24 June 2019

More than an old car #107: Renault Megane I

It is natural that most people will go for the more well-known classic cars, and it is something that I do as well. Yet, I do keep an eye out for nondescript cars as well and I was rewarded with seeing these rare 1999 Renault Megane Is!

The Renault corporation was founded in 1899 by Louis Renault and his brothers. Initially, they started out making taxis and became France's largest car manufacturer. They also ventured into car racing after seeing the publicity it could generate from the activity. Previously, the smallest Renault car on the market cost the equivalent of 10 years pay of an average worker, so they introduced mass production techniques to make it more accessible to the public. Its logo, in the shape of a diamond, appeared in 1925 and it signified Renault's desire to project a strong and consistent corporate image. The yellow background appeared in 1946 after the company was nationalised. During World War 1, it branched out to the manufacture of aircraft engines and bullets, and its factories were heavily bombed during World War 2. Louis Renault passed away in 1944 and his company was formally nationalised.

After the war, Renault enjoyed a period of commercial resurgence, with popular cars such as the Renault 4 and the compact Renault 5. It also established itself as a worthy competitor in racing and partnered with American Motors Corporation (AMC) to enter the US market with mixed success. In the 1980s, it underwent a restructuring exercise by cutting costs and selling non-essential assets. It was privatized in 1996 and entered into an alliance with Nissan and Mitsubishi in 1999, which together sells 1 in 9 vehicles worldwide. Most Renault cars remain popular in Europe and it is well-known for being economical.

The Megane started out life as the X64 and was destined to replace the Renault 19. Prototypes were designed back in 1990 and the first production car was unveiled in 1995. Its name is derived from the Greek root "mega" (great) and was supposed to evoke a futuristic female personality. Renault placed great emphasis on safety, where they included a 3-point seatbelt for the middle rear occupant, driver and passenger airbags among other features. A variety of body styles and engines were available, such as sedan, hatchback, estate coupe and cabriolet. A facelift was carried out in 1999, featuring the teardrop headlights like these units here.

The sedan was powered by a 1598 cc K7M i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 191 km/h, with an acceleration of 12.4 seconds [0-100 km/h]. The cabriolet was powered by the same engine, but it could reach a top speed of 200 km/h with an acceleration of 10.1 seconds [0-100 km/h]. The sedan was 4436 mm long and weighed 1105 kg, while the cabriolet was 4081 mm long and weighed 1100 kg.

Production of the 1st-generation Megane ended in 2002 with 5 million made in total, of which only 65,000 cabriolets were sold. However, as with unloved old cars here, I presume there are only less than 5 in Singapore. The sedan were first sold here by Exklusiv Auto in 1997 after they premiered a LHD unit in their showroom. For some reason, French cars were not that popular, partly due to prohibitively expensive parts and low resale value. As a result, many were scrapped upon reaching 10 years old.

It seems that the convertible has some sort of funky bodykit: it definitely wasn't a standard feature. What I inferred from looking at the convertible was that it had been de-registered for quite some time, apparently long enough for leaves to gather in the engine bay. Recently, I received information from the previous owner of the cabriolet, who shared that it was never officially sold here. Instead, only 3 were imported and this particular one was the last one standing! He had owned the car for 12 years, where he fitted the bodykit to make it more fun to drive.

The sedan was also de-registered as recently as April, and I wasn't aware of their existence until then. Some cars are indeed less collectible than others, and this is exactly what I aim to achieve with my blog: to document all kinds of old cars before they are gone for good!

17 June 2019

More than an old car #106: Alfa Romeo 2600 Spider

Once a while, I do come across old cars that turn out to be special in their own way, be it their rarity, their styling or sometimes both. This 1964 Alfa Romeo 2600 Spider ticks all boxes when I chanced upon it unexpectedly!

The 2600 (internal code Tipo 106) was first introduced in 1962, as a replacement for its predecessor, the 2000 (Tipo 102). The main difference was the larger-capacity engine along with minor facelifts to the various body types: sedan (Berlina), convertible (Spider) and coupe (Sprint). For the Spider, it featured a revised grille pattern and a single hood scoop, compared with 2 previously.

However, the 2600 did not sell well in general: it did not stand out from the current crop of Alfa cars and had poorer handling due to the heavier engine. The styling for the Spider was perceived to be more aristocratic, with comparisons made with Ferraris of that time. As such, 2600 Spiders have become more collectible today. It was powered by a 2584 cc straight-6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 200 km/h with an acceleration of 9.8 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4500 mm long and weighed 1280 kg.

