25 December 2018

More than an old car #89: Aston Martin Lagonda

Mention Aston Martin (AM) and you may immediately think of James Bond and the iconic DB5 that has appeared in many films. Or it may also conjure images of exclusively well-heeled people who consider a Mercedes/BMW to be too mainstream. Most of the AMs you see nowadays are the 2-door versions--this 1989 Aston Martin Lagonda would be a surprise to you!

AM was founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Richard Bamford, and it was previously known as Bamford and Martin. Mr Martin also raced vehicles at Aston Hill, a racing track at Buckinghamshire and gradually the name was changed to 'Aston Martin'. Throughout its history, it ran into financial problems--it went into receivership in 1974 and was bought over by Ford briefly in 1991. As of today, it is partly owned by an Italian private equity firm and it is still not doing as well as before.

The Lagonda was conceived during the time AM went into receivership and the oil crisis in 1973. Somehow, it was unveiled in 1976 to the disbelief of many journalists. It featured an extreme "folded paper" style, designed by William Towns (ie very boxy and angular) that continues to divide people today: publications such as Bloomberg Businessweek and Time labelled it as one of the worst 50 cars ever made! Over its production history, 3 generations were made and this unit is the Series 4, made between 1987 to 1990. The number discrepancy is because the original "Series 1" was essentially a 4-door version of the AM V8, which is totally different from the one in this post.

The Series 4 cars underwent a marked restyling, with more rounded edges, elimination of the pop-up headlights and having 6 fixed headlamps. It is rumoured that the final product was not what Towns had intended: a draftsman might have misinterpreted the blueprints and the errors were undiscovered until it was too late...

Another area that caught many by surprise was the futuristic-looking LED dashboard. It was very sophisticated and also multilingual as well: one could choose between English, French, German or Arabic. Unfortunately, it also drew much criticism as the electronics broke down often, and fixing it costs a bomb too! Each car took about 1 week and 1200 man-hours to assemble by hand. It was powered by a 5341 cc V8, allowing it to reach a top speed of 230 km/h with an acceleration of 9.3 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 5283 mm long and weighed 2095 kg.

Production ended in 1990 with a total of 645 that were made, of which 105 was the Series 4 model. According to its chassis number, this unit is the 639th that was manufactured. Decked out in classic British Racing Green and a beige interior, it provides a pleasing contrast to the eyes. From what I know, this was originally sold in Singapore: Lagondas were introduced here in 1983 but were not sold under any dealer. It has just been sold recently and I managed to see this curio up close when it was exhibited at the Fullerton Concours in June.

Recently, I was made aware of a Series 2 that was still around (chassis number 13129) which caught me by surprise. Apparently, that unit has been off the road for 2 years and it is undergoing restoration currently!

Interestingly, there was at least 1 other car that existed here [a Series 2], which was owned by the family behind the TANGS department stores and the Marriot Tang Plaza Hotel in Orchard Road. I knew about its existence back then and being able to see it for myself after so long was a treat. I am aware that there are 5 units here; you have to see it for yourself to appreciate its weirdness!

8 November 2018

More than an old car #88: Nissan Presea

If you have noticed, my posts alternate between a continental car and a Japanese/Asian one as I feel that not much love is given to the humble workhorses of the previous era. For today, I would like to introduce this increasingly rare breed--the 1992 Nissan Presea R10.

As mentioned previously, Nissan is the modern branding for the antiquated Datsun. It was decided that the name change would help the pursuit of a global strategy, which would increase people's awareness to the brand. As a result, "Nissan" wordings were gradually applied to Datsun cars in the 1980s and by 1986, the replacement was complete.

The Nissan Presea appeared in June 1990 in the form of a 4-door 'hardtop' sedan, ie a regular car without the middle pillar/bar. Its name is derived from the Spanish word for "jewel" or an "irreplaceable important thing". The rear windscreen was slightly curved, providing the driver with a more than 300-degree view just like a fighter pilot. Its aesthetic styling included the rounded edges and the grill-less front end, lending it a futuristic look that was popular with women at that time. It was powered by a 1597 cc GA16DE i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 187 km/h. It was 4395 mm long and weighed 1020 kg, which is quite light for a car this size!

Production of the R10 Presea ended in 1995, and was succeeded by the R11 model which featured external changes. There are at least 10 out and about in Singapore, though there seems to be more R11s compared to R10s. Based on local reviews, it apparently drives quite well and also low-maintenance to boot!

This red unit is quite unique as it was owned by Chee Soon Juan, a prominent opposition politician--he has been seen driving this around a few times. However, the number plate was recently de-registered and I do not know whether it is still around. It's not every day that you get to see a renowned person's car up close and I was glad that I had captured a snapshot. The grey unit, on the other hand, has been modified with a bodykit, making it more sporty than it actually is. It is still around but with an expired road tax. Do keep your eyes peeled for the other ones that are still here!

5 November 2018

More than an old car #87: BMW E36 M3

It is quite common for car manufacturers to crank out high-performance variants of their regular vehicles so as to attract a different class of driver--the track-loving, need-for-speed individual. It is not hard to imagine that these 1994/1995 BMW E36 M3s was catered for the owners who wanted to stand out from the crowd!

