During the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s Iran and the U.S.A. were chummy bedfellows but in the fickle world of politics, international relationships can turn sour very quickly. Iran’s pre-revolution links with the U.S.A. are, for me, one of the most fascinating aspects of the country’s recent history.
Throughout my lifetime the media has been telling us that the Islamic Iranian government has held fairly staunch anti western sentiments since the revolution of 1979. A claim backed up by Anti U.S. paintings in central Tehran where the side of a building is painted with a downwards facing ‘Stars and Stripes’ made of dropping bombs and skulls, the words “DOWN WITH THE U.S.A.” emblazoned across it in 2m tall letters.
From a western perspective what is interesting about post-revolutionary Iran are the remnants of America’s influence that have been absorbed into everyday Iranian popular culture.
On the surface there doesn’t seem to be any internal conflict between the acceptance of western symbols of consumerism and the Islamic government’s defiant standpoint on outside influence, this was after all one of the many reasons the revolution happened.
The irony is somewhat lost that cans of Coke and Pepsi are being sipped on every street corner by Levi wearing Muslims who are happy to embrace the west. Now the process of the removal of the sanctions has begun I suspect it won’t be long before Tehran sees its first McDonalds, unless the Islamic Republic stand strong!
For me though nothing says ‘The American Dream’ like a hulking great big lump of American steel, sculpted into a 1950’s futuristic vision of what a car should look like, with aerodynamic chrome tipped fins and bullet shaped chrome bumpers; a car so huge it should probably have two licence plates! In 1959 President Eisenhower drove through the streets of Tehran to cheering crowds in just this, a silver coloured Cadillac Eldorado gifted to the Shah.
Prior to 1979 Buicks, Chevys, Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, Plymouths and Jeeps were a common sight in Iran. Due to it’s relatively warm climate many of these vehicles have survived in pretty good condition. For some the American cars are just a car, they just happen to still own one because it still works after all these years. For others Iran’s vintage and classic car scene is hugely popular, especially with owners of American muscle cars (Camaros, Pontiacs, Monte Carlos, Mustangs and Chargers) with many groups organising gatherings and ‘spins’.
We’ve spotted many fine original examples as well as a few stunning restored vehicles (unfortunately we've seen very few parked up to photograph). The popularity and appeal of restoration doesn’t come easy though, restoring American vehicles and keeping them running is costly. Searching for parts outside of Iran is near impossible due to internet restrictions. If you manage to find the appropriate parts it is impossible to purchase anything online as all bank dealings with Iran are sanctioned.
The classic cars are not just beautiful, powerful, well built, luxury machines, but symbols of a different time, the embodiment of freedom with bench front seats, conducive for drive-in cuddles. The vehicles themselves, full of romanticism and nostalgia represent a era in Iran that many people would probably like to see return!
The foggy 1000-year old town of Masuleh in the north west of Iran near the Caspian Sea is nestled into a steep mountainside of the Alborz range. Masuleh’s draw is not its clean crisp mountain air but its unique architecture and grey weather. The village climbs steeply over 100-metre incline, it is this elevation that necessitates the buildings to be interconnected. The step-like structure climbs abruptly with the roof of the building below acting as the courtyard of the building above. The resulting roofs and courtyards function as pedestrian areas and streets. Due to its unique layout it is the only city in Iran where vehicular traffic is completely prohibited.
Typically the exterior of the buildings are coated with a yellow clay, apparently this allows for better visibility in the fog. Traditionally the buildings were constructed from adobe mud-bricks, timber rods and clay, a dense layer of dried fern is applied between the mud and wood timbers in the ceiling to insulate against the cold and wet.
Masuleh’s moisture heavy weather is created by a constant supply of warm air blowing across the Caspian from the expansive steppe of Kazakhstan, the temperate air hits the Alborz mountains creating heavy precipitation. The locals kept reminding us that the slightly depressing damp cold weather was just like England! Strangely, for many Persians this area is the most desired part of the country due to its ‘great’ weather! Thousands of Iranians flock here from the nearby cities of Tehran, Rasht and Qazvin to experience ‘the damp’.
The Tehran Derby, FC Persepolis vs. FC Esteghlal, is one of the most infamous in football history. Also known as the Red-Blue Derby it’s certainly something an English supporter can relate to. Being a Manchester City supporter I was slightly pained to attend the Derby with a red shirt wearing Persepolis supporter. Due to its notorious history I opted to wear a nice neutral grey colour and play it safe, not that my pasty complexion and English accent was fooling anybody.
Unusually, considering the teams are competitive rivals, they share the 90,000 capacity, Azadi Stadium in the western outskirts of the city. Arriving at the stadium we are promptly separated from the blue flag waving Esteghlal fans who are directed to the other end of the pitch. The stadium looks like it is over capacity with thousands of people standing in the walkways around the top of the arena; from here the red/blue split is glaringly obvious.
Traditionally Persepolis was seen as a working class club whilst Esteghlal had close ties to the ruling establishment and was supported by the upper class of Iranian society. During the 70’s Persepolis was much more popular, now the fan base for each team is split fairly equally, although on derby day the percentage looks slightly in favour of Persepolis.
