25 February 2018

More than an old car #56: Leyland P76

Recently, I had the opportunity to witness the flag-off for the Road to Saigon rally, organized by the Endurance Rally Association. Some of its more renowned events include the Peking to Paris rally which happened a few years ago. I did not know about the previous time they were in Singapore for the Road to Mandalay rally, and I almost missed this again had I not gotten wind of it through Facebook. Despite wasting $7 to go to Capella Hotel in Sentosa, the scene that greeted my eyes was worth the money spent.

There were a total of 29 cars taking part, which was lower than that of the Mandalay rally. I was able to recognise most of the cars there, having seen their variants before. However, there were a few that left me stumped. I was attracted to this particular car, partly because of its unrecognizable logo and its boxiness of course. It was only after the event that I learnt about this 1974 Leyland P76 Super.

It started out with the formation of the British Motor Corporation (Australia) in 1954, following the foundation of the BMC in the UK in 1952. British Leyland was established in 1969 and after a series of mergers, Leyland Motor Corporation of Australia was created in 1972. If you are not aware, cars produced in different divisions of the parent company were often not identical as a result of consumer needs and developmental progress.

For a car with a short production life, it has a relatively colourful history. Leyland executives started off with a plan to capture a slice of the full-size car market, which had been dominated by Holden and Chrysler. The little English cars offered were no match for the long distances and poor terrain of Australian roads. Various designs were thought out but were deemed unfeasible. In 1969, they were given the go-ahead to build a large car. It was also discovered that they were in severe deficit, and were hedging their survival on the car's success.

The car design was thought up on a clean sheet, with contributions from Giovanni Michelotti [a renowned car designer]. Its name was derived from the car's code name of "Project 76", while others have proposed that it was the first 3 digits of Lord Donald Stokes' National Service number [former chairman of British Leyland]. It had a wide, flat wedge shape and an exceptionally large boot that could store a 200-litre barrel!

Production began in 1973, but it quickly gained a bad reputation. There were difficulties maintaining quality controls and issues such as loose-fitting doors. Although people were attracted by the spaciousness and smooth driving, the initial failures led to much derision against it--even former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam called it a "dud". Imagine if the most powerful person in your country expresses his/her dislike about a certain car...would you still buy it?

Coupled with production problems at the Zetland plant and the oil crisis, demand for the P76 plummeted and production ended in 1975. There were two main variants produced, a Deluxe and a Super edition, although there were a few coupes and station wagons made. The Super model was distinguished from the lower Deluxe specification by its 4 headlights compared to 2 for the other. It was powered by a 4416cc Rover V8 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 180km/h with an acceleration of 10.3 seconds [0-100km/h]. It was 4878mm long and weighed 1305kg.

A total of 18,007 P76s were made, of which only 1,047 was the Super 4-speed manual V8. This specimen has featured in many races and is driven by Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson. Crown is currently the oldest member taking part in the rally, at 84 years of age! You can follow their journey here as they make their way to Saigon! It has a roll cage at the rear and it carries a New South Wales club permit licence plate. I believe most of you have not heard of it before--it was purely for the Australian market and I don't think any made it to Singapore. It's pretty cool tearing up the road in such a unique machine--despite its unremarkable looks, the P76 is "anything but average"!

19 February 2018

More than an old car #55: Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit 2

I admit Rolls-Royce models are always a sight to behold, even for the newer models. It can somehow demand you to take a second, or third look--the sleekness of the exterior, its imposing size, and even the customised interior. It is interesting to note that no two RRs are alike as each model is made according to customers' specifications. It is on this note that I want to introduce you to this stately 1992 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit 2.

The Silver Spirit was first introduced in 1980 as the first of a new generation of models. It carried over styling similarities with the previous Silver Shadow [which I covered back then]--new changes included a more rounded and less upright appearance. Furthermore, it was the first car to have the disappearing Spirit of Ecstasy logo, which could sink into the radiator shell. The 2nd-generation Silver Spirit was first made in 1989 and it featured an active suspension system, where the vertical wheel height was adjusted along with the road's condition. It was powered by a 6750cc RR L410 V8 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 202km/h with an acceleration of 10.6 seconds [0-100km/h]. It was 5.27m long and weighed a whopping 2350kg.

Production ended in 1995 with 1152 made, of which only 417 were in RHD. There seems to be at least 3 other specimens here based on my knowledge. I specifically chose this as its nice number plate coincides with my 55th post! I'm really grateful for all your continued support and do stay tuned to more cars coming your way!

