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Motoring legend of our times

Edward 'Bugs' Mason - Sunday Times Feb 24, 2002

Edward 'Bugs' Mason (EM), Grand Old Man of Motoring in our country died on January 7, 2002 while at work at Lake House compiling the popular Observer Motomag which he has been publishing for over 40 years. As they say in the Army he "died with his boots on". His funeral took place at the Mount Lavinia cemetery amidst a large gathering of motoring personalities and friends. 

EM was born on November 26, 1915 to a respected planting family in the Kegalle district. His primary and secondary education were at St. Anthony's College, Kandy and the final years were spent at St. Joseph's College, Colombo. During this period he represented his schools in cricket, soccer, athletics and cadeting. 

His interest in cars began with his father's three-wheeled Morgan W-289. During his life of 86 years he contributed immensely to transport and road safety in general and motoring and racing in particular, which is unlikely to be surpassed. He pioneered the organizing of hackery, elephant, boat races in the provinces and the Tour de Lanka cycle races. 

After his stint in the Army, EM began his racing activities and on December 7, 1947 entered his little 'Bug' Fiat Topolino CY-3888 for the circuit meet organized by the Ceylon Motorcycle Club at Ratmalana. In the first race there were three 'Bug' Fiats and Paddy Philips beat the others. EM confessed, "It was my first experience in racing and it cut me down to size." In the next event for cars under 1,000 cc. in his own words he had the cheek to enter the little Bug of 500 cc. against more powerful vehicles. 

He sprang a surprise leading the Renault, Morris and Standard over a lap, but had bad luck missing the turn and losing valuable seconds in getting back to the track. J.P. Obeysekera took the lead in the Renault followed by R. de Livera in the Morris and the 'Bug' finished third despite the detour. In the Monsoon Reliability Trials which commenced on June 5, 1948 from Torrington Square and covering 461 miles, EM entered his diminutive 'Bug" but no one was willing to be his navigator. 

He knew the roads well and won the event. Losing only four points with 36 competitors in the car class and 38 in the motor cycle class. It was his first win and earned the nickname of 'Bugs'. That was the beginning of a successful racing career winning all types of events. 

Although books can be written about his motoring achievements and contributions to transport, EM's contributions to the veteran and vintage motor movement are significant. Soon after the Second World War in the early 1950s the normal modes of motor transport upto 1939 in the A to Z series were regarded as veteran and vintage vehicles. The first 'Old Crocks Rally' on July 5, 1953 was organised by Lake House. 

The 'Trinity' who pioneered this rally were W.R. 'Uncle Dan' Daniels, Captain 'Tabby' E.B.Murrell and Edward 'Bugs' Mason. Mason flagged-off the first Old Crock. He became a live-wire in all vintage rallies thereafter until his demise. The trio were called the "Three Musketeers" at Lake House. 

To cap his interest in vintage cars, EM acquired a beautiful Chrysler D-1723 in the early 1960s from an old planter in Bogawantalawa. While at Dunlop's there was an inquiry for tyres and on following up, EM discovered the existence of this car. 

He related that the planter, while handing the keys of the car, was full of grief. The car was in peak condition and EM reached Colombo in four hours. This car was then bought by Brain Jolly, Chairman of E.B. Creasy & Co. Ltd., active member of the Veteran Car Club of Ceylon, who took part in many rallies. Brian was very knowledgeable on vintage cars and owned some vehicles in England. 

The Chrysler was taken by him on his return to England. (It is said that EM sold the car after an accident, as the numbers in the registration added to unlucky 13). 

The Veteran Car Club of Ceylon was formed in 1953 by Chitru Peiris. Edward Mason was an active member and organized many rallies until the VCCC became inactive in 1987. The VCCC under the Presidency of Vere de Mel was instrumental in introducing landmark legislation banning the export of vehicles manufactured prior to January 1, 1945. During the Non-aligned Conference in 1976, a motor museum was set up by Chitru and EM played a key role. The museum unfortunately, was closed soon afterwards. The need for it is felt very badly today. 

To save vintage vehicles, the Vintage Car Owners' Club (VCOC) was hurriedly formed in October 1987 when the VCCC failed to obtain any concessions from the Commissioner on impending legislation. The VCOC came to the rescue with Founder President M.M. Salih appealing to the Minister of Transport. EM gave his full support to the VCOC and was made the first honorary life member in 1991. He was the VCOC's advisor, guide and philosopher, actively participating in every event until his death. 

To honour him, the VCOC held the Edward Mason Felicitation Vintage Motor Rally '94 on December 11, 1994 under the Presidency of late Dushmantha. It was a treat to watch the Mason family and Dushmantha arriving at the Taj in the Rolls-Royce CY-2086 led by a papare band playing "For he's a jolly good fellow". At every AGM of the VCOC, EM was elected protem Chairman. We will all miss the affable, amiable, genial and lovable EM. 

EM's wife Merlyn pre-deceased him in December 2000. The VCOC conveys its deepest sympathies to EM's children Elaine, Jeffrey and Rodney. May his soul rest in peace! 

Ali Azeez 

(Vintage Car Owners' Club Newsletter)