August 25, 2007

Nicholas Stoodley - Living in the Twilight Zone Part 2 of Chapter 10

Tune in every Saturday as Nicholas recalls the Disco Decade in Manila when Martial Law, Cuban heels, Donna Summer, Coco Banana and a lot of hair combined in a frenzy of uncertain excitement.

Chapter 10 - The Moon Leopard Part Two

Having met my partner in the automobile manufacturing business over champagne in a bar in Malate and, further, having dreamt up the name MOON LEOPARD, I now found myself in the extremely unenviable position of actually having to manufacture the beast together with Nanding and his merry band of mechanics in a large tin hut somewhere near Munitinlupa Municipal Jail! Sure, it sounded like we all knew what we were doing - after all there was Renault in Paris who was going to put in a special six cylinder Alpine engine and there was me, an almost famous designer who managed to win the PBA 2nd Conference Basketball Trophy without knowing anything at all about basketball and there was Nanding himself; manufacturer of jeeps that plied the streets of Manila but would never in a million years get a certificate of road worthiness in Europe. An eclectic mixture to say the least.

I had drawn a pretty design - actually it wasn't pretty at all! It looked pretty fierce: rugged. masculine and almost, but not quite, retro. But now there I was on day one...and there was Nanding...and behind Nanding was a motley crew of workers...and they were all waiting for instructions! My erstwhile partner, Jean Guy Jules has been rushed off on a photographic assignment somewhere in the world and I was left holding a bag of assorted nuts and bolts and hoping wildly that I wouldn't be exposed for the novice I actually was.

I had one large advantage. I was white. A foreigner and, as such everybody was somewhat nervous, respectful and quite convinced I knew what I was doing even if I wasn't actually quite sure what a carburetor actually did. Dust flew, sparks skidded off partially rusty metal plates and the rain fell in buckets. A dead cat lay forlornly in a sodden heap of partial decomposition just outside the entrance and Nanding and I discussed in a manly sort of way what would be the order of the day. I sketched arcs and angles on large sheets of brown paper and welders scratched the side of their heads in the way that Filipinos do when they feel they are being painted into a corner. "No, it MUST be like this because............"Well, because that's what I wanted. And I was the designer. So there. So blessed with complete incomprehension as to what was possible and what was not I sort of forced my way through the minefield and we all entered uncharted territory...sort of feeling our way forward in the darkness. And it grew. This monster of a stainless steel sports jeep actually started to look like a vehicle. Seats arrived from Recaro upholstered in leather with contrast piping that matched the wood grain trim on the dashboard (well, I WAS a designer). Various instruments that measured things that I couldn't understand arrived from Renault in Paris and anxious and frequently expletive laced phone calls arrived from various locations abroad as Jean Guy attempted to find out how our project was progressing. For a Frenchman he sure knew a lot of English swear words!

The wonderful thing about not knowing what you are doing is that obstacles that would deter even the strongest of hearts were not even perceived and therefore one entered the minefield unaware but somehow imbued with the luck of the truly naive. What was even more amazing was seeing this monster of a gleaming stainless steel jeep growing in a scene of almost total desolation that passed for a factory. It truly was straight out of Charles Dickens in the nineteenth century...a place so basic that if you wanted to use the bathroom all you found was a fetid hole in the ground that smelled so bad.....well, you didn't. Nothing. One worked with crossed legs.

The day I drove it to the airport where it was loaded into a 747 cargo plane was an experience almost impossible to convey. The Moon Leopard didn't have the right engine in it because Renault would only install it in Paris but even with the Renegade engine in, it handled like a dream. It purred. It roared! Heads snapped back as we zoomed past...late of catch the plane to Paris. I'd had a similar experience before as I had (or the Nicholas Stoodley team had anyway) won the PBA Basketball Trophy. What the hell did I know about basketball or jeeps. I just knew how to draw pretty pictures. But my days as a designer of sports jeeps - my first steps as the new Henry Ford - they were to no avail. I met a man in a bar (again in Malate) called Uli who one could discern from his thick accent was German who convinced me I was God's answers to his prayers which consisted of finding a designer for his handicraft business and that was that. Handicrafts I could understand and anyway I DID the jeep and that, I knew, was pure luck. It wouldn't always be like that!

The Moon Leopard made it to the Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany and quite a few got sold. A sultan (I think from Oman) bought one and I hear they have become collectors items now. It was an adventure and I suppose that it was I really am...a vaguely insane English adventurer!

Previously: Chapter 10 - The Moon Leopard Part 1

Start from the beginning! Read: Chapter 1 - An English Virgin

Nicholas Stoodley was born near London and has lived at one time or another in the South of France, Rome, Sydney, Tagaytay, England, Paris and Manila with plans to move to Ibiza shortly. A former assistant to Valentino in Rome, he arrived in Manila in 1976 and pioneered Ready to Wear in the Philippines with the NICHOLAS STOODLEY brand of casual clothing. During his stay in the Philippines Nicholas also won the PBA Invitational Basketball Conference in 1980 with his team from Los Angeles, designed and manufactured a Stainless Steel Sports Utility Jeep that was featured in the Frankfurt Motor Show and opened "Skatetown", a Roller Disco with Jorge Araneta in Cubao. And that was just the first course!

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