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!