12 February 2018

More than an old car #54: Lamborghini Espada

Mention Lamborghini and many people would think of the flashy cars speeding down Orchard Road on a weekend, or be involved in some dramatic accident. It has given Ferrari a run for its money as buyers are attracted to the raw power and beauty of these 'bulls'. However, Lamborghini is not only known for its latest models but also the ones before that paved the way, such as this 1972 Lamborghini Espada Series 2.

It all began when Ferrucio Lamborghini founded Lamborghini Trattori in 1947. He gained much wealth from his tractor manufacturing business and developed a taste for luxury cars, including that of Ferrari. After buying a few of them, he was displeased by their performance and felt that they were merely 'track cars with poor interiors'. He raised the issues to Enzo Ferrari, who dismissed his concerns. Upset, he proceeded to establish Lamborghini Automobili in 1963 so as to compete with competitors of its day. The company entered bankruptcy in 1978 and was bought over by Chrysler in 1987. It briefly went under ownership by some Indonesian businessmen before it was bought over by Audi since 1998.

Interestingly, despite being an Italian brand, most Lamborghini models have names that are related to Spanish bullfighting. This was because Mr Lamborghini had visited a ranch belonging to Don Eduardo Miura, a renowned breeder of Spanish fighting bulls, and was impressed by the animals. As a result, he adopted the bull as the mascot and even named the iconic Lamborghini Miura after that family.

The Espada was first produced in 1968 and was designed by Marcello Gandini at Bertone. Due to its low roof at only 1.18m tall, one had to adopt a weird toad-like position behind the wheel. Its name is derived from the Spanish word for "sword", or the sword that the torero uses to kill the bull in bullfighting. It was able to seat 4 adults comfortably and it could serve as a practical family car. What struck me the most was its enormous windows that belied its size. Even though it was strictly not a "2+2" [2 doors with 2 seats at the back], you could be forgiven for thinking it was one. The Series 2 was made between 1970-1972. It was powered by a 3929cc V12 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 250km/h and an acceleration of 6.9 seconds [0-100km/h]. It was 4.73m long and weighed 1635kg.

Production of the Espada ended in 1978 with 1217 made, of which only 121 Series 2s were in RHD. This specimen has been imported from the UK, and it seems to be 1 of 2 that exists on our shores. The only catch is that both are currently not registered.

Previous registration number in the UK

Owning a Lamborghini may be out of reach for us mere mortals, especially when it is an old bull. Due to the myriad of mechanical problems besieging Italian cars of that era, it is really a huge investment by the owner for bringing it to Singapore no less! Espadas were the most popular Lamborghini until the arrival of the Countach. It is surprisingly practical for daily usage--even most Lambos today aren't suitable for carrying 4 people! The value of the Espada has been increasing due to its rarity and unique proposition--do keep a lookout for this piece of unlikely luxury!

5 February 2018

More than an old car #53: Volvo Amazon/122S

Previously, I discussed about the sturdy Volvo 240 series and how it cemented it's reputation as a tank in disguise. Volvo has a longer history than most of us think and I was pleasantly surprised to see this pristine 1966 Volvo Amazon 122S out of the blue!

The Volvo Amazon was first produced in 1956 and it took styling cues from US cars from the 1950s. For example, it had visible tailfins and pronounced "shoulders" [the surface between the top part and slightly below the side windows]. Originally, it was named the "Amason", which was derived from the female amazon warriors in Greek mythology. However, the German bike manufacturer Kreidler had launched a moped called the Amazone and had claimed sole right to the name. As a result, Volvo was only allowed to use the 'Amazon' name on in the Nordic markets--it was known in export markets as the less remarkable 122.

The Amazon/122 was available as a 4-door sedan, 2-door coupe and a 5-door station wagon. It was equipped with three-point seatbelts, and was the first car in the world to do so. A unique feature was that the handbrake was located right beside the driver's door, as it was anticipated that this would free up more space. The 122S was powered by a 1778cc inline-4 engine and mated to a 4-speed manual transmission, allowing it to reach a top speed of 148km/h with an acceleration of 14.4 seconds [0-60mph]. It weighed 1090kg and was 4.45m long.

Production ended in 1970, with more than 234,000 4-door sedans made. The Amazon has gained classic status, notwithstanding its visually pleasing shape, its excellent performance and its reliability despite its age. This specimen seems to be the only one in Singapore and it is up for sale. It seems to have its original registration number plate, giving it a nice vintage touch. Volvo may have a reputation for being driven by boring people eg lecturers and writers, but it is never boring driving a vehicle with so much character. This is one car that will turn more heads than the newer models today!