It would on­ly take a mo­ment for an­tique and clas­sic car con­nois­seur Ish­war­lal Mon­gru to fall in love with an old-time car and spark a se­ries of events that would bring to­geth­er Mon­gru and an old man with whom he would for­ev­er share a fa­ther­ly con­nec­tion. The mere mo­ment would al­so set Mon­gru on a course of ap­pre­ci­at­ing and pre­serv­ing var­i­ous an­tiques and T&T’s au­to­mo­tive her­itage.

Speak­ing to Sun­day Guardian re­cent­ly, Mon­gru re­called that while in his 20s, he first laid eyes on a cream an­tique car as the own­er made a U-turn in El So­cor­ro and head­ed in the di­rec­tion of Port-of-Spain. The car was a Mor­ris Mi­nor and looked so re­gal and pris­tine, that it in­stant­ly be­came the ve­hi­cle of Mon­gru’s dreams. He had al­ways loved see­ing an­tique cars and de­cid­ed he had to have one just like it some­day.

Man­ag­ing his pri­or­i­ties, Mon­gru lat­er mar­ried and start­ed a fam­i­ly, es­tab­lish­ing a sol­id home for his wife and two chil­dren. Around 2010 when he turned 40, he ne­go­ti­at­ed with his wife to fi­nal­ly ful­fil his dream of pur­chas­ing an an­tique car. Al­though he knew such ve­hi­cles were scarce, Mon­gru, who worked at a fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion, told his boss one day about his deep de­sire to pur­chase a Mor­ris Mi­nor and was shocked to dis­cov­er that his boss had a neigh­bour who had such a car. His boss, how­ev­er, in­sist­ed that the own­er would not sell it. But fate had some­thing else in store.

It was the week of Christ­mas 2009 and Mon­gru thought he would still try his luck and give him­self a treat. De­ter­mined that he would at least go to see the car, he per­suad­ed his boss to give him di­rec­tions to the neigh­bour’s house.

The car own­er was a re­tiree by the name of Derek Ale­ong and there at the garage of the St Au­gus­tine home he shared with his sis­ter and her hus­band was a 1967 Mor­ris Mi­nor by British Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion Eng­land, num­ber plate PK 9596. Mon­gru was ec­sta­t­ic.

“That was the ex­act car I had seen years be­fore and I was just so amazed by it. He said no he was not sell­ing it, that he would die with that car. I told him I just want­ed to see it. I was so ex­cit­ed, I was like a child. Through all the pas­sion I had for the car, I just left my num­ber with him,” Mon­gru re­called.

By Feb­ru­ary 2010, Ale­ong was call­ing Mon­gru to dis­cuss sell­ing the car. The old man ex­plained that his sis­ter had passed and he al­so had her 1966 Mor­ris Mi­ni Trav­eller to man­age. He told Mon­gru he want­ed a good place for his Mor­ris Mi­nor.

T&T CAR Club President Ishwarlal Mongru with the restored Morris Mini Minor Traveller Mark 1.

“He said ‘all these peo­ple passed and asked to buy the car. I think the right home for it would be you.’”

Mon­gru could hard­ly be­lieve it and wast­ed lit­tle time or­gan­is­ing the pay­ment. He felt the man trust­ed that he would take good care of the old-time ve­hi­cle af­ter see­ing his en­thu­si­asm and the time and ef­fort he had put in­to re­search­ing Mor­ris Mi­nors. Thus be­gan their deep bond.

Mon­gru start­ed drop­ping in at Ale­ong’s home for vis­its on his way from work in Port-of-Spain, es­pe­cial­ly when he felt stressed. At first, he showed up every month, then much more reg­u­lar­ly. Pink grape­fruit, Julie man­go and oth­er fruit trees in Ale­ong’s yard were their back­drop, the two would sit in the gallery on met­al mesh chairs and talk for hours.

“Boy, those grape­fruits were sweet,” Mon­gru re­called.

So, too, was the con­nec­tion they de­vel­oped. The old man who had worked at a news­pa­per and did wed­ding pho­tog­ra­phy as a side job would share past ex­pe­ri­ences and ad­ven­tures with the car like the day a co­conut fell on the car’s bon­net at the beach and put a small dent in it, the time a Hill­man Hunter swiped the back right fend­er, and the on­ly time the car ever re­mained out of the garage in the night dew be­cause the bat­tery died af­ter he had re­turned from tak­ing pho­tos at a wed­ding and he could not hand crank it and roll it in­side. The old man used to sim­ply en­joy dri­ving the car all over the coun­try, Mon­gru said.

A page from Derek Aleong’s diary showing the Morris Minor’s gas and service history from 1979 to 1980.

“In those days, to go to South from St Au­gus­tine was a big deal. It was like the prepa­ra­tions to fly to To­ba­go nowa­days. It was a big jour­ney. That’s how he used to make it out to be; that the car would dri­ve all the way down there and come back with­out any prob­lems.

“He cher­ished the car like a wife. He re­al­ly took care of that car. He re­ferred to it as 96 and would talk about it like a per­son,” Mon­gru said.

Mon­gru saw time with the old man as his “win­dow to the past,” his “stress re­lief” and his “mo­ments of en­joy­ment.”

“He used to be glad when I would go there be­cause he was alone. Some­times in the night (Ale­ong said) he would be wak­ing up, he couldn’t sleep and he was bored. He had this voice clock ra­dio so every hour it would say the time. He was glad to have com­pa­ny to talk about the good old days and I was hap­py to hear about the good old days.”

