Monday, 15 January 2018

More than an old car #50: Honda S600

Honda is certainly well-known among most of us Singaporeans--it is one of the most popular car brands here and even if you do not own one, you would have sat in one in the form of an Uber/Grab. Not to mention that it has captured the hearts of many JDM fans who adore the humble Civic, or fall in love with the silkiness of its VTEC engines. However, this 1966 Honda S600 should deserve praise as it helped to establish Honda as a favourite car manufacturer.

It all began with Honda's founder, Soichiro Honda, who had an interest in cars. In 1937, he founded Tokai Seiki, a company that manufactured piston rings for car engines. Due to the war, the factory was destroyed and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. was incorporated in 1949. Previously, Honda specialised in making motorcycles that were popular among buyers, while its first production automobile appeared in 1963. Over the next few decades, Honda worked hard to expand its product lines and technology as times changed. It has remained the car of choice for buyers around the world.

The Honda S600 first appeared in 1964 and was based off the earlier S500 model. Other than its unique small size, the wheels had a chain-drive suspension just like the ones you see on a motorbike. Many people fell in love with its surprisingly powerful engine which could redline at an incredible 11000rpm, which was unknown in sports cars back then. For comparison, a Toyota Vios today redlines only at 7000rpm. At one time, it held the title for the fastest 1-litre car in the world. It was powered by a 606cc inline-4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 145km/h with an estimated acceleration of 16 seconds [0-100km/h]. It weighed 715kg and was 3.3m long.

Production ended in 1966 with a total of 11,284 convertibles made. This is the only specimen in Singapore and it looks like a nippy ride, especially with the top down! Vintage Japanese cars stand out amidst the predominantly continental brands, mainly because there are not many here. It also has an original registration plate, lending it a nice classic touch. Currently, it is under repair at a car workshop and it is commendable that the owner has still kept it for so long. I would dare say that most of you did not know about this Japanese gem until today!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

More than an old car #49: Citroen 2CV

Based on my observations so far, old French cars don't seem to be very popular here for some reason. Are they supposedly less reliable than their German/British counterparts? This 1983 Citroen 2CV Charleston begs to differ--for a car with a 40-year lifespan, it is surprisingly as sturdy as most classics today!

Citroen was established in 1919 by the French industrialist Andre-Gustave Citroen. Mr Citroen made the decision to enter the automotive industry after making armaments during World War 1. He was an innovative marketer, by using the Eiffel Tower as the world's largest advertising sign. It was owned by Michelin [of tyres and Michelin Star fame] until 1974, where it remains under the ownership of the Groupe PSA conglomerate until today. The chevron logo that you see today was inspired by a chevron-shaped gear used in milling, which Mr Citroen saw on a trip to Lodz, Poland.

The 2CV [French for "deux-cheaveux vapeur" or "two steam horses" in English] was conceived as a solution to help motorise the farmers who were still using horses in the 1930s. The criteria at that time included being able to transport 50kg of goods at a speed of 50km/h, and to be able to transport eggs across a field without breaking them. Prototypes known as the TPV [Toute Petite Voutre/Very Small Car] appeared back in 1937 after being developed in secrecy. Due to the war, the release of the 2CV was delayed until 1948.

The design of the car changed throughout the years, such as the canvas roof and the rear quarter window. When it was first unveiled, it was ridiculed by many and it became fodder for comedians. Appearance was not a factor and thus it earned the nickname of "tin snail", among others. However, many people loved it and opinions started to change. The main attraction was its unique suspension system, which allowed the car to go over almost all kinds of terrain and ensured the weight remained balanced. Furthermore, it was highly affordable: the price was US$650 in 1948, about half that of a VW Beetle.

The Charleston was a special edition model which was only available in 3 colour schemes, including this Delage red and black combination. Its 602cc flat-twin engine, which was more common in motorcycles, was highly reliable and enabled the car to reach a top speed of 115km/h. Its acceleration however was a glacial 35 seconds [0-100km/h]--I believe many of us could easily outrun one! The Charleston was 3.83m long and weighed 560kg. With reference to its light weight, its body was a thin sheet of metal and fabric was used to cover the top. This was ingenious as it allowed the car to carry long items, and also a solution to the lack of steel after the war.

Production ended in 1990 with 3,867,932 sedan versions made. I have seen 2 other units here, although there may be more. This specimen still sports an original number plate and looks pretty well-maintained. A 2CV was featured in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only and taxi drivers in Madagascar are still using them on the roads! Given how celebrated the 2CV is worldwide, I am surprised that there are so few of them here compared to the Beetle! It seems that there is some sort of hidden prejudice against French cars? You could recognise it immediately by its humpback profile, do look out for this timeless French icon!

Thursday, 4 January 2018

More than an old car #48: Maxwell Model 25

As of 2016, there are an estimated 6500 cars in Singapore that are older than 20 years. Most of the classic cars that I have seen are around the 1960s-1970s, along with a few models from the 1930s and 1950s. Thus, I was quite awed to come across what is most probably the oldest registered car in Singapore: a 1918 Maxwell Model 25 Tourer!