BMW M [M for 'Motorsport'] was first created in 1972 to facilitate BMW's successful racing program. It gradually moved towards production of specially modified higher-trim models, which included changes such as modified engines, exhaust systems and suspensions. It has stamped its mark on almost every BMW vehicle, except the 7-Series range, the Z1 sports car, and the X1 and X3 SUVs.

The E36 M3 was released in 1992 and was available in coupe, convertible and sedan versions. It quickly became well-loved by enthusiasts, who appreciated its raw power and the joy one could derive from it. Both the sedan and coupe were powered by a 2990 cc S50B30 i6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 250 km/h (electronically limited), with an acceleration of 6 seconds [0-100km/h]. Both models were 4433 mm long and weighed 1460 kg.

Production ended in 1999 with around 71,000 made, out of which only 3,192 coupes (code BF92) and 415 sedans (code CB92) were in RHD. This unit (chassis number EW30350) is equipped with manual seatbelts and was made in the Regensburn plant in Germany. Per additional information I received from a follower, it is just 1 of 2 RHD export versions that was painted in Avusblau metallic and fitted with a 3rd brake light! 

In Singapore, it was unveiled in 1994 and was distributed by Performance Motors, our local BMW dealer. I believe both are the last units that exist here, though I am often thrown off by some units here that resemble the unique M3 external modifications eg the aerodynamic side mirrors. More often than not, I have to check the database and be left disappointed at being cheated again. Recently, the number plate has also changed to a newer one and it is evident that the owner plans to keep it for the long run.

If you have observed, there are quite a few newer M models on the roads, but how often do you get to see an older one? This was also a random find as I had been passing by the area. I wasn't too keen on E36s in general, but coming across an M3 was too hard to resist. It may not be eye-catching, but sometimes you need to go closer for a better look!

29 October 2018

More than an old car #86: Toyota Corolla Trueno AE86

Out of the many old Japanese cars that are on the road, I believe many people would recognise this particular one from "Initial D" even though they may not know what exactly it is. Known affectionately as the "Panda", it is desired by many across the world and I was similarly awestruck by this 1983 Toyota Corolla Trueno AE86, especially when it was my first time seeing it!

The AE86 was based off the E80 Corolla series and was made between 1983 to 1987. It was developed with the intention of producing a car that could perform well in racing. With that in mind, it featured a front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout [ie the engine at the front powers the wheels at the back primarily]. Two variants were made: Levin, (Middle English for "lightning") and Trueno (Spanish for "thunder"). The Levin had fixed headlights while the Trueno had pop-up headlights. A coupe and hatchback style were then produced from these 2 variants. The "6" represents the 4A-GE i4 engine, with a capacity of 1.6 litres/1587 cc--this is because an AE85 variant was also manufactured that had the 1.5 litre engine. As a result, it is also known as the hachi-roku ["eight-six" in Japanese].

This unit here is the GT-V trim level, which had less accessories compared to the top-grade GT-Apex trim such as the rear wiper and a stereo set. Weighing in at only 940 kg and a length of 4205 mm, it became a hot favourite among racers, especially in the then-novel niche of drifting, which is taking a car on a set of controlled slides through corners. The renowned drifter Keiichi Tsuchiya, otherwise known as the "Drift King", made drifting a popular genre of motorsports with his preferred AE86. In 1994, Initial D was released, first in manga form and from then on it captured the imaginations of many adolescents worldwide. In fact, prices for AE86s have been inflated so much that the difference is referred to as the "Takumi tax", after the tofu-delivering main character in the series. 

This is one of the few vehicles that have entered pop culture and also easily recognizable even if you are not a car person, especially when Jay Chou acted in the film version. The last I heard of this particular car was that it was stripped down for parts unfortunately...

There are currently about 6 remaining in Singapore, with a mix of both Levins and Truenos. I believe they were originally sold here by the local dealer, and they have survived the merciless COE system unlike a few others. This is not just an ordinary Toyota, but a cult classic that still earns much adulation. Maybe you could look out for a flash of white and black--you may see one of them too!

22 October 2018

More than an old car #85: Honda Legend

Hondas, like any other brand, come in all shapes and sizes. We have the small CRX, to the renowned Civic, and we have surprisingly huge ones like this 1996 Honda Legend KA9 here! I had caught a glimpse from the bus and thought it was some sort of Civic at first, but a check on the database revealed a model that I had never heard of before. I knew it was entering one of the shopping mall carparks in the vicinity and by chance, I found it lurking at a corner...

The Honda Legend was first introduced back in 1985, where it was marketed as a premium-level sedan for wealthy, middle-aged drivers. Its competitors of that day included the Toyota Crown and the Nissan Cedric. The KA9 was the third generation of the Legend and changes included the removal of the wool and leather interior, and a shift to a gated/"jagged" auto transmission compared to the straight type previously. It was powered by a 3474 cc C35A V6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 215 km/h and an acceleration of 9.1 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was much larger than its fellow siblings at 4956 mm long and weighing in at 1650 kg.

