28 May 2017

More than an old car #8: Riley Elf

This cute little thing is a throwback to the 1960s, where Singapore was just newly independent and we were slowly breaking free from the vestiges of British rule. However, the UK influence still resonates today with the Riley Elf in the picture.

The Riley brand started out as the Riley Motor and Cycle Company, which was founded in 1890. It made automobiles from 1899 until 1969, where the brand name died out after it was acquired by British Motor Corporation in 1952. Riley cars are now considered desirable classics as surviving examples become harder to find.

The Riley Elf was based on the famous Mini, although a more luxurious one due to a larger boot space. Its front was also changed from the normal Mini grille to the distinctive upright grille. It was equipped with a 4-cylinder engine and a 4-speed manual transmission, allowing it to reach a top speed of 124 km/h. Not very fast given how cars travelling on Malaysian expressways can exceed that, but one also had to consider the state of technology at that time. It was only 3.3 m long and weighed around 650 kg also.

Only 30,912 Elfs were made and around 700 are known to exist today, making this car a unicorn. It seems to have been imported here given the relatively recent number plate and it is on display at a cafe in Seletar the last I checked. People no longer make or enjoy these cars like they used to, and I hope that you will be able to treasure such unlikely rare gems before they are really gone!

27 May 2017

More than an old car #7: Mazda Cosmo

Mazda is a well-known name here and in car circles, the RX-7, RX-8 and MX-5 are viewed as divas due to many reasons. However, I believe you would not have guessed what car this was because there are no visible logos. Not many are aware of its existence and neither did I until I chanced upon it some time back--please pardon the potato photo quality.

What you are seeing is the 1983 Mazda Cosmo Series HB, made between 1981-1989. The Cosmo was the first car to utilise the unique rotary engine, where all the cylinders are arranged in a circle and power was generated by the engine's rotation, hence the name. It was thus the 'halo vehicle' for Mazda as they had no other examples to refer to. Previously, rotary engines were only used in airplanes back in the 1930s and 1940s. The name 'cosmo' was used to show interest about the Space Race back in the 1960s, and represented Mazda's wish to be forward-looking with their revolutionary engine design.

The FB Mazda Cosmo was equipped with a 12A Wankel rotary engine, which enabled it to reach a top speed of 253 km/h. It was 4.68 m long and weighed 1145 kg. Last but not least, it had pop-up headlights which was a uniquely 1980s feature--they were phased out due to concerns for pedestrian safety.

Production ended in 1989 with about 15,000 made. Based on my knowledge, only 2/3 are still in Singapore, and this is what enthusiasts would call a real JDM (Japanese Domestic Market). Due to the government's restrictions, you don't see them any more but I do hope there is an owner somewhere who will take care of it.

More than an old car #6: Peugeot 304

I was quite fortunate to be able to capture this exquisite yellow prince. Seeing it here in Singapore was really a treat, especially when its kind was the rarest. Let me introduce you to the the Peugeot 304 Cabriolet, of which only 2 exist here currently.

For the uninitiated, Peugeot is a French car maker, which was founded by Emile Peugeot in 1810. However, it started out as a factory making bicycles and coffee mills. It is commonly known as the 'car with the lion' as the lion is Peugeot's logo.

The Peugeot 304 was first introduced in 1969 and it came in various forms--a 4-door sedan, 2-door coupe and cabriolet and even a 2-door van. The styling features were by Pininfarina, an Italian car design firm who also created the unique Ferrari designs. As a result, there was a classy feel to the car and this attracted many people who desired spacious cars to park in their driveways.

It was equipped with an I4 engine [4-cylinder engine] and it was capable of reaching 160 km/h--a boon to users who wanted to travel at high speeds along the newly-built expressways that were opening up France at that time. Only 3.76 m long and weighing in at 895 kg, it proved to be very economical and hence a best-seller.

