28 January 2019

More than an old car #92: Nissan Cedric Y31 taxi

It is common knowledge that Singapore is not a good place to own cars, partly due to out efficient public transport system. Naturally, this includes the many taxis that we have, from the aforementioned Hyundai Sonatas, Renault Latitudes and more recently, Mercedes E-Class cars as well. When I was growing up, taking a taxi was a big deal because it was more affordable to travel on buses and our MRT trains. I have fond memories of sitting in them and also remembering some of the advertisements on them. Some time back, I got wind of an old taxi that was still around from this video, and it was pretty nostalgic to see this 2004 Nissan Cedric Y31 taxi again!

The Nissan Cedric is a large car produced since 1960 and was designed as a mode of upscale transportation. Its name is derived from the main character in the novel Little Lord Fauntleroy, and was chosen by the then-CEO Katsuji Kawamata. Over the years, it has been used as a taxi in Japan, and the Y31 generation was no exception. The Y31 generation, first produced in 1987 was popular among consumers at that time due to the robustness of the Japanese economy. 

For the taxi version, cheaper plastic fittings were installed and the seats were replaced with PVC. Sound proofing was also removed and taxi-related equipment were also installed, such as a radio and tachometer. Over the years, changes were made to both the exterior and interior. It was powered by a 2663 cc TD27 i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 185 km/h, with an acceleration of 10.9 seconds [0-100 km/h]. However, all taxis had a speed limiter, where a bell would chime (annoyingly) at speeds above 100 km/h. It was 4690 mm long and weighed 1380 kg

Somehow, the Y31 Cedric maintained its boxy look throughout, but despite the poor aerodynamics, it served its job of carrying passengers and cargo comfortably. This is a feature that is missing in taxis today: many have griped about the lack of leg room available. This unit is made before 2005, since the side indicators are still located at the front instead of being further behind. It was previously used as a form of rehab to the elderly, by training them to get in and out of a car. As mentioned in the notice stuck to the window, it was donated after it had run down its 8-year lifespan on the road, which feels too short in my opinion.

SMRT is recognizable to us as our train operator, but it also runs a fleet of taxis up till today. The door could be opened and I recalled the feeling of being in this type of taxi when I was younger. I could almost smell the generic 'taxi smell': a combination of air freshener and PVC I think. For some reason, this taxi has not been used for quite a long time: compared to the view in the video, what I saw was a lot more run-down and dirty, along with mosquitoes inside. 

The steering wheel was quite well-worn: how many taxi drivers have sat behind the wheel? According to the odometer, this unit has clocked 660,034 km: this is pretty amazing even if we consider its role as a taxi! How many places has it been to and what adventures/close calls had it experienced? The car interior may look dated with the angular dashboard, but it is something you won't get to see in cars these days...

Production of the Y31 Cedric taxi ended in 2014, some 20 years after the end of the passenger Y31 Cedric. However, Singapore stopped using Cedrics some time in 2012 when they did not comply with new emissions regulations. This was the last unit remaining in Singapore as all others have been scrapped. I have heard that this has been removed, and with it an icon that was used by people of all walks of life. I hope that with my documentation, future generations will be able to read up on this unique vehicle that brought us wherever we wanted to, before the days of Grab/Uber. Come to think of it, I should have taken more pictures as well, but I would like to credit the videographer who covered the car in more detail. Hopefully, this has brought back some memories as well for you!

22 January 2019

More than an old car #91: Volkswagen Type 1 (Beetle)

Mention the words "classic car" and it is likely you would think of the Volkswagen Type 1, or commonly known as the 'Beetle'. The VW Beetle is representative of all things retro/classic/vintage: it adorns posters in flea markets, car events and perhaps your neighbour drives one too! It is not too far to say that the Beetle also dominates pop culture: from the hippie movement to Herbie the Beetle and more recently, Bumblebee (!), it has become well-loved and recognised by millions worldwide. The information surrounding the Beetle may be quite daunting, so I hope I've made it easier to understand!

Rather strangely, Adolf Hitler is credited for being the brainchild of the Volkswagen (German for "people's car"). In 1934, Hitler asked Ferdinand Porsche to develop a basic vehicle that could carry 2 adults and 3 children, be able to cruise at 100 km/h, a fuel consumption of less than 7 km per 100 litres and equipped with a air-cooled engine, since antifreeze solution was not commercially available yet. With these in mind, the first prototypes, known as the Porsche Type 60, were made in 1935. A few other prototypes followed until it was halted by the ongoing war. After the war, the factories were in ruins; a British Army officer named Ivan Hirst is also credited for saving the Type 1. He persuaded the British Army to order 20,000 cars, and production increased dramatically over the next decade: the 1 millionth car rolled off the production line in 1955.