The KA9 model was stopped in 2004, and this unit here is a pre-facelift model due to the trapezoidal grille. Facelifted models, introduced in 1998, had the front grille cutting into the front bumper. Honda Legends were on sale here by the local Honda importer, Kah Motors back in 1996, and apparently salesmen who could sell them were given generous bonuses. However, this luxurious Honda did not come cheap, costing S$248,888 including COE [S$331,439 in today's money] and with the onset of the Asian Financial Crisis, sales levels plummeted. This unit is still tastefully stock along with its wheels, and I believe this is the only one left here! I guess I was quite fortunate to see this legendary vehicle not once but twice, so there is actually an element of luck present too!

15 October 2018

More than an old car #84: Chevrolet Master 85

Chevrolet has been increasing in prominence, ever since our taxis have also begun to sport the familiar gold cross logo. As a predominantly American brand, the range of cars that we get are significantly less compared to Europe for example. Coupled with the LHD concession for cars older than 1940, it is a pity that we don't get to see American classics as well. Hence, imagine my surprise when I came across this 1939 Chevrolet Master 85 JB!

It all began in 1911 when Swiss race car driver and engineer, Louis Chevrolet founded the Chevrolet Motor Company in Detroit along with some partners. It adopted the 'bowtie' emblem which we know today in 1914, and various reasons have been suggested: from wallpaper seen in a hotel room, a logo from a coal company and even a stylised Swiss cross which paid homage to Chevrolet's ancestry. Chevrolet gradually became a force to be reckoned with in the American motor industry and was one of the Big 3 car companies after Ford and Dodge. It experienced great success in the 50s and 60s with the Impala, which became an icon in itself. Currently, Chevrolet is part of the GM group of companies and is well-positioned in the automobile world today, with growing sales in more than 100 countries.

The Chevy Master was a series of vehicles made between 1933 and 1942, and it was the most expensive in the lineup at that time. For the 1939 version [JB series], there were a variety of styles produced such as 2-door/4-door sedans and coupes. This coupe was powered by a 3548 cc straight-6 engine and only 41,770 were made. It weighed 1320 kg and was 4691 mm long.

This unit may seem just like any other classic car, but what is more amazing was that it had entered in the Road to Saigon rally organised by the Endurance Rally Association! It had undergone a huge makeover when I last saw it in 2015, and it was also christened "Caroline" by the joint owner-drivers. According to its Facebook page, it was an original RHD version from South Africa, and it had been out of action since 2007. The owners decided to give it a classic look and this cued a year-long restoration process. In 2017, they took it for a test drive to assess its road-worthiness for the upcoming rally. It entered the competition under the "Vintage" category for cars older than 1939 and was 1 of 2 cars that crossed the finish line in Vietnam. For a car that old, it had a pretty decent timing and even did better than some of the younger cars in the competition.

Rallying really is a test of ingenuity, determination and perseverance, and it demands 100% attention on the road. It is not for everyone and I was also rather surprised by their car choice--it would have looked more at home cruising down the road rather than roughing it out on rural lanes. Perhaps you may be able to find this rally legend one day!

9 October 2018

More than an old car #83: Lexus ES 300

Mention the word "Lexus" and some of you may think of a rather "atas"/high-class image of the common Toyota, which is not wrong actually. You may think of the modern vehicles immediately, but the brand itself is not a recent formation. Imagine my surprise when I found this 1998 Lexus ES 300 XV20 out of nowhere! It was the first "old" Lexus that I had chanced across in my years of spotting...

Lexus is the luxury vehicle division of Toyota, and it appeared due to a challenge by Toyota chairman, Eiji Toyoda, to build the world's best car. The project, code-named F1 (Flagship One) was formed in 1983 and began to work on the LS400 to market to the luxury consumers. Market research was also done in the US, its main target and testing was also done on its products on the German Autobahn.

A few names were thrown into the hat for its branding, and "Alexis" became a popular contender. In order to reduce confusion with people named Alexis, the name was thus modified to Lexus instead. It has been theorised that Lexus is a combination of "luxury" and "elegance", and even an acronym for "Luxury Exports to the US", although the F1 engineers have said that it has no particular meaning and it connotes a luxurious and technological image.
As with other parts of the world, Lexus in Singapore is associated with the well-to-do people who have earned comfortably enough to afford a better car. As an upmarket version of the Toyota, there is a significant difference in the status of each driver generally.

The ES range of cars was first introduced in 1989 and 6 generation have been produced to date, with most of them being based off the Toyota Camry platform. The XV20 (3rd generation) in particular was introduced in 1996, where it featured more rakish lines and an upmarket interior. Quite a number of units were sold in this two-tone colour scheme. It was powered by a 2995 cc Toyota 1MZ-FE V6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 234 km/h with an acceleration of 8.8 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4830 mm long and weighed 1532 kg.

Production of the XV20 ended in 2001 and there are quite a handful of them that still exist here. It was unveiled here in 1996 by the local Toyota importer, Borneo Motors, and I presume it was well-received back then for the owner to even keep it until today! This unit still has its original registration plate and seeing one really brought me back to the 90s. Maybe, you can catch a glimpse of them if you're lucky enough!

1 October 2018

More than an old car #82: Lotus Eclat

It has been a while since I wrote about classic Lotuses in Singapore. Generally, Lotuses are not that common but you may see the Elise out on our roads most frequently. Somehow, I like to cover cars that are not put up behind barriers and polished--rather than being protected, cars should be driven frequently and show signs of being well-worn. I had seen this 1981 Lotus Eclat S2 before, but this time I was rewarded with a better close-up picture of this unique fellow!