They talked about all Ale­ong’s trav­els in Trinidad; his trips to take wed­ding pho­tos, dri­ving down the stretch to South when there were no high­ways, his limes since he was “a re­al limer when he was young,” his life in Wood­brook when it was un­de­vel­oped with very few hous­es be­fore he moved to St Au­gus­tine, and his Car­ni­val ex­ploits.

He al­so showed Mon­gru some of his long-time cam­eras and at times they al­so did a lit­tle me­chan­ic work.

Mon­gru had his fa­ther, Sirkissoon Mon­gru, who taught him to fix things. He turned 96 this month.

“I turned out to be the fel­la who would dig up every­thing and fix cars, fix things around the house. That part I learnt from my dad. I re­mem­ber be­ing small out­side with him fix­ing cars,” Mon­gru shared.

A page from Derek Aleong’s diary showing the Morris Minor’s gas and service history from 1989-1990.

But Ale­ong be­came like a fa­ther fig­ure and taught him how to care for his pos­ses­sions and en­joy a sim­ple life. Mon­gru de­vel­oped an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for pre­serv­ing T&T’s au­to­mo­tive and na­tion­al her­itage, be­com­ing pres­i­dent of the T&T Clas­sics An­tiques Repli­ca Club (T&T CAR Club) in 2013.

Ale­ong passed away in his 80s and is a man Mon­gru will al­ways re­gard.

“The way he cher­ished his things and en­joyed life, those are things that I learned from him. To get a Mor­ris Mi­nor in that con­di­tion that’s the on­ly car in Trinidad like that. There was no car like that in this mar­ket…to love some­thing so great, how to treat things is what I learned from him.

“So I keep all my tools, my equip­ment, what­ev­er is of val­ue to me. He was a very sim­ple per­son. I am a very sim­ple per­son,” Mon­gru said.

His sec­ond ve­hi­cle, Ale­ong had bought the Mor­ris Mi­nor from a com­pa­ny called Trinidad Agen­cies Ltd for about $2,200 or $2,600 and the orig­i­nal war­ran­ty was for six months. He had owned 96 for 40 years and kept a lit­tle black book of every dol­lar spent on main­te­nance on the car, in­clud­ing gas. The book shows how dras­ti­cal­ly gas prices have changed over the years.

Mon­gru still has the car’s orig­i­nal leather-wrapped spare key and orig­i­nal tool kit. The back in the day hand-braid­ed steer­ing wheel cov­er and gear lever han­dle cov­er are al­so still on the car. He has not done any ma­jor work on the an­tique car which still has its orig­i­nal fac­to­ry paint, up­hol­stery and en­gine. He did do what he called a slow restora­tion, ser­vic­ing the car and chang­ing the tyres and car­pet.

Mon­gru al­so bought Ale­ong’s sis­ter’s Mor­ris Mi­ni when the old man could no longer dri­ve and was again con­cerned about giv­ing the car the right home. When Ale­ong’s sis­ter had been alive, the two cars would sit parked in the garage side by side when not in use.

“He asked me to take over the mi­ni be­cause the same way he lived with his sis­ter, he saw the cars as broth­er and sis­ter and didn’t want to sep­a­rate them,” Mon­gru said.

Mon­gru al­so pur­chased the Mi­ni which al­so was nev­er re­paint­ed and promised to re­store it to a fac­to­ry fin­ish con­di­tion. It is pos­si­bly one of two Mor­ris Mi­ni Trav­ellers (woody wag­ons) with dou­ble barn-style rear doors that could still be found on T&T’s road­ways. He re­cent­ly com­plet­ed a “frame-off” restora­tion, restart­ing from its sheet met­al, re­build­ing its orig­i­nal 848cc en­gine and keep­ing its icon­ic ten-inch wheels. Back in the day, prospec­tive own­ers of Mor­ris Min­is could choose ones with a wood fin­ish as a fash­ion­able and lux­u­ri­ous op­tion. Be­cause Ale­ong had al­ways want­ed the car to have the wood op­tion, Mon­gru sourced and added the orig­i­nal ash wood kit from the UK as a trib­ute to the old man when he did the restora­tion.

Com­posed of a group of old-school car en­thu­si­asts who meet every Sun­day morn­ing for break­fast near the Gulf City traf­fic lights just off South Trunk Road, La Ro­maine, Mon­gru’s car club en­cour­ages peo­ple to the dri­ve their old-school cars whether or not they are ful­ly re­stored. They par­tic­i­pate in ac­tiv­i­ties from car pa­rades, the an­nu­al Southex car ex­hi­bi­tion at Gulf City and car shows to at­tend­ing so­cial ral­lies and em­bark­ing on char­i­ty ini­tia­tives.

Mon­gru owns a small old-school car col­lec­tion and has shown his own chil­dren the val­ue of con­serv­ing an­tiques. He and his wife con­vert­ed their garage in­to a retro-style theme and he keeps me­men­tos from his par­ents and grand­par­ents on dis­play at his home. He has tak­en his fam­i­ly for dri­ves to var­i­ous parts of Trinidad in his old-time col­lec­tion of cars over the years and to var­i­ous pa­rades and dri­ve abouts with the club.

“Derek would have pre­served a piece of his­to­ry for me and I am now able to show to the world what he did. You have to take care of stuff and I am try­ing to do the same thing now; take what­ev­er I have from the past, pre­serve it and show peo­ple what things used to be like and share some of the sto­ries from back then,” Mon­gru said.

The avid an­tique car lover will ever re­mem­ber his time spent with Ale­ong and how they came to bond over a beloved car.

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