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!