One Persepolis fan, to the jubilation of the crowd around us, takes a blue Esteghlal flag and with some derogatory chanting (probably about Esteghlal’s 6-0 defeat in 1973) promptly rips it up and stamps on it. Thankfully a fairly large buffer zone and riot police are keeping the two factions apart.
The fixtures reputation comes from it’s tarnished past; in 1995 angry Persepolis fans stormed the pitch after Esteghlal scored 2 goals in quick succession, one as a result of an apparently biased referee decision. Many fights broke out between fans and players. From this game onwards international referees were used.
In 2000, Esteghlal’s goalkeeper punched a Persepolis player in the face; a massive fight broke out on the pitch and after the game match hooligans rampaged through the streets completely destroying 250 city buses.
During the mid 2000’s the game was plagued with match-fixing accusations. The speculations climaxed after a very deliberate looking handball in stoppage time in 2009 resulted in one of six 1-1 draws in a row. The allegations were not helped by the fact that the same person owned both teams. Due to previous violence many believed match fixing was being used by the authorities to keep the peace between the fans. From this game onwards Iranian referees were used again, implying international refs couldn’t be trusted.
When the Persepolis players took to the pitch they immediately started to work the already feverish fans into a frenzy by throwing their tracksuits into the crowd. Sat amongst the 45,000 charged-up, tea-drinking, sunflower seed eating, hooter-blowing Persepolis fans it’s easy to get caught up in the passion.
Before the game a huge Number 24 shirt was held aloft by the fans, the name ‘NOROUZI’ emblazoned across the shoulders. Just a month earlier, Hadi Norouzi (#24), the Persepolis captain died of a heart attack in his sleep. As a sign of respect for the duration of the 24th minute of the game all the Persepolis, and some Esteghlal, fans chanted his name.
The first half was fairly uneventful and finished 0-0. During the interval the supporters around me discovered I’m English and started shouting the names of English players at me, interspersed with the odd cry of “Englistan I love you” and numerous ‘thumbs-up’. Annoyingly and much to my amusement being a City supporter, the name-calling culminated in a chanting of a chorus of “David Beckham, David Beckham, David Beckham” by about 20 Iranians.
Four minutes into the second half and Esteghlal score the first goal and the blue end of the stadium erupts into chanting and cheering that lasts for about 10 minutes whilst the red supporters at our end of the arena sink quietly back into their seats.
10 minutes later the heavens open and the second half of this damp Red-Blue Derby is all too familiar. This match could easily be Man City vs. Man United or Liverpool vs. Everton, the only difference being there are absolutely no women in this stadium, if there were, they probably would have bought umbrellas.
Towards the end of the second half someone from the Persepolis crowd throws what I can only describe as a stick of dynamite onto the side of the pitch, the resulting explosion shook the concrete stands and reverberated through the stadium whilst the massive cloud of smoke gently floated up. The large detonation marks the introduction of more riot police around the base of the stands.
In the 95th minute after a relentless, but futile attempt by Persepolis to equalise we start making our way to the gates to beat the crowds. In some kind of Manchester United-esq stroke of luck the ball ends up in the back of the net in the 96th minute and Persepolis equalise. The stadium goes mental and for once I’m happy the reds have managed to sneak in a cheeky goal in extra time!
The Paykan, which means "arrow" in Farsi, might not be a car model most people in the UK would have heard of, but in Iran where two million of the five million cars on the road are Paykans it is truly deep-seated into popular culture.
When we first arrived in Iran I kept on spotting the classic design that had a startling familiarity, but for the life of me couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. The rear end looked like a MK II Ford Cortina whilst the front end had a hint of Triumph Toledo to it. When I dug a little deeper it all fell into place…
The Paykan is essentially a 1967 Hillman Hunter. A classic British built car from an era of vinyl seats, mock wooden dashboards and steel sports wheels.
One year after production began in the UK the Iran National Motor Group which later became Iran Khodro started producing their own version of the Hunter. What is remarkable about this is that the 40-year old design was in production until 2005.
Originally in 1967 two models were available, the Deluxe and the Standard. Later, six models of Paykan were being manufactured: Deluxe, Pickup, Standard, GT, Taxi, and Automatic. In the mid 1980’s the Hillman engines were replaced with Peugeot units.
The Pickup also known as the “Bardo” is still in production although it does not achieve the required safety standards like having ABS and an Airbag.
Due to its prevalence, price, parts availability and simple mechanics it has been adopted by Iranian customised car enthusiasts as the ‘go to’ car for modifying, the Pickup model being equally as desirable to aficionados as the saloon model.
The classic styling lends itself to the American ‘Lowrider’ look, with the suspension slammed to the floor, whitewall tyres and chrome spoked wheels. On a daily basis we spot at least 3 or 4 modified examples of the classic “Arrow”. The Pickup model offers not only street cred but is still a useful functional vehicle for taking your sheep to the market.
After an astoundingly long production run the manufacturing rights for the Paykan have now been acquired by the government of Sudan, production of the Paykan is expected to restart in the next year. We can’t wait to visit Sudan in a few years and see how they modify this British classic!