The Lotus Eclat was based off the previous Lotus Elite and it was supposed to be a sporty coupe with a dash of practicality. Colin Chapman, the owner of Lotus, and chief designer Oliver Winterbottom merged the front end of the Elite with a sloping roofline and a conventional hatch for more luggage space. Incidentally, "eclat" is French for "splinter", and it certainly splintered people's impression of Lotus at that time. There were 2 engines offered along with a few trim levels: first editions were called the S1 (Type 76), which appeared in 1975 and the S2 (Type 84) was introduced in 1980.
This unit was equipped with a 2174 cc Lotus 912 i4 engine and a 3-speed automatic transmission, allowing it to reach a top speed of 198 km/h and an acceleration of 8.2 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4458 mm long and weighed 1180 kg.

Production of the Eclat stopped in 1982, and out of the ~2200 made, only 223 were the S2 (Type 84). Of these 223 cars, 76 units were the special-edition Riviera, featuring multiple bonnet vents and a rear spoiler. Thus we have 147 'standard' Type 84s that were ever made!
According to its engine number, it was equipped with air-conditioning and power-assisted steering, and was made in March 1981. Apparently, its number plate had been changed to a more period-correct one as well. This unit is an original Singapore model--they were sold here by a local distributor back in 1981! It seems that this is also the only one left on our roads as well. I find it impressive that the owner has continued to keep this less well-known Lotus, where it can still grace its presence in Singapore. Considering its rarity, it is really interesting to see one here and I hope you can see it someday!

24 September 2018

More than an old car #81: Toyota Sera

Back in the 90s, Toyota was the most common car on the roads, not less due to the ever-faithful Corolla and its many variants. However, many great cars of that era have been left forgotten, and I had never heard of this 1990 Toyota Sera until I saw it for myself.

The Sera was unveiled to the public in 1988 as the AXV-II concept car, and it was noted for its unique butterfly wing doors and its glass canopy. Its name is French for "will" [recall 'que sera, sera']. The butterfly doors was used to promote Toyota's corporate image by implementing it on a small, low-production car, although such style was associated with high-end models such as the Mercedes 300 SL. Even the technology behind these doors was quite high-level, as the viscosity of the damper fluid required to operate the door had to be regulated according to the seasons.
It was powered by a 1497cc 5E-FHE i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 195 km/h. It was 3860 mm long and weighed 930 kg.

Production ended in 1995 with only 15,941 made. They have become very rare here as well: I am aware of around 5 units only! It is noted that they were not sold here originally by the local Toyota dealer, thus they could have been parallel-imported. They represent the quirkiness of 90s Japanese designs--it has become a cult classic as people begin to appreciate their uniqueness. I don't know whether you will be able to find one on the road, but you won't be able to miss it when you see it!

16 September 2018

More than an old car #80: Mercedes W126 380 SEC

Mercedes has always remained a perennial favourite among classic car lovers, and even in Singapore it is by far the most-represented among the old cars here. 2-door Mercs are somewhat less common, but some are more rare than others...how many of you have seen this 1983 Mercedes W126 380 SEC?

The W126 was borne from Mercedes' project to develop cars with better handling, an improved ride and better fuel efficiency. Its body design was supposed to be more aerodynamic and subsequent testing showed that it could save up to 10% fuel compared to its predecessor, the W116. At the same time, there was greater emphasis on safety, such as the introduction of driver-side airbags, traction control, crumple zones and fluted taillights, which maximised the rear visibility even when the lights were dirty.

The W126 was unveiled in 1979 and the coupe version, known as the SEC [S-Klasse-Einspritzmotor-Coupe] premiered in 1981. Throughout the whole lifetime of the W126, there were 4 different types of SECs made, which corresponded with its engine capacity. The 380 SEC was powered by a 3839 cc M116 V8 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 210 km/h with an acceleration of 9.6 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4910 mm long and weighed 1585 kg.

Production of the W126 ended in 1992, but out of the 70,000-odd coupes made, only 11,267 were the 380 SEC variant. There seems to be 3 of them on the roads and I had the privilege to see 2 of them, including this one! This picture was taken back in 2015 near a hospital, so I presume a doctor isusing it as a daily driver. Some of you would have noticed the more numerous 300 SEL sedans that are still going strong, but considering how rare the coupe version is, it feels more satisfying finding even one in the wild!

10 September 2018

More than an old lorry #2: Mitsubishi L200

Mitsubishi is pretty well-known here, but as with my previous post on the Toyota Dyna, I feel compelled not to forget the workhorses among us like this 2000 Mitsubishi L200 lorry. And no, I'm not trolling if you expected to see more conventional cars instead...

The L200 is a pick-up truck that has been made since 1978, and you may also see the present version, known as the Mitsubishi Triton. This unit over here is the predecessor of the Triton, also known as the Strada [Italian for "road"]. 2 generations were made, although this one was the export market version. Typically, the trucks that were made had off-road capabilities and were much larger in size. Interestingly, all the L200s since then have been made in Thailand. It is powered by a 2477 cc 4D56 i4 engine and was 4890 mm long. It weighed 1390 kg while unladen and had a maximum laden weight of 2550 kg. As with all lorries here, it can carry up to 6 people at the back: the shelter and guard rails are required by law to make it more safe for the people behind.