However, around 19,000 cabriolets like the one in the picture were made and of which, only 836 were manufactured in right-hand drive for the UK market. Around 100 still remain today. I am not sure whether this came from the UK or whether it was an organic import due to the original-registration number plate. Remarkably, it is still normally-registered with the original Corn Yellow paint scheme. Whatever it is, this is rarer than hen's teeth and it could be auspicious if you see one!

More than an old car #5: BMW 850i

Many of you would be familiar with BMW's trademark 'kidney grille' design, otherwise known as the '2 round holes below the logo' in layman's terms. Yet, you would have taken a second look to make sure that what you are seeing in this picture is indeed a BMW car--the streamlined grille shape accentuates the beauty of this modern classic.

This is an E31 BMW 850i, which is part of the BMW 8-series manufactured from 1989-1999. E31 refers to the chassis code or the car's 'generation'. Only 30,621 8-series were made and even though the 850i was the most common, they are still highly sought after by collectors. It only came in a 2+2 seater coupe [2-seater car with 2 additional smaller seats at the back]. It was powered by a V12 engine [engine with 12 cylinders], able to hit a top speed of 250 km/h and accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6 seconds. This specimen here was equipped with a 4-speed automatic transmission, but it was also available with a 6-speed manual transmission.

The 850i weighed 1975 kg and it was some 4.78 m long. It may not look like much, but it was an icon of the 1990s due to its sleekness. Clearly it did not come cheap when its starting price was around $80,000 at that time. However, with the release of the new 8-series concept, there has been renewed attention back to the good old days. You could be forgiven if you miss it among our cars today--it is really not easy to spot them but hopefully with this knowledge, your eyes will be sharpened!

22 May 2017

More than an old car #4: Toyota Sports 800

At first glance, it is difficult to determine what sort of car is this due to the lack of logos at the front. Yet, this small little thing is almost as old as our country and it is the Toyota Sports 800.

Production of the Sports 800 began in 1965. It had a lift-out roof panel, commonly known as a targa top and it was capable of hitting 160 km/h. It was powered by a 0.8l 2U engine [2-cylinder engine]. Not very fast, you may agree, but remember that it was in the 1960s. Overall, the Sports 800 weighed only 600 kg and 3.58 m long, giving it a 'shy-new-kid-at-school' look. You can see the size difference in the photo when compared to the other vehicles beside it.

Only 3131 were made but around 10% still exist, and most of it are in Japan. This specimen here was previously owned by a couple back in 1971, who was working at the Toyota dealership in Singapore at that time. However, it seemed to be put on sale a few years ago. Although the number plate is still registered under the car, I do not know who the current owner is. Yet, I believe that you can spot it from a mile away given how easily it stands out from the crowd. 

21 May 2017

More than an old car #3: Daimler V8

This neglected English lord here is a 1965 Daimler 2.5 V8, surprisingly with normal plates. Daimler was an independent car maufacturer in the UK before it was sold to Jaguar in 1960. Yet the Daimler line continued until 2007 when Ford bought Jaguar in 1989.

The 2.5 V8 refers to the engine type, ie a 2548 cc 8-cylinder engine. At one glance, the 2.5 V8 was somewhat long at 4.57 m. Despite weighing in at 1375 kg, it was capable of hitting a top speed of 180 km/h and an acceleration of 13.6 seconds. The overall shape gives it a very stately feel, like a vehicle reserved for the top people of the country.

This is also something you don't get to see everyday--only 2/3 exist here. The dust on the car indicates that it has not been touched for quite some time. Yet, the state of neglect gives it a sense of wounded dignity-a distinguished guest should not be subjected to this treatment. It would be great to see it roaming the roads again as a relic of a bygone era.

19 May 2017

More than an old car #2: Rover SD1

What you are seeing here is a 1978 Rover SD1 3500. So, what exactly is Rover? You may be forgiven if you mistook it as a short form for the Land Rover, which are in fact the ones around this yellow gem.

Rover was a British automobile marque that started making cars in 1904, after its humble beginnings as a bicycle maker in 1878. It was absorbed by British Leyland Corporation, which also made double-decker buses for SBS Transit also! However, Rover maintained its brand name until 2005 when it became insolvent.

