27 October 2017

More than an old car #41: Mercedes W123 250 Limousine

Limousines are a rare sight despite a glut of luxury automobiles in our tiny red dot--they would not be very practical and parking would be a feat on its own. It is therefore impressive to see this 1984 Mercedes W123 250 limousine casually hanging out with other vehicles as well!

The W123 series is a range of executive cars made by Mercedes from 1976, and it was the most successful model at 2.7 million sold before it was replaced by the W124. These cars came with either 4 unequal round headlights or rectangular ones, and they were longer in exterior dimensions compared to previous models. For the long-wheelbase versions ["Lang"], it came in a 7 or 8-seater format, with the middle seats folded down as and when necessary. It was powered by a 2525cc 6-cylinder engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 185km/h with an acceleration of 11.9 seconds. It was 5.36m long and weighed 1570kg.

Production ended in 1985 with 5180 made, although I believe few of them were in right-hand drive. I am aware of one other unit in Singapore that is black in colour. Owning a car is already very taxing, not to mention a limousine which would require even more care from errant drivers or overly curious people. Such vehicles are easily associated with the wealthy as they go about in class; when was the last time you saw a limo on our roads? Kudos to the owner for continuing to maintain such an unlikely Mercedes--it would pass off so well as a wedding car and I hope you get a chance to see it too!

16 October 2017

More than an old car #40: Triumph Stag

Think of the word 'triumph' and you would evoke scenes of victory and achievement. Most of you would not have thought that Triumph refers to a car company of yesteryear, or the 1974 Triumph Stag that I spotted.

The Triumph Motor Company was founded in 1885 by Siegfried Bettmann from Germany, as S.Bettmann & Co. It started out as a bicycle importer before it was renamed "Triumph" in 1886. Though it experienced success as a motorcycle manufacturer, it entered the car industry in 1921. Triumph went into receivership during 1938 and car production stopped due to WWII. After the war, it was bought over by Standard Motor Company in 1944 and by Leyland Motors in 1960. The Triumph name disappeared in 1984 when BMW bought over its owner Austin Rover Group. Currently, the brand name is owned by BMW even though no cars are badged as such.

The Triumph Stag arose from a styling experiment back in 1963, where the famous Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti worked on a series of Triumph cars including the Stag. The first Stag was produced in 1970 and it was envisioned to be a competitor to the Mercedes R107 SL-class. As a 2+2 sports tourer, it was a 4-seater convertible coupe and was received warmly initially. Quite uniquely, its logo featured a highly stylized stag rather than a griffin. It was powered by a 2997cc Triumph 8-cylinder engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 190 km/h with an acceleration of 10 seconds [0-100km/h]. It was 4.42 m long and weighed 1268 kg.

However, the Stag quickly became notorious for its unreliability, specifically engine overheating. Due to numerous design flaws in the engine such as the position of the coolant, it had a tendency to heat up excessively in traffic. Numerous replacements were also required, as the aluminium-iron mixture corroded easily. It proved so bad that Time magazine rated it as one of the 50 worst cars ever made. As a result, production ended prematurely with only 25,939 made in 1977.

This specimen has been imported from the UK quite recently and given a Singapore licence plate under the classic car scheme. Recently, I am aware of a coupe unit that is originally registered here! Given the issues that have dogged the Stag, the owner must have been really brave to bring it on our roads. Although classic cars are generally less reliable than modern ones, this is really off the spectrum in terms of breakdowns. However, to each his own and I really admire the owner for driving this British beauty that could have been great.

12 October 2017

More than an old car #39: Lotus Super 7

It is easy to wonder how this specimen in the picture is even a car, when it would remind us of a go-kart instead. Furthermore, its simple design doesn't distinguish itself as a 'old car' and I had trouble believing it at first. However, this 'bathtub on wheels', or the 1972 Lotus Super 7 Series 4 is still surviving even until today!

Lotus Cars started out as Lotus Engineering Ltd in 1952, founded by Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman and Colin Dare. If you take a closer look at the logo, you may notice the letters ACBC, which is actually the full name of the founder. It has produced both 'typical' road cars and cars that resemble the F1 models today [non-typical cars]. Lotus ran into financial troubles in the 1980s and was only bailed out rather fortuitously. It is currently owned by Chinese car manufacturer Geely and previously Proton in Malaysia had a stake in the company.

The Lotus 7 was produced between 1957 to 1972, and it has been praised as being simple, lightweight and delivering high performance. It was covered in aluminium panels and had a stiff interior frame, given the rather open nature of the vehicle. An innovation was the 'double wishbone' suspension, which is two wishbone-shaped arms attached to the wheel. It was surprisingly road legal and could be used for clubman racing [racing with prototype race cars]. Due to its simple design, it was a 'kit car' favourite and many spin-offs were created even until today. Some of you might be aware of a similar car produced under the Caterham model, but Caterham obtained a license from Lotus to continue producing such vehicles since 1973.

Most of the Lotus Sevens, including the Series 4, performed extremely well in acceleration, being able to reach 100km/h in 8.8 seconds.This Series 4 was powered by a 1599cc 4-cylinder engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 187km/h. However, the front tends to lift up at speeds of 110km/h.  It weighed 590kg and was 3.67m long. Only 664 were made and I am aware of at least 1 other model existing in Singapore.

This is a unique model that allows one to enjoy the closeness to the road, the feeling of sheer power in front of them and the authentic racing experience. It certainly is more risky as less metal is protecting you and the cars around you. Although it may be too close for comfort personally, it is indeed a real head turner because you do not get to see such a bare-bones vehicle everyday!

2 October 2017

More than an old car #38: Jaguar Mark X

From my observations, I would say that old Jaguars are 'endangered': you can find them in the wild but you need luck and skill to find one. However, this 1963 Jaguar Mark X seems to be the only one of its kind here, and this was a seriously coincidental encounter! I was walking back home when I chanced upon this wedding convoy for an Indian couple it seems and clearly this specimen was the star of the show.

The Mark X [Mark 10] was Jaguar's top-range saloon car from 1961-1970 and it was primarily aimed at the US market. It had a unibody car frame [the whole body was made in one piece rather than being welded together] and had a unique 'independent rear suspension' system unheard from British cars at that time. This was the first car to introduce the 4 level headlights and the slanted front end, which is recognizable as a Jaguar feature today. The most striking part would certainly be its svelte curves and how massive it was--even cars today lack the gracefulness and poise of this gentleman here. Beneath the hood lies a 3781cc XK 6-cylinder engine, though later cars were later upgraded to 4235cc from 1964. It could reach a top speed of 203km/h with an acceleration of 11.8 seconds [0-100km/h]. As a car positioned towards heads of state, diplomats and film stars, it was a hefty 5.13m long and weighed 1880kg.

Although it received rave reviews, it never really sold well in the US as it was considered 'too dated' or 'too big'. Only 13,382 were made in the 3.8 litre edition, and this is the only one in Singapore at the moment. I do not know whether this behemoth has been on our roads back then or a recent import. An interesting thing to note is that it has no rear view mirrors, which makes parking challenging at the very least. However, it is really rare for cars to be so advanced in its time--perhaps you may see this some day!