By Eli Solomon

The Empress Place AAM Concours d’Elegance, 26 August 1951. The caption read: “Raffles looks down on it all.” Paul Gibbs-Pancheri also recorded that his Bentley (pictured) was “The only real car stands between him [Raffles] and the Dalhousie Obelisk.”

To some of us in the Far East, the mere mention of “Concours” conjures up thoughts of confiscation and deregistration of one’s cherished possession so this is one area this writer keeps a safe distance from writing about. But this piece has a buffer zone of 72 years, so it’s probably safe to dip one’s feet into local history.

On Sunday 26 August 1951, the Automobile Association of Malaya (Singapore) held a Concours d’Elegance the Empress Place car park in Singapore. It was the first such event post-war and consisted of classes for saloons, coupes and tourers, and open sports cars. There was also a rally for entrants. 32 entries were received, and there were four no shows, which was really pretty dismal.  

The photos however, tell an interesting story. The images come from two different photographers present and both show the cars between the statue of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles and the Dalhousie Obelisk. I’m sure the local classic car gurus will know all the cars in the photo, probably chassis numbers as well, but that’s for them to boast about. Ours is not to reason why but to appreciate the variety of cars on display – from Fiat Topolinos and Morris Minors to a Jaguar XK120 and the 1928 4½-litre Bentley.

As a matter of interest, there were two pre-war entries, the aforementioned 1928 Bentley of Paul Gibbs-Pancheri, and a 1935 Rolls Royce belonging to one Malcolm H.C. Dyer. The judges included Lady Margaret Dorothy Gimson (wife of Governor of Singapore, Sir Franklin Gimson); The Commissioner of Police John P. Pennefather-Evans; and John Falconer, the British Adviser, Johore.

There’s one other aspect to this photo, and it’s the position of Raffles’ statue and the Delhousie Obelisk. This was 1951, well before Albert Winsemius offered his council to the late Dr Goh Keng Swee and Lee Kwan Yew. I still remember a quote from Albert Winsemius’ interviews: “Let Raffles stand where he stands. You probably will be the only former Colony where a statue of the imperialist is still standing. Let him stand. It’s you presentation to the outside world that you accept the heritage of the British. Some time in the future we will need, the British and the Americans and the Germans and who ever we will need with their knowhow. We will show them they are welcome. You can show it through Raffles. So let him stand, don’t tear him off his socket one Saturday morning and drag him through the streets.”

The bronze statue of Stamford Raffles, sculpted by Thomas Woolner, was installed on Jubilee Day on 27 June 1887, at the Padang. It was relocated to Empress Place during Singapore’s centenary celebrations on 6 February 1919. On 11 September 1942, the statue was removed to the Syonan Museum (formerly Raffles Library and Museum). Fortunately, it wasn’t smelted or destroyed during the war, although I am sure there were many good reasons for the Japanese to make a point of it. The statue was reinstalled at Empress Place in July 1946, and here it remained. The Dalhousie Obelisk however was moved several times from its original position. In 1910 it was relocated to the northern side of Anderson Bridge before being placed the following year at its present location, by the former Empress Place Building (now the Asian Civilisations Museum).

The first post-war Automobile Association of Malaya (Singapore) Concours d’Elegance took place at Empress Place on 26 August 1951. Now whose Jaguar XK120 was that? An alloy XK120 perhaps?

Gibbs-Pancheri entered his 1928 Bentley in Class 3 for the Rally – open sports car; as well as in the Concours. While the car didn’t win any awards, it certainly attracted a great deal of attention. The photo shows Lady Margaret Dorothy Gimson (wife of Governor of Singapore, Sir Franklin Gimson) looking intently at the Bentley’s motor during judging.

View of the AAM’s Concours d’Elegance from across the street.

Words by Eli Solomon

Photos from Rewind Media Archives and the Pancheri Collection

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