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!