The "Beetle" naming convention only came about in 1968, paradoxically coined by The New York Times in 1938 where it described the car as a beetle/bug that would be seen plying the autobahn. Its distinctive round shape was inspired by the flowing lines of the Lincoln Zephyr, and had a good drag coefficient of 0.41 (the lower, the better). As the intention was to produce a car that was utilitarian, the interior featured a painted metal surface, a compact dashboard and a fold-down rear seat among other things.

Over the years, the Beetle experienced changes in its exterior while still maintaining the familiar rounded shape. Compared to the 1972 Beetle in the 1st picture, you can see some differences with this 1957 Beetle. Most notably, the headlights are more upright, the indicators have been moved to the front fenders, the bumpers became more simple and the taillights became distinctively 'tombstone'-like (not visible here).

Most Beetles in Singapore were sold with the 1194 cc B4 engine, which allowed it to reach a top speed of 114 km/h. As a result, they were badged as VW 1200s. In the 1970s, the engine was enlarged to 1493 cc and this allowed the car to reach a higher top speed of 126 km/h. The badging was also changed to VW 1300. Even later models, which featured a taller wrap-around windscreen, were subsequently badged as the VW 1303. Most Beetles were 4079 mm long and weighed around 830 kg.
Other than the conventional 2-door coupe style, a cabriolet version was also made in collaboration with Karmann (a car design company). To compensate for the loss of the top portion, various methods were used to provide the cabriolet with sufficient strength such as reinforced rails and additional beams. The interior was also more luxurious compared to the standard Beetle, such as having ashtrays at the back of the car. Similarly, the exterior design followed the same as the standard Beetle: the red car is a 1953 model and the dark-green car is a 1978 model.

The Beetle is one of the longest-running production cars in modern history: main production in Germany stopped some time between 1978 to 1980, although they were still made in Brazil and Mexico up till 2003! At that time, its spiritual successor, the New Beetle, had been made for more than 5 years. A grand total of 21,529,654 were produced, including more than 330,000 cabriolet versions. The last unit that was made in Mexico was serenaded by a band, commemorating its 65 years of existence and currently resides in the VW museum in Wolfsburg.

The first Beetles were first sold here some time in 1954 and it is amazing that till today, it continues to bring smiles to passer-bys and owners alike. They are the most common classic car in Singapore and I estimate at least 100 of them. Quite a number still sport their original number plates, although there are also a mix of recent imports as well. I believe that if you observe your surroundings, you may find your neighbours who may still own one. VW Beetles will continue to endure as the years go by, and I am confident there will always be some roaming around!

14 January 2019

More than an old car #90: Toyota Cressida X80

Classic Japanese luxury cars are not that common here, partly due to the high road tax one had to pay. To find one that still looks pristine is a big surprise, such as this 1990 Toyota Cressida MX83 here!

The Cressida, or more commonly known as the Mark II, was initially positioned between the more luxurious Crown and the lower-end Corona. It was introduced to the Japanese public in 1968: the naming convention was derived from Jaguar with its "Mark __" series of cars, and was supposed to project it as a luxurious model. The Cressida was formally introduced in 1976 as the model name for export versions: its name comes from the lead character in William Shakespeare's play Troilus and Cressida.

The X80 series Cressida was introduced in 1988. It was well-known for being reliable, good gas mileage and cheap spare parts. However, it began to find fame among drifting enthusiasts, who enjoyed its rear-wheel drive capability. Partly because of its sleek classy style, many were heavily modified by stancing and converting into the outlandish "bosozoku" style. It was powered by a 2366 cc 22R i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 164 km/h, with an acceleration of 13.7 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4690 mm long and weighed 1279 kg.

Production of the MX83 Cressida stopped in 1995. There are still a handful of units left on our roads, making them a dying breed. Interestingly, our late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was driven around in a Cressida, and he is also credited for allowing Toyota to establish itself in Singapore. This unit is a pre-facelift version due to the more fanciful logo on the grille. It's quite heartening to see these non-flashy old cars that are still plodding on here, much respect goes out to them for going against the odds!