30 September 2019

More than an old car #118: Daihatsu Fellow

Old Japanese cars are a rarer sight compared to continental models, partly due to a lack of awareness and popularity. Performance issues also crop up every now and then, thus it could be understood why they are not well-loved. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to come across this mint-condition 1969 Daihatsu Fellow SS outside a showroom!

The Daihatsu Fellow was first introduced in 1966 as a kei car, which attracted Japanese consumers due to lower taxes payable. It was designed to seat 4 adults comfortably despite the rather small box-shaped body, and one could load/unload baggage in the trunk easily because of a hinge outside the car. Interestingly, it was also the first Japanese car to feature rectangular headlights. It was offered as a sedan, wagon, mini truck and a panel van.

 As Honda had released the N360 around the same time, Daihatsu attempted to capitalise by making its engine more powerful, leading to the introduction of the SS trim. Although the Fellow helped Daihatsu to increase its market share of light vehicles, it failed to dominate the market. Various facelifts were carried out, most notably the grille design and a front bumper that was mounted higher in 1969. It was powered by a 356 cc ZM 2-cylinder engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 115 km/h with an acceleration of 25.9 seconds [0-100 km/h]. As a kei car, the Fellow was only 2990 mm long and weighed 495 kg.

Production of the Fellow ended in 1970, where it was replaced by a revamped Fellow Max. This particular unit was apparently the 1st Daihatsu car that was imported by Sin Tien Seng, our local Daihatsu dealer in 1969. It has been preserved and exhibited at their 30th anniversary event in 1999. Up close, you could see how rudimentary the car was: no-frills dashboard, simple seats and non-fancy steering wheel. None have survived for so long, probably due to rust issues that plagued Japanese cars during that era. It is a very interesting piece of history that is worth remembering, since this is not a very well-known car even among JDM fans. Perhaps your parents or relatives have driven one before when times were simpler, hope that this is a walk down memory lane for them!

23 September 2019

Miscellaneous classics #3: Ford Econovan/Mazda Bongo E2500

It has been a while since I wrote about old trucks here, and after finding out that Ford Econovans/Mazda E2500 trucks are getting rarer, it compelled me to at least acknowledge their existence in Singapore!

The Ford Econovan, primarily known as the Mazda Bongo/E2500, was first introduced in 1966 with van and truck versions available. Its name is derived from the bongo, a species of antelope living in Central Africa. From 1977, it was exported to other countries such as South Korea and known by a variety of names. The 3rd generation of the Bongo appeared in 1983, and over its lifespan, it was subjected to facelifts and engine upgrades.

This particular unit is a 1999 model and it featured a 2499 cc Mazda WL i4 engine, but as with commercial vehicles here, its speed is restricted to 60 km/h. It was 4475 mm long and weighed 1490 kg while unladen, but could accommodate almost twice its weight with an overall laden weight of 2860 kg. Curiously, it sports a relatively new registration number: it could have changed hands recently to be used till its lifespan was up. The Mazda truck is a 1997 model and while it had the same specifications, it has a different front-end design since it was made under Mazda licensing. It had also been deregistered when I saw it, but somehow it still ended up on the road.

Production of the Econovan/Bongo ended in 1999, where it was replaced by a newer generation. I may be sentimental, but personally it looks better than the current lorries these days due to its simplistic, angular looks. Whatever units that are left here are certainly very minuscule and are due for scrapping in the next 2 years. Certainly, it is a vehicle that many would not bother with since it is so dispensable, but at least I have captured its flickering existence in its 20-year lifespan here. Maybe this will allow you to take a closer look at our commercial vehicles here and see them before they are gone!

16 September 2019

More than an old car #117: Austin/Morris/Rover Mini

Most people will associate the words "classic car" to the VW Beetle, and also the Austin/Morris/Rover Mini as well! They are a key part of British culture as we know it, notably through Mr Bean, toys and T-shirts from London. I will try to summarise the wealth of information out there regarding this famous classic, but you can read up more if you are interested!

The Mini came about due to a fuel shortage caused by the Suez Canal crisis in 1956. Small cars, such as the Fiat 500, were favoured even in the UK. Leonard Lord, the head of BMC, detested the foreign cars and wished to introduce a 'proper miniature car'. His requirement was that the car should fit within a box measuring 3 m*1.2 m*1.2 m, and the passenger space should occupy 1.8 m out of the 3 m length. Alec Issigonis, a car designer in BMC, was appointed to come up with the design. He had been working on a few projects, one of which was a very small car called the XC9003. With the dictum by Lord, XC9003 became the priority and the Mini was unveiled in 1959.

Many features were designed to increase passenger space: sliding windows allowed single-skin doors to be fitted, increasing elbow room, and the boot lid was hinged at the bottom so that the car could be driven with it open to increase luggage space. There were legitimate concerns about passenger safety due to its size and it was partly the reason why the Mini was withdrawn from the US market in 1968. The Mini was initially marketed as the Austin and Morris Mini, and numerous versions were created throughout its lifetime. It was a strong seller in its native UK and eventually achieved great popularity worldwide, having been featured in films such as "The Italian Job" and great success in motorsport rallies.

Minis were powered by a variety of engines, and as mentioned previously, came in different styles. The blue unit is a Austin Clubman model, as seen by the more squarish frontal look. The yellow unit is a Morris Mini and the red one is a Rover Mini, although they look alike to the untrained eye. Rover Minis were powered by a 1,275 cc i4 engine while the other Mins had a 998 cc engine instead. As it was designed to be a family car, it was meant to be easy to maintain and work on. Its cuteness also endeared itself to women especially, who were more comfortable with smaller cars.