If you observe the lorries more carefully, you would realise that the older ones are not as common as you think. Since vehicles with the G plate can only be driven for 20 years, this one here may be taken off the road very soon. It is also a shame that they can only be registered by businesses, since I believe there are private buyers out there who would love this gem. Just try to see as many of them before they disappear from the roads, but at least I have preserved a snapshot for future viewers...

3 September 2018

More than an old car #79: Daihatsu Charade

Japanese cars are currently the most popular choice for car drivers here, and everyone would at least know about Toyota, Nissan and Mazda. However, among these big players, there are less well-known brands and their range of models, such as this 1989 Daihatsu Charade G100 and G102.

Daihatsu is one of Japan's oldest surviving internal combustion engine manufacturer, where it started out as Hatsudoki Seizou Co. Ltd. in 1907. In 1951, it adapted the kanji word of Osaka (where it was headquartered) into the company name, thus becoming "dai hatsu". It ventured into car manufacturing and began exports to the European market in the 1960s. Throughout the years, it attained lower-than-expected sales and it began to pull out of the various overseas markets, starting with the US in 1992. Toyota had also started increasing their shareholdings in Daihatsu since 1967 and in 2016, Daihatsu became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Toyota. In Singapore, the most common ones are the Daihatsu Hijet vans and the cute-ish Copen. Yet most of you would struggle to even remember this brand in the first place!

The Charade was first produced in 1977, where it became an overnight success in Japan despite stricter restrictions on emission standards for small cars. It was also popular in Latin America as the car could run on low-octane fuel, which was common back then. The 3rd generation of the Charade [G100 series] appeared in 1987. It was available in a 3/5 door hatchback, although a 4-door sedan was also offered from 1989 onwards. Different types of engines were used for different trim models, but this unit was powered by a 993 cc CB i3 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 145 km/h with an acceleration of 14 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 3610 mm long and weighed 735 kg.
For the sedan, it was powered by a 1296 cc HC i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 167 km/h with an acceleration of 11.7 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 3995 mm long and weighed slightly heavier at 845 kg.

Production ended in 1993 with the arrival of the new Charade generation, but it lived on in China until 2012, known as the Tianjin Xiali. With the ceaseless march towards a car-lite society, many Charades have fallen victim to the merciless COE system and thus, there are only a handful of them left here. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to come across these units again after 2 years where they are still plodding on. The period wheels lend it a nostalgic touch and its unassuming presence is characteristic of cars in that era. I hope that with this knowledge, you will be able to appreciate them before they are gone!

27 August 2018

More than an old car #78: Ford Escort RS Cosworth

In Singapore, Ford is surprisingly less of a household name to car buyers as it has been losing market ground to the more conventional Japanese brands. However, it wasn't as boring as it looked due to the huge success it experienced in the field of rallying, and this 1994 Ford Escort RS Cosworth is a prime specimen of its success at that time.

The Ford Escort was a small family car that was made way back in 1955 by Ford of Europe, a subsidiary of the Ford that we know [based in the US]. In this case, the cars made by them and the ones made in the US are very different as they catered to different markets--very rarely do you see a cross-exchange of the vehicles across the Atlantic. The fifth-generation Escort, which this was based on, was introduced in 1990 but received a bad reception due to its handling and styling. At the same time, Ford was looking to compete in the World Rally Championship (WRC): the styling was designed in 1989 and was based off its predecessor, the Ford Sierra Cosworth.

Cosworth is an automotive engineering company, founded by Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth in 1958. Both of them had just left Lotus Engineering and brought with them a wealth of engine tuning knowledge. It was supported by Ford after they signed a developmental contract in 1968, although Ford sold Cosworth in 2004. Currently, it has diversified to provide engineering consultancy and high performance electronics.

As part of the cooperation between Ford and Cosworth, its engine was worked on to include a better turbocharger. Its distinctive styling was designed by Karmann in Germany and the huge "whale-tail" spoiler was added by Frank Stephenson, a famed American automobile designer. At first glance, it looks like a regular hatchback that people might use to drive to the market, and this was one issue that caught many people by surprise when it entered the WRC. However, it performed better than expected and people started to take notice.
It was powered by a 1993 cc Cosworth turbocharged i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 225 km/h with an acceleration of 6.1 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4211 mm long and weighed 1275 kg.

Production ended in 1996 with only 7145 made. This is believed to be the last one here as the others have already been deregistered. Previously, it was in silver but was repainted to its current blue. According to the chassis number, this unit was built in Cologne in 1994. Escort Cosworths were never officially sold here--whatever units that were here could have been parallel-imported. I didn't expect to see this unicorn in front of my previous company--apparently the owner had some business to do at that time. It feels really amazing to realise that I have seen the last of its kind on our roads: that is why if you start to observe the cars around you, who knows what you may see?

20 August 2018

More than an old car #77: Datsun 280ZX

Datsun was at the forefront of the 70s as the oil crisis promoted a resurgence of smaller Japanese cars. While riding high on the success of the 240/260/280Z, Datsun proceeded to release the Nissan S130, also known as this 1980 Datsun 280ZX.