The SD1 stands for "Specialist Division Number 1", the code name given for the vehicle. First made in 1976, it was equipped with a powerful 3528 cc Rover V8 engine [engine with 8 cylinders providing power] and a 5-speed manual transmission [ie 1st gear to 5th gear]. It was capable of a top speed of 203 km/h and an acceleration of 8.6 seconds [0-60mph].

It was initially well-received by the press but problems started appearing soon enough. This included poor door seals: daylight was still visible even when the door was fully shut. Furthermore the paint flaked off easily, forcing Rover to invest a lot in repainting the cars. However, this did not stop the British police from using them as police cars!

What made this rare in Singapore is that Rover cars are unicorns, even the late-model ones in the 1990s-2000s. Interestingly, SD1s were sold in Singapore back then, but with the lower-capacity 2600 cc engine. This specimen here was imported from the UK a few years ago, as seen by the relatively new number plate. It seems to be the only one here to the best of my knowledge--you can consider it your lucky day if you see one!

18 May 2017

More than an old car #1: Introduction and Lotus Carlton

I decided to take a new approach in my documentation of classic cars in Singapore. Instead of posting pictures only, I felt it would be more interesting if I started a series of write-ups of the vehicles, especially when cars cost an arm and leg here.

My aim is to make vintage and classic cars more accessible to the general public. Given that many of the cars today look and feel the same in terms of colour, shape and comfort level, I felt there was a need to preserve this unique pieces of history for future generations. With the rise of self-driving cars, I fear that people of the future will cease to realise the illustrious stories behind these oldies. I hope that through my documentation, one will see beyond these vehicles as just "an old car" but rather how it adds colour and vibrancy to an otherwise plain-vanilla road.

I will try to make the write-ups easy to understand for everyone, so I will add in relevant explanations for certain technical terms. More often than not, you will see number plates that are red and yellow in colour like the one below. This represents cars that are registered under the Classic Vehicle Scheme, where they can only be driven on 45 days per year and are at least 35 years old. It is basically a trade-off by the government to restrict older cars on the road, while allowing the owners to pay lower road tax.

Meanwhile, I will be doing this for as long as I can, so please enjoy and leave a comment!

First up, let me introduce this 1991 Vauxhall Lotus Carlton. What exactly is Vauxhall? Vauxhall is a car manufacturer based in the UK, first established in 1857. Currently, it is the 2nd largest car brand in the UK and 80% of its exports are badged as Opels, as it is a subsidiary of Adam Opel AG. Car rebadging happens very often as manufacturers target different segments of the world market.This is why its brand name is non-existent here.

At first glance, it looks pretty nondescript and you could be forgiven if you mistook it for a Mitsubishi. Yet, beneath its hood, it screams power, power and more power. Lotus has a reputation for tuning cars and this was no exception. It was capable of doing 285 km/h, with a rather fast acceleration [0-60mph] in 5 seconds. Its Goodyear tyres enabled the vehicle to achieve high-speed stability and better performance in wet conditions. 

At that time in 1990, it was the fastest 4-door car in the world. Unbelievable, isn't it? One wouldn't have guessed that this was a beast in disguise. It got so powerful that it was used as getaway cars in the UK for criminals--the police put it succinctly that they 'were unable to catch that thing because it was too fast'. Imagine if this was really used to escape the police--would our own SPF be able to stop it? There was a video of a Carlton escaping the Swedish police--you can really see how the Carlton just made it look like the police weren’t moving at all!

What made it even more unique was that only 276 were made, and you are currently looking at one right now. Opel had plans to make around 1100 models of the Carlton, but only 950 were made--320 from the Vauxhall Carlton and 630 from the Opel Omega. However, actual figures put it at 276 Carltons and the rest Omegas.

Thanks to one of my followers, I established that this is number 282 of 950 made. It was destined for the UK but someone has imported it here. According to him, 2 cars were sent to Singapore--1 had been exported to Japan and the other is back in the UK. This specimen is thus the only one left on our shores!

