitor's car. You'll also come across UK registered cars: these have been brought over (often by residents for there's a growing ex-pat population) and are going through the (sometimes lengthy) process of re-registration.
Sun, though, is the big attraction in Cyprus and has contributed much to the daily car show that unravels itself to any visitor. Just when the memories of seeing 1960s cars are fading, bar attendance at classic car shows, so Cyprus has picked up the gauntlet. It's time-warp territory here: as I drove around the island, peering down little side alleys and scanning forecourts, so my wife jotted down all those cars of yore.
What, I wonder, would you guess to be the most common sight on the road? If you've not visited before, the likely answer would be the Beetle or the Mbrris Minor. But assuming Paphos is fairly representative of the whole island, in my experience at any rate it was the Austin/Morris 1100 and 1300 saloons that predominate. Not a day passed when we didn't spot a trio or more: one can only assume that these Longbridge products were exported in great numbers to the Mediterranean. Runner-up, or possibly an equal, (and more surprisingly) was the 1960s Farina-styled range which included the Austin Cambridge, the Wolseley 4/44, MG magnette and the trusty Morris Oxford. These graceful saloons were glimpsed in a variety of conditions and their presence on the road was a reminder of a golden age of motoring when marques were manifold and cars had a degree of individuality. I logged Mk 1 Cambridges as well as mk2 - and even an odd Cambridge estate. Even rarer, we did come across a '50s, rounded example of the marque.
Of course there are plenty of Volkswagen's most popular product, although not all in standard trim. The hot weather encourages radical conversions (although strangely, most of the convertibles we witnessed had their soft tops resolutely up) : how about a de-roofed Beetle with some offcuts of wood around the back of the front seats to cover up the gaps? Or, more extreme still, take a Mini Countryman estate, remove the roof, keep the seats and paint it orange ... Yes, Cyprus has 'em. On the convertible front, we spotted Heralds, a Spitfire or two and the ubiquitous MG Midget and MGB. A Stag was observed one glorious day and we actually came across a bright red, island-registered Morgan 4/4 too. But often soft top motoring means a jeep - although there is no small quantity of the charming Mini-Moke on the island. These do fit in well and are very much at home here.
Other Austin/Morris/Leyland products included an Allegro, a Maxi and a good many Rover 2000/3500 series cars, the occasional Marina saloon and coups and, once only, a '60s Nash Metropolitan coups. This latter was indeed an exceptional sight as the bulk of this Anglo-American hybrid went Stateside.
Aside from this, other manufacturers are quite well represented. Renaults, I felt, weren't that abundant but we did see a 12 and a 16, together with a lovely restored 4 and an 8 awaiting salvation. Fords? Well, pretty much everything from the '60s can be found, including Cortinas of all ages. A Thames van was also spotted languishing a few miles outside Paphos. Surprises included a Citroen DS, several Vauxhall Victors and Vivas, a Lancia Fulvia (obviously enjoying the equable climate), a Simca 1301, Hillman Minx, Avenger and Hunter models and even a Singer Vogue. Oh, and the occasional Rolls can be seen in Cyprus too. In contrast, German products weren't too prevalent: a couple of Mercedes were all that were seen in the fortnight. A host of 1960s, obscure Japanese saloons run around the island, though, many of which I'd never sighted before.
There are ancient Commer and Morris ice-cream vans here, too, still (apparently) selling the sort of lolly and ices that we relished in our youth. Most bizarre of all, however, must be the lovely old Bedford safari coaches, usually in bright livery, that offer trips to some of the sights. Complete with their extra water and petrol cans and huge roof racks, they take you back 40 years in an instant.
There is, of course, more to it than car-spotting. One day we ascended the mountains to Tro6dhos, which basically is perched upon Mount Olympus. Coming down via a different route we were staggered to see, pinned to a tree, a sign which proclaimed a nearby Rolls Royce and Bentley dealership.
Gift shops have a good line in medallions too. one, a common blue and white glass affair, wards off the evil eye but another, bigger and more garish, is designed to be suspended from your rear view mirror. This particular pendant will Prevent anyone from jinxing your vehicle and should ensure that you get troubiefree motoring. And yes, people do buy these things. Sounded like a useful little device, one that might be gainfully employed by manufacturers of less-than-perfect vehicles in the UK. And invariably cars are left unlocked in the street, since crime on the island is virtually unknown; a refreshing change from over here, it has to be said.
Any list of island attractions has to include what we dubbed "The Paphos Cruise". It's as if there's a need to emulate small-town America of the late fifties or early sixties where the college kids would go cruising on a Saturday night. Saturday night in Paphos is the same: youngsters circle the town via the coast road on little mopeds or whatever they can get their hands on. You just sit in a taverna and watch it all go by. This is all good, clean fun but the process is repeated on Sunday afternoon, especially if the weather is fine. And then it's a problem as the whole front gets clogged up with a variety of (often) more modern cars, just creeping along for the benefit of the gapers and gawpers. Yes, smart alloys, polished bodywork and a neat paint job are as popular here as elsewhere. But woe betide the tourist who doesn't know about this scene: the snarl-up carries on until the early evening.
Away from the road, there is another good reason to visit. Scrapyards can be found on this island and indeed there was one tucked away below the hill upon which our apartment was built. These are like paradise and you never quite know what you'll find there. But for those of us who are seeking out those scarce lenses or bits of irreplaceable trim, the scrapyard can contain treasures that otherwise would have to be re-manufactured. For example, I discovered a tatty Alfa Sud in one but with a superb interior, just begging to be relocated. True, the majority of cars in these yards are often modern but there are plenty of classics: I believe you could spend a very happy few days here, raking through the jumbled ranks.
All of which brings me to the final point (well, three in actual fact) . First, there's a strong likelihood that you'll fall in love with something you see on the road in Cyprus (on four wheels, that is) and if my sources are correct, it's a very straightforward operation to ship a car over to the UK although customs this end will levy a tax on the vehicle's value. Freight transportation is around CY350 or so. You'd be very wise to thoroughly check the state of the vehicle in question first, though.
Second, there's also a small trade on the island in that peculiarly British affair, personalised number plates. Values, predictably, are a lot lower there than here.
And finally, as if proof were still needed of Cyprus's eagerness to embrace the habits and customs of good old Blighty, Paphos even has a car boot fair each weekend. And no, we didn't attend one ...
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