Production for the Spider ended in 1965, while the entire 2600 range was ended in 1968. 2,255 Spiders were made, of which only 103 were in RHD! This particular unit has been imported from the UK, still carrying its original registration, and it should be the only one here currently. I do not know whether it has been registered in Singapore as of yet between the 2 years since I saw this, although it is likely that the lucky owner may let it free on our roads due to its rarity. However, finding spare parts and restoration works for this car would be quite tedious, since they were made in small amounts. Perhaps you may see it soon..!

10 June 2019

More than an old car #105: Toyota Crown Comfort taxi

Taxis are an ubiquitous part of our public transport system and we rely on them to bring us wherever we want to go. Before the advent of ride-hailing services, the taxi was the only way one could travel to more inaccessible places, although one may have to endure the exasperated glare from the driver. I believe this particular taxi is easily recognizable to all Singaporeans: pretty sure most of us have sat in one before when one could not afford to waste any time travelling on buses and the MRT. It was a part of my childhood and I had fond memories of travelling in this 2006 Toyota Crown Comfort taxi!

The Crown Comfort was based off the Toyota Crown S150 and the Mark II X80, and it was designed in an effort to return to the original purpose of the Crown, which was to serve as a taxi. To increase interior space and reduce unnecessary costs, the dashboard fitments and seats were replaced with cheaper plastic-based versions. At the same time, its sister model the Toyota Comfort was also made but it was available only in Japan: it was the shorter version at 4590 mm long.

Comfort taxis in Singapore were powered by a Toyota 5L 2986 cc i4 engine, allowing it to reach a theoretical top speed of 140 km/h. It was 4695 mm long and weighed 1310 kg. The boot space was enormous, even when compared with the current taxis today.

Production of the Crown Comfort ended in 2018 and you could still see them in Japan and Hong Kong. However, all units in Singapore were phased out in 2014 as they were unable to meet the new Euro 4 diesel emissions standards. Since taxis here have a lifespan of 8 years, the 2006 model year cabs were the last survivors. A few units ended up in hospitals like this one here, where they were used for rehabilitation purposes. Certain features were removed such as the engine and the gear-stick. It carries a brown plate, which is a special seal fixed on by our motoring authority for vehicles to be put on display. For some reason, this scheme is not listed officially on the website and it entails a rather troublesome process.
This article covered this particular unit in more detail, including interior shots which I was not able to get. I was also aware of another unit that was scrapped recently and the article is attached below:

Apparently, this was the last unit that was on public display here, a far cry from its heyday in 2006 where it made up 80% (19,000 units) of the taxi population. I understand that this one has been scrapped very recently and it has been replaced by a Hyundai Sonata. There are still a few units but under private collections.

Some of you may have fond memories travelling in one of them: for me it was the anticipation of travelling to and fro my grandfather's house loaded with many goods. I still miss the boxy shape and how spacious it was compared to the newer Hyundai Sonatas and i40s today, especially the unique smell of polyester seats combined with the air freshener. Through this article, I aim to preserve a piece of heritage that may become intangible in the near future; I hope that this is a good trip down memory lane!

4 June 2019

More than an old car #104: Subaru Rex/Viki M80

Cars come in all shapes and sizes, and it is the diversity that makes this blog more interesting. Small cars are generally not that popular because of its price: why pay so much for a midget when you could get a larger one by paying a little more? This has also made them an endangered breed on our roads, just like this 1991 Subaru Viki M80!

The Subaru Rex, was first introduced in 1972 as a replacement for the long-lived but outdated Subaru 360. Its name is derived from the Latin for 'king' and appealed to the young as a result of its wedge shape. The 3rd-generation Rex was released in 1986, where it featured mechanical and engine upgrades from its predecessor. A facelift was carried out in 1989, notably with headlights becoming more irregularly shaped.

While engine capacities for Japanese units were capped at 660 cc, export markets featured larger engine sizes. The car was also known as the Viki/M80 overseas as well. It was powered by a 758 cc EN08 i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 136 km/h with an acceleration of 17 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 3275 mm long and weighed 655 kg, which was very compact and light for its size.

Production of the Rex/Viki ended in 1991, with more than 1.9 million made across 3 generations. This unit has disappeared and most likely scrapped just 1 month ago, and I believe there are only 2 left in Singapore. It is a quirky car that still brings one from point A to B, although it was probably not collectible enough for the owner to give it another new lease of life. They were sold by Motorimage Enterprises, our local Subaru dealer and was relatively affordable at S$30,533 [S$54,600 in today's money]. Most people tend to forget about the existence of these less popular cars, and I hope this has been informative for you!