Production of the Mini ended in 2000, when its parent company Rover Group was broken up by BMW. A total of 5,387,862 cars were made and the subsequent Mini Hatch capitalised on the success of its predecessor. Minis were sold in Singapore by Malayan Motors from 1961, where it also contributed to the local motorsports community in the Singapore GP back in the early 60s and 70s. Even till today, there are quite a handful of Minis still on the roads and are perennial favourites at classic car shows along with the VW Beetle. Incidentally, there is one near my neighbourhood and I see it everyday, so I would believe they could also be hiding around yours as well!

9 September 2019

More than an old car #116: Proton Perdana

Having covered cars that originate from places around the globe, I decided to focus on something closer to home ie our neighbour, Malaysia. It was by chance that I saw this somewhat older car with a distinctive front end, and naturally I was attracted to it. After doing further research, I realised that I had seen similar units like this 1999 Proton Perdana here many years ago...

The Perdana was developed in response to a need for a larger, more luxurious car after the launch of the popular Saga and Wira; its name is the Malay word for 'prime'. It was unveiled to the public in 1995 and served as competition to similar cars such as the Toyota Camry and Nissan Cefiro. Due to the extensive collaboration with Mitsubishi, the Perdana was based off the 7th-generation Mitsubishi Eterna/Galant, with only minor internal changes for the Malaysian market. It was also the first Proton car to feature cruise control, anti-lock braking system and power windows, which contributed to excessive demand in the first few months.

In 1998, the Perdana was revamped although it was still part of the 1st generation: it featured a newly-designed front end, a body kit, a suspension system tuned by Lotus and more importantly an engine upgrade. A major facelift happened in 2003, with a front grille resembling that of Alfa Romeo and modified bumpers among other changes. This unit features the smaller grille ie pre-facelift version: it was equipped with a 1997 cc Mitsubishi 6A12 V6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 205 km/h with an acceleration of 13 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4610 mm long and weighed 1375 kg.

Production of the Perdana ended in 2010 where it was replaced by the 2nd generation model. Throughout its lifetime, more than 77,000 were sold, of which around 53,000 had the V6 engine. They were first sold in Singapore in 1999 by Cycle and Carriage, a big dealer that primarily distributes Mercedes and Mitsubishi cars here. However, some units were recalled in 2001 due to a ball joint problem, and this sounded the death knell for the Perdana's survival here. None are known to exist locally while you can still find a handful in Malaysia.

This is definitely a car that lacks recognition outside of Asia: even in the UK and Australia, Protons were not favoured by the general public. Like what I always do, I hope to preserve its existence on our roads even though it may not have any sentimental value to most of you. This is what I set out to achieve with my blog from the very beginning; now you may be able to identify it!

2 September 2019

Historic classic rides #1: Nissan Cedric 330/ Datsun 220C

(Credits to Wong Ye Yong on Facebook)

For this particular piece, I decided to write about old cars in Singapore that I have not seen personally before. Previously, I preferred to write about cars that I had photographed as it felt original. However, I was also attracted by the variety of rides that existed before my time, which subsequently became extinct. I figured it could be a nice history lesson of the old cars that existed before some of you were even born, and it was also due to popular demand. Let me kick off this series with the Nissan Cedric 330/Datsun 220C taxis!

The 330 was the 4th generation of the Cedric range and was first introduced in 1976. It still carried a distinctly American styling, as Japanese designers were still relying on continental cars as inspiration. In export markets including Singapore, it was known as the Datsun 200C/220C/260C/280C, with reference to its engine capacity. As with previous generations of Cedrics, they were also popular as taxis as seen in the picture. These units were powered by a 2164 cc SD22 diesel i4 engine, allowing it to reach a theoretical top speed of 170 km/h. It was more likely, however, that their top speed was controlled in some way. The Cedric 330 was 4690 mm long and weighed 1420 kg. It was first sold here in 1976 by Tan Chong Motors, our local Nissan dealer, where it was made available for civilian use too.

Production of the 330 ended in 1979, where it was replaced by the 5th-generation 430. These cars here belonged to the Singapore Airport Bus Services (SABS), which also operated a fleet of buses that ferried tourists from Changi Airport to various hotels. SABS was first formed in 1977, where it was under the management of Singapore Bus Services (SBS), which is the bus company that we know of today. While the bus services were well-received, this was not the case for the taxi branch: many Singaporeans had the misconception that it only carried tourists, and the fact that it was not licensed to enter the CBD during morning peak hours also hurt its reputation.

SABS had a fleet of 200 taxis and drivers could rent them at S$31 per day [S$61 in today's money]: the drivers would pay only for the fuel while SABS bore the maintenance costs. Compared to its competitors with rental rates between S$36-38 [S$71-75 today], it was attractive to potential drivers. There were special taxi stands for SABS taxis, where they could pick up passengers during the evening rush hour. However, SABS incurred much losses over the years and it faded quietly off the radar some time in 2004.

This concept was rather interesting during its time but with the rise of ride-hailing services, such a service would not last long today. Nonetheless, it is a unique piece of history that many people may not be aware of: I had to read up about SABS online initially. Furthermore, none of the Datsun 220Cs have survived today, as with most Japanese cars of that era. It would have been lovely to see one still hanging on all this while...and I hope that this was informative for you!

PS: if you have old pictures of your own car/family car (ideally already extinct in Singapore), you are welcome to send them to me and I'll try to feature it!