29 January 2018

More than an old car #52: Rolls-Royce Twenty

Rolls-Royce [RR] vehicles tend to be large in size, and the fact that they are produced in small numbers give them an aura of exclusivity. Somehow, RRs are designed to make you stop in your tracks, even for this 1926 Rolls-Royce Connaught Twenty tourer here.

The Twenty was ironically considered RR's "small car" and was first produced in 1922. Its target market was supposed to be owner drivers, but many were also sold to customers with chauffeurs. The "Twenty" name was so named for its power output of 20 horsepower. Curiously, only the chassis and mechanical parts were made by RR and the body was made by a coachbuilder [a manufacturer of car bodies] selected by the owner. In this case, this specimen was made by London-based coachbuilder Connaught, a firm that traced its origins back to the 18th century. This was one of only 3 lightweight tourers built by them. It was powered by a 3127cc 6-cylinder engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 105km/h. It was 4.52m long and weighed 1930kg.

Production ended in 1929 with only 2940 made. This specimen was shipped to West Malaysia in 1926 and was used in a rubber estate. After surviving World War 2, it was neglected until the current owner acquired it in 1981. A full restoration was carried out in 1983 and this car has been shuttled between Singapore and Malaysia. It is currently believed to be the oldest surviving RR in good condition in this region. I am aware that it is currently in a car workshop, but if you are lucky enough, you may get to see this antique grand behemoth on our roads!

22 January 2018

More than an old car #51: BMW E30 316i

Many of you will be familiar with the BMW brand, especially the most common 3-series sedans that your parents/friends may own. This 1989 BMW E30 316i is a throwback to the times when these subtle status symbols ruled our roads.

The BMW E30 is the name given to the second generation of the 3-Series models, which appeared in the market in 1982. The styling was developed by designer Claus Luthe, and it was externally similar to the twin-headlight version of the previous E21 series. The main differences was the interior and a revised suspension system.

Many variants of the E30 were made, and the 316i was one of them. The 316i replaced the earlier 316 model in terms of a more powerful engine. It was powered by a 1596cc (1.6 litre) M40 i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 182km/h with an acceleration of 12.1 seconds [0-100km/h]. It was 4325mm long and weighed 1065kg.

Production of the E30 series ended in 1994 with around 2.43 million made, but I cannot find any data as to how many 316i models were manufactured. This specimen has undergone a drastic change when I saw it back in 2015: it now sports a dark pink-purple paint with mismatched white fenders compared to the light blue paint back then. The tyres have also been sprayed black. The colour scheme may look weird, but I love this subtle incongruity.

I am aware of at least 20 that are still running strong--they are rare, but not very hard to find if you look hard enough. The cars that have lasted until now tend to be less likely to be scrapped, since owning a BMW is a labour of love in itself. Other models may not stand out as much as this one, but they are easily recognizable by its boxy look, reminiscent of 1980s cars. All the best in spotting one of these classic oldies!

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!

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 1981 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 50 kg of goods at a speed of 50 km/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 602 cc flat-twin engine, which was more common in motorcycles, was highly reliable and enabled the car to reach a top speed of 115 km/h. Its acceleration however was a glacial 35 seconds [0-100km/h]--I believe many of us could easily outrun one! The Charleston was 3.83 m long and weighed 560 kg. 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!

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?"

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!