How this pristine example ended up here in a carpark is anybody's guess. It has unfortunately fallen into decay--flat tires, random junk piled inside and the last I checked, the hood had started to warp thanks to the merciless heat. If there is indeed an owner, I hope he/she would do something to save this modern classic. This car does not deserve such treatment, especially when so few are left in the world.

Update: someone from the UK got in touch with me who was interested in buying this. As of April 2019, it is back home in the UK, awaiting full restoration. It was a straightforward process: he wrote a letter to Vicom, talked to the owner and shipped it back. Here's to hoping more of these stories!

12 May 2017

Singapore Vintage and Classic Cars #19

 1970s BMW 2002tii

 1970s C111 Nissan Skyline 2000GTX

 1960s VW 1200

 1970s VW Kombi and 1968 UK-registered Lotus Elan

 1990s Jaguar XJ40 Sovereign 2.9

 1970s Citroen 2CV Charleston

 1980s Porsche 911

 1980s Honda Civic

 1960s Porsche 356A

 1970s Mercedes 250

 1980s Toyota Corona CD

 Malaysian-registered 1980s Mercedes L1113 trailer

 1970s Austin Mini

1990s Nissan Presea

Singapore Vintage and Classic Cars #18

1990s Mercedes 200E

 1990s Mercedes 300SEL

 1980s Porsche 944

 1970s Morris Mini 1275GT

 1980s Rolls Royce Silver Spur

1980s Honda Civic

1990s Toyota MR2

1970s Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider

1971 Alfa Romeo Montreal

1960s Daimler V8

1970s Triumph Spitfire

1980s Porsche 911 Targa

1990s Brabus-tuned Mercedes SL320

1960s Mercedes 200D

South Africa(North West Province)-registered 1970s VW 2000L Kombi
1933 MG K3

UK-registered 1975 Bentley T1
1980s BMW E30 cut in half

1970s Peugeot 304

1970s Jaguar E-Type Roadster

1960s Morris Minor 1000

1938 Morris Eight Series II

1990s Volvo 940GL

7 May 2017

Singapore Vintage and Classic Cars #17

1990s Alfa Romeo Spider

1970s Morris Mini

1970s 1st-gen Toyota Corolla

1980s Rolls-Royce Silver Spur

1980s Ferrari 308 GTS

1970s Triumph TR6

1970s Alfa Romeo Spider

1960s Morris Mini 1000

1970s Alfa Romeo 1600

1990s Mercedes 300SEL

1970s Jaguar E-Type 2+2

1970s Mercedes 200

1990s Malaysian-registered Toyota Camry

1990s Mitsubishi Space Wagon

1970s BMW 3.0 CS

1968 VW 1300

1979s VW 1200

1970s Mercedes 280SL 

1990s Jaguar XJS 

1997 Honda Torneo

1970s Austin Mini

1970s Morris Mini

1980s Malaysian-registered Toyota HiAce

1970s Morris Mini

1980s Porsche 911 Turbo

1992 Mitsubishi 3000GT

1990s Hyundai Sonata

1990s Jaguar XJ8 3.2

1980s Ford Laser

1970s VW 1200

1990s Mercedes 300CE

1980 BMW 635CSI

1980s Mercedes 190

1970s Malaysian-registered Mercedes 200D

1980s Mercedes 300SEL

1990s BMW 520i

1980s Toyota Starlet

1990s Honda Accord

1989 Mercedes 300TE

1960s VW 1300

1990s Toyota Celica GT

1980s Mercedes 280SEL

1970s Alfa Romeo 1750

1990s Mercedes SL280

1990s Malaysian-registered BMW 520i

1980s Toyota Corona

1990s Jaguar XJ8

1990s Toyota Celica 

1980s Malaysian-registered Mazda Bongo E1400

1970s Triumph Spitfire

1980s Porsche 911 Turbo

1970s VW 1200