It was a complete redesign as it focused more on driver comfort rather than racing: changes included sound insulation, high-end audio system and more comfortable seats. The dashboard included a computerised read-out indicator that showed whether the lights were in working condition. The exterior design was less rounded and included a set of safety bumpers. However, people felt that this car betrayed their idea of what a Z car should be. This was partly due to its less powerful engine where it could be outrun by a Mazda RX7.

Despite the naming, there were both 2-litre and 2.8 litre engines offered: export markets got the 2.8 litre version while the Japanese domestic market had both versions. It was powered by a 2753cc L28E i6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 203 km/h, with an acceleration of 9.4 seconds [0-100km/h]. It was 4340 mm long and weighed 1205 kg.

Production of the S130 ended in 1983 with about 420,000 made. They were actually sold here starting from 1979 by Tan Chong Motors, our local Nissan dealer. It received positive reviews from the local news as shown here. This unit has been imported recently from the UK and it has gone through 2 number plate changes. I recalled seeing the EQ plate on a Volvo P1800, so it seems they have the same owner. Z cars in general are very rare here, and perhaps you will be able to see it soon!

13 August 2018

Special feature #1: Michael's Mercedes W123 200

Recently, I went to a Cars and Kopi session held at Dempsey Hill on a bright Saturday morning. In case you are wondering, Cars and Kopi is our local version of the Cars and Coffee meets held worldwide in various forms. Normally, cars of all makes and ages will pull up, and owners could interact with each other such as checking out each other's rides. Although I had to wake up quite early to reach the place on time, it was a joy seeing so many old cars turn up as well.

It so happened that there was a 190SL that was parked away from the main area, and when I went to admire it, an older man also stopped to take a few pictures. He remarked that it was really beautiful, which I agreed wholeheartedly. Out of curiosity, I asked whether he had driven his car here as well. As a result, I got to know Mr Michael and his 1978 Mercedes W123 200 sedan!

Previously, I had written about the W123 and this time round, I will jump in to this beautiful machine that was in front of me. I hope to introduce more of such personal features in the future, as I feel it will give these retro rides a more human touch. Do let me know if you are interested for a feature too!

Michael was really passionate about his car, and I could tell from the way he spoke about its intricacies and quirks. He revealed that he had owned a W123 previously, and this unit is the 2nd one he has owned. Apparently, he chanced upon it while at a car park about 20 years ago, and he went to talk to the previous owner. They exchanged contacts and the previous owner had also expressed his wish to sell this car. However, 3 years had passed when Michael was contacted again! From then on, he has owned it throughout and I doubt he will let go of this easily. The longest drive he had made in this was all the way to Kuala Lumpur, some 300 km away and he also desired to go further than that in the future. It still sports its original registration number, adding a nice touch to the overall classic look.

Michael graciously allowed me to check out the interior and I was blown away at the tastefully furnished leather interior. It had this distinctly familiar "old-car" smell which reminded me of the old taxis that I used to sit in last time. Well-worn steering wheel? Check. Classic dials? Check. Manual transmission? Bonus check!

Next, he popped the hood open by pulling a lever near the passenger-side door. I was surprised to see this action and he explained that since European cars were mostly left-hand drive, the dashboard had to be converted to a right-hand drive format but the lever remained where it was.

What appeared below indicated his care and attention to detail.

Most of us would be turned off by the formidable tangle of wires and I was equally confused by where each wire went. Yet, what really impressed me was that Michael was a hands-on person: he would tinker with the engine and try to remedy any failures in the system, only bringing it to the mechanic if he could not find a solution. The 1988 cc M115 i4 engine was surprisingly robust and he shared that the car had only broken down once along the highway due to a carburetor problem. The engine bay has remained stock, except that Michael had changed the air-con cover to the one currently in red. If you had noticed that there seems to be a lot of space, this is true as it is designed to hold the larger 3-litre V6 engine.
He also shared that the diagnostic socket [the little cap thing partially hidden by the yellow oil tank] had stopped functioning, but this was also because he "never had to use it", he said with a smile. I could feel the pride he had in owning such a clean-looking classic!

Yet, all is not a bed of roses as Michael revealed that it suffers from rust under the floorboards and the hinges. He would try to remove the rust by applying protective coatings to it. The car's headlights are also not original as it was hard to find the quad-headlight version. Since it is made of glass, finding replacement parts for it was also tricky. When I queried him about the expenses required in owning an old car, he wryly replied that one would need to have a somewhat substantial amount of money available. Spare parts are not that much of a problem--though they are not common, they can still be found. He also lamented that modern cars are harder to tinker with due to the reliance on electronics, making it difficult to determine the problem at hand.

Unfortunately, Michael had to leave quite early, but I was treated to his very smooth engine start-up as he left. I was thankful to have such a wonderful opportunity to interact with a classic car owner, which had happened by accident. Thank you Michael for getting to know you better and all the best in your future journey with your 200!

10 July 2018

More than an old car #76: Mercedes W124 260E Limousine

Having spotted classic cars for a few years, I am positive that the humble Mercedes W124 series is the most common old car here. Even in my neighborhood, there are around 2 or 3 that are still plodding on. Previously, I covered the W123 limousine and it turns out that it has a spiritual successor: this 1991 Mercedes W124 260E limousine.