The Maxwell Motor Company was founded in 1904 by Jonathan Dixon Maxwell and Benjamin Briscoe in New York. Interestingly, it was considered one of the top car manufacturers in the US, along with General Motors and Ford. In 1913, it was reorganised to become the Maxwell Motor Company, Inc. However, it wound up in debt, partly due to unsold inventory because of World War 1. Eventually, Chrysler took over Maxwell and it became defunct in 1925.

Maxwell was one of the first companies to market to women, and it aligned itself with the women's rights movement that was gathering steam at that time. It is quite unbelievable that they were one of the first companies to advocate gender equality--for example, they proceeded to hire as many male personnel as female! A Maxwell car also featured prominently in American popular culture, as a car that comedian Jack Benny drove in the 1940s. However, I'm pretty sure no one has heard of him.

The Maxwell Model 25 was first introduced in 1914 in response to the increasing number of cheap cars in the market. It featured an innovative shock absorber to protect the radiator, and an optional electric starter, precluding the famous Ford Model T. Despite having a length of 3.8m, it could comfortably seat 5 adults. It was powered by a 3046cc 4-cylinder engine, allowing it to reach an average speed of around 32km/h. Remember, this was back in the 1910s--I wouldn't be surprised if e-scooters could outrun this relic. 

The 'tourer' terminology still remains, but back then it referred to an open car that can seat at least 4 people. Most of them came with a folding top, which was called a "fan" when folded down. This style became outdated in the 1920s as cars with enclosed passenger compartments became more affordable.
As with most cars from that period, it was usually started up by turning the hand crank that you see in the picture. Some of your grandparents may recall how difficult it was to turn the crank, not to mention hand injuries if you did not do it correctly. Come to think of it, we take the relative ease of starting our cars today [eg pushing a button] for granted!

The hand crank

The left-hand drive (LHD) configuration is quite foreign to most of us, but do you know that 2/3 of the world are using the LHD format? Only 75 countries in the world have the RHD configuration, mostly former British colonies with the exception of places such as Japan, Thailand and Indonesia. According to LTA regulations, LHD classic cars are only allowed for cars earlier than 1940. Honestly speaking, I don't understand why it is so restrictive. It is not likely that people will import LHD classic cars to take advantage of the rule, since it is out of reach for mere mortals like me. The cost and restrictions attached to these vehicles makes it unreliable for daily usage, which is what most people are looking for these days. On the other hand, it can be seen as exclusive as few continental classic cars were produced in RHD.

Some of you may have noticed this round thing above the car engine. It is not the car logo, but an antiquated gauge known as a "motometer". It was used to read the temperature of the radiator, much like how we have the temperature indicator in our cars today. This one was made by the Boyce MotoMeter Company in New York and most car manufacturers offered them as standard equipment. However, I must say that it seems to be a hassle to check the temperature far away from the driver's seat!

Production of the Maxwell Model 25 ended in 1925, with about 500,000 made in a variety of body styles. I presume that existing models are very rare due to age, even though 500,000 may sound like a lot. American classic cars are very uncommon here, not to mention one that is older than your grandparents! I do not know how this centenarian ended up so far away from its home, but I was pleased to find it in good condition. According to SG Car Mart, it has been around since 1982 and it is up for sale! This is certainly not suited for everyday driving--you would either hold up traffic because you are too slow or be unable to see through the windscreen during rain [no windshield wipers]! I believe it still belongs to a car dealer, so keep a lookout for this unconventional piece of history!
Apparently it was from California: "Horseless Carriage" plates are for cars older than 1922

 "Where are the airbags?"

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

More than an old car #47: Mazda RX-7 FB

As mentioned previously, Mazda RX-7s are revered among Japanese Domestic Market [JDM] circles, mainly due to its unique rotary engine. It has made appearances in racing events and most notably in the Initial D manga/anime series. This 1984 Mazda RX-7 FB is a throwback to where it all started.

Mazda started out as the Toyo Cork Kogyo Ltd., founded in Japan in 1920. It was saved from bankruptcy in 1927 and in 1931, it shifted from producing machine tools to vehicles. The Mazda name only appeared in 1936: the name was derived from Ahura Mazda, the God in Zoroastrianism and the company's founder, Jujiro Matsuda. Mazda formed a partnership with German car company NSU in 1960, where it focused on developing the Wankel rotary engine. Mazda also partnered with Ford from 1974 to 2015, and it has been partnering Toyota since then.

The RX7 FB was first produced in 1978 and it took its wedge shape from other manufacturers of that period. The advantage the RX7 possessed was its low weight and centre of gravity, since the compact engine could be installed behind the front wheels. As with most cars, pop-up headlights was standard. It was noted for its good handling and acceleration at that time. There were 3 series of the FB, with the series 3 being produced from 1984-1985. It was powered by a 1146cc 12A rotary engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 199km/h with an acceleration of 10.1 seconds [0-100km/h]. It was 4.32m long and weighed 1080kg.