The W124 was first launched in 1985 and it was intended by the engineers to last as along as possible. Firstly, its suspension system featured a 'multi-link axle' which is common in modern cars today. Next, it had an aerodynamic body, as evidenced by its low drag coefficient of 0.28 [the lower the better]. Furthermore, it had a single window wiper that could cover almost the entire car windscreen due to an eccentric mechanism. Here, its angular body was built to withstand impacts at 35 mph (56 km/h) without any serious impact to passengers. Safety features included driver-side airbags, use of lightweight high-strength steel and an impact-absorbing dashboard. All in all, this contributed to the W124's image of being indestructible. If you take a closer look at the drivers behind the wheel, you may notice that they are predominantly middle-aged people...I jest, but you could appreciate the confidence such a vehicle would instill in drivers.

The long-wheelbase version, also known as the V124, was developed in collaboration with Binz and revealed in 1990. Essentially a stretched version of the sedan, it had 6 doors and could seat 8 people. Three versions with different engines were made and the 260E was one of them. It was powered by a 2599 cc M103 i6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 200 km/h with an acceleration of 11.3 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 5540 mm long and weighed 1655 kg. With that length, it would not be able to fit into a standard car park space of 4800 mm long--you can see that the ends are jutting out.

Production of the V124 ended in 1993 with only 1006 made for the 260E. What is more amazing is that we have at least 2 others here: 1 in blue and 1 in white. It really boggles my mind as to why there are people who own limousines here. It is so impractical to park at for example, a multi-storey carpark where the parking lots are quite small. Even the simple functions of turning and parking it takes a lot more effort. However, you could easily attract attention for being such a baller. Have a lot of people but too lazy to get another car? Squeeze everyone inside! I really respect the owner for continuing to take it out on the roads, perhaps you can find it too!

5 July 2018

More than an old car #75: Fiat 500 Topolino

I have received a few queries on where to spot classic cars in my car-unfriendly country. This is an interesting question since most of them are found in workshops, which they inevitably belong. In addition, some of the petrol stations here have a car repair workshop, though they are not necessarily owned by the petrol company. I was quite lucky to spot this 1952 Fiat Topolino 500C 'floating' in a corner, since it was gone a few days later!

In 1930, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini desired a car for the people which did not exceed 5,000 lire, and tasked Senator Giovanni Agnelli to carry out his instructions. The designers at Fiat experimented with a prototype by Oreste Lardorne, who had previously thought of a small economy car for Itala, another auto maker. When it was put to the test, the prototype caught fire when going up a hill. Embarrassed by the failure, Agnelli fired Lardorne and was under pressure to fulfil his master's wishes. The job fell onto Dante Giacosa, a young engineer at the company. Giacosa proceeded to design a car that could save weight and costs, such as having the radiator above the engine to save the water pump. Fiat management was convinced and the Fiat 500 Topolino was commissioned in 1936.

Its name is derived from "Mickey Mouse" in Italian due to the wave of success Walt Disney's character had experienced in Europe, although "topolino" literally means "small mouse" as well. This was fitting as it was one of the smallest cars in the world at the time of production, with a length of 3245 mm and a mass of 610 kg.

The 3rd generation of the Topolino [or the 500C] was first produced in 1949, a few years after the war ended. The entire bodywork was rebuilt to make it more modern: this involved a facelift of the grille and re-positioning of the headlights. The 2-door convertible sedan style was made standard, although a van and station wagon variant were made as well. As you can see, it has "suicide doors" due to the different positioning of the hinges. It was powered by a 569 cc i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 95 km/h with an acceleration of 46 seconds [0-80km/h].

Production ended in 1955 with 376,371 500Cs made. I believe this is the only unit in Singapore, though there is an older 500A here as well. The number plate registration is also original: the owner must really love his vehicle to keep it throughout the years! It seems to be going through some sort of tyre restoration and I do not know where it is now. I had seen it back in 2016 and it looks really small in comparison with a standard sized car on the road. Perhaps, you will be able to see the "Mickey Mouse" some day!

2 July 2018

More than an old car #74: Ferrari Dino 308 GT4

Many of you by now would be familiar with the Ferrari brand as a representation of luxury. However, did you know that not all cars by Ferrari was called as such back then? This 1974 Dino 308 GT4 2+2 is an example of a non-Ferrari Ferrari, so to speak! 

The Dino brand was a marque for Ferrari cars that had fewer than 12 cylinders. Since Enzo Ferrari had built his reputation on the premium V12 models, he did not want to diminish the exclusive branding on a cheaper car. Its name is derived from Enzo's son and heir Alfredo "Dino" Ferrari, who had died of muscular dystrophy in 1956. First introduced in 1968, it lasted until 1976 when all models received Ferrari badging. 

The Dino 308 GT4 was the first mid-engine Ferrari, which subsequently contributed to its success in the next few decades. First introduced in 1973, it caught many observers by surprise with its angular outline and the fact that it was not badged as a Ferrari. Although the badging returned in 1976, it put off many potential buyers who were not sure about the significance of the Dino brand. Furthermore, it was a huge departure from the sleekness of the previous model, the 206/246 GT. The 2+2 refers to the extra 2 seats that were squeezed in at the back, making it rather practical for daily usage. Ferrari engineers created a mock-up whose dimensions could be adjusted by a hydraulic pump, as Enzo himself would test the visibility and comfort from the driver's seat. 