A total of 471,018 1st-gen RX7s were made, of which 97,521 was the series 3 model. I am aware of 1 other RX-7 FB which is decked out in Mazda livery. Interestingly, this specimen has gone through 3 number plate changes for some reason. To the untrained eye, it could be easily dismissed as just another old car, but I hope you will be able to see beyond its shabby look and appreciate this JDM sleeper here!

Monday, 25 December 2017

More than an old car #46: Mercedes W121 190 SL

Mercedes has always been a dream car for many, including me. By now, you would have deduced that my dream car has to be older than 1990, and yet practical enough to take it for a spin. This 1959 Mercedes W121 190 SL is one that I can only imagine being in my possession.

Mercedes-Benz as we know today was formed as a result of a merger between 2 companies in 1926: Benz & Companie Rheinishce Gasmotoren-Fabrik [founded by Karl Benz and others in 1883] and Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft [founded by Gottlieb Daimler in 1890]. The Mercedes name is Spanish for "godsend" and was the name of a buyer's daughter. Its three-pointed star logo signifies the company's goal of developing engines for "land, water and air". After the war, Mercedes focused its efforts on producing vehicles that would wow the world many times over, along with the buses that has served many of us today.

The 190 SL [with internal designation W121] arose as a result of pressure by Max Hoffman, the US importer of European cars. He desired a street version of the famous 300 SL and both cars appeared at the New York Auto Show in 1954. Perennially overshadowed by its more famous sister and lacking in power in comparison, it was relatively ignored back then. However, as prices of the 300 SL can easily exceed $1 million nowadays, the 190 SL has returned to the fore as a cheaper alternative for Mercedes' exquisite design.

The 190 SL did not excel on the track and was seen as a "lifestyle car for the road". However, it had an aesthetically pleasing styling with its aerodynamic bullet-shape, down to the "eyebrows" over the wheel arches. This car is the less vivacious, yet beautiful girl unnoticed by many, for a lack of better comparison. It was powered by a 1897cc inline-4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 180km/h with an acceleration of 12.7 seconds [0-100km/h]. It was 4.22m and weighed 1140kg.

Production ended in 1963 with 25,881 made, of which only 562 were in RHD. Surprisingly, I have seen at least 5 on our roads, which is 1% of the entire RHD population! It has a very unique style that is unfortunately not seen in cars today. The 190 SL is also associated with notable celebrities such as designer Karl Lagerfeld [who crashed it into a tree], Prince Rainier of Monaco and Beatle Ringo Starr. Although it may not be as sporty as the 300 SL, you could imagine yourself behind the wheel and enjoying the wind in your face. It set the groundwork for Mercedes to produce cars that never fail to captivate us along with the ubiquitous star. Do keep a lookout for them and appreciate the beauty of German engineering!

Monday, 18 December 2017

More than an old car #45: Triumph TR4A

It is quite interesting to see that quite a number of classic cars here tend to pay homage to our British colonial roots--Minis, MGs and Triumphs make up the bulk of our classic car heritage. Among them, it includes this less prominent gem that is the 1965 Triumph TR4A.

The TR4A was based off the original TR4, which was produced between 1961-1965. The main difference between them was the type of suspension system--TR4s utilised a "Hotchkiss drive" suspension, currently used by SUVs today while TR4As used an "independent rear suspension" system, which is used by most cars today. Other changes included a revised grille and a new hood badge. It was powered by a 2138cc 4-cylinder engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 175km/h. It was 3.96m long and weighed 1016kg.

Production of the TR4A stopped in 1967, with only 28,465 made. I don't say this often, but I really love the Royal Blue [Code 56] paint scheme--it really accentuates the curves on this little British car and the cream interior. I hope you have the chance to capture this on our roads!

Monday, 11 December 2017

More than an old car #44: BMW 3.0 CS

Throughout my years of spotting, I have been pleasantly surprised to see quite a number of old BMWs on the roads. Once a while, I am treated to rare sights such as this 1973 BMW E9 3.0 CS!

The BMW New Six CS, or internally known as the E9, was a two-door coupe produced in 1968. It was based on the previous 2000 CS model, except that it was longer so as to accommodate the new, larger engine. The slight forward slope at the front made it visually pleasing to look at, even though it didn't really help with the aerodynamics. Various types of the E9 were made, such as the 2800 CS, 3.0 CSi and the 3.0 CSL. The 3.0 CS was introduced in 1971, where it was powered by a 2986cc M30 6-cylinder engine. As a result, it could reach a top speed of 200km/h, with an acceleration of 8.5 seconds [0-100km/h]. It was 4.66m long and weighed 1440kg.

Production of the E9 stopped in 1975. Throughout its lifetime, it performed very well in different championship races to the point that it has become a well-known classic. Although it was highly desirable by many, the steep price it commanded was a turn-off. Of the whole range, only 4455 were 3.0 CS models. I am aware of at least 3 other models that exist here. Apparently, this car has its registration number changed between the 2 years since I last saw it. It's quite heartening to know that the owner is still continuing to keep this handsome lad on our roads!