It was powered by a 2927 cc Dino V8 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 250 km/h, with an acceleration of 5.6 seconds [0-100km/h]. Owing to its rather short height of 1210 mm, the driver could only see the road from where he sat. It was 4320 mm long and weighed 1300 kg

Production of the Dino 308 ended in 1980: out of the 2826 made, only 547 were in RHD. I am aware of another one in red and an unregistered one in blue here. This unit has apparently been off the road since 2017 as its road tax has already expired. For years, it has been scoffed by Ferrari purists, but appreciation of this unassuming classic has increased over time. After all, it is still a Ferrari despite the brand. If you are lucky enough, you may see the other 2 that are here--it's pretty amazing that there are people here who still recognise a car for what's it worth!

21 June 2018

More than an old car #73: Morris Eight Series 2

The beauty of car-spotting in Singapore is that you never know what kind of cars you may end up finding. I was just doing a casual spotting session when I came across this pretty old car, which I could not recognise immediately. Having seen so many cars throughout the years, I would daresay I can identify them almost all of them. A quick check on the number plate and some sleuthing around revealed that it was a 1938 Morris Eight Series 2 saloon.

The Morris Eight was first introduced in 1935, where it was inspired by the popularity of the Ford Model Y. It was targeted at the average man with a family, although its small dumpy shape didn't really convince people about its surprising hardiness. The Series 2 was produced with disc [Easiclean] wheels compared to the wire-spoked ones, although everything else was unchanged. It was let down by its engine: a 918cc Type UB straight-4 engine that allowed it to reach a top speed of 60 mph and an acceleration of 37 seconds [0-60 mph].

Production of the Series 2 ended in 1938 itself with 54,000 made, although the entire Morris Eight line ended in 1954. They have become greatly loved by enthusiasts worldwide because of its reliable nature and it brought the pleasures of motoring in the Thirties. How this specimen ended up here is a mystery, though I believe it had been brought in a long time ago. You don't see cars from the 30s running about here and it is certainly a classic that you shouldn't miss!

19 June 2018

More than an old car #72: Talbot Solara

Car spotting has been quite therapeutic for me, as I can just forget about my issues at hand and focus on hunting old cars. It has been a journey full of surprises along the way, as I have come across a few obscure/unlikely vehicles. Somehow, scrappy-looking cars really attract me as it really shows off its age, and that one rarely see cars that are in such poor shape due to annual inspections. Although most of the time, they have been left there to crumble just like this 1981 Talbot Solara SX...

Talbot was a London automobile maker which was established in 1903 by Charles-Chetwynd Talbot, the 20th Earl of Shrewsbury. It was later merged with some other companies to form STD Motors Ltd. [Sunbeam, Talbot and Darraq]. In the meantime, there were different subsidiaries formed under the Talbot name, but all of them collapsed financially. It was sold to SIMCA [Société Industrielle de Mécanique et Carrosserie Automobile], a French automaker founded in 1934. Simca itself was bought over by Chrysler Europe, who had wanted to advance into the European market. Shortly afterwards in 1978, the conglomerate PSA Peugeot-Citroen bought over Chrysler Europe [which included the Talbot brand]. The Talbot name disappeared in 1994; a comeback was considered in 2008 but nothing materialised in the end.
As you can see, the car industry can be pretty complicated, with many acquisitions here and there. In fact, most of the brands we are familiar today are a result of numerous mergers: about 15 main groups control almost all of the car brands.

The Solara was a sedan version of the Simca 1307 hatchback which had enjoyed moderate success in Europe. Its name was chosen back in 1978 and after Chrysler Europe was sold to PSA, the Talbot brand was resurrected. It was exhibited to the press in 1980 where it received rave reviews: many people preferred a conventional sedan compared to the hatchback and it was aesthetically pleasing to look at. It was one of the first cars to feature an on-board computer, which recorded the car's mileage and indicated the fuel level. However, the Solara was deemed somewhat dated and due to competition with popular cars such as the Peugeot 305, it did not sell very well. A few trim levels were produced, and the top-of-the-line SX was powered by a 1592 cc Simca Type 315 i4 engine: the car could reach a top speed of 167 km/h, with an acceleration of 12 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4392 mm long and weighed 1040 kg.

Production ended in 1986 with 184,976 made, and this seems to be the last one on our roads! It turns out that there were quite a number of them here in the 1980s, as seen in various archived newspaper ads during that time. That said, it was not a common car to begin with. Here is an article describing the car when it appeared in Singapore in 1981. The last advertisements for used Talbot Solaras appeared in 1992, showing that they were unable to stand the test of time.

I'm pretty sure most of you have never heard of this brand before until today--even I was surprised to come across this obscure vehicle! From my observations, this unit has been abandoned for quite some time and is in need of some TLC. It still has original registration plates, along with stock wheels. Its licence plate border hints at its Peugeot ties, despite the cars being distributed by Reliant Motors, a local dealer. If you take a closer look at the lower left corner of the windscreen, you can see the plate number embossed on it: this was a common feature for cars up till the late 1990s. Furthermore, it was converted to the classic plate scheme some time ago, so the owner hasn't forgotten about it yet. Hopefully, the owner will still keep it on the road for others to see this obscure vehicle for themselves!