27 October 2019

More than an old car #121: Panther Kallista

Although I would consider myself as being able to identify how old a car is, some cars that I've seen makes the age prediction hard, such as this 1983 Panther Kallista!

The Panther Westwinds Company (commonly known as Panther) was founded in 1972 by Robert Jankel, a British designer for limousines and armoured cars. It enjoyed success throughout the 1970s, specialising in retro-styled cars based on mechanical components of standard production cars. Most of the body shells were made of fibreglass, though a few Panther cars were made to a higher standard. Interestingly, they were also engaged to make a hovercraft using engines from Honda Gold Wing motorcycles: the plan continued in some secrecy but it disappeared when the company collapsed in 1980. Panther was sold to Kim Yong-Chul, then vice-chairman of Korea's Jindo Group. Production restarted in 1981 with a flurry of vehicles made, including the Kallista.

In 1987, Panther was sold to the Ssangyong Group: although production of the Kallista ended in 1990, a few units were made in South Korea up till 1992, as the revitalisation project was not successful. It was transferred under ownership of Daewoo in 1999, but Jankel managed to buy the Panther name back in 2001. However, he passed away in 2005, signifying the demise of an unusual brand.

The Kallista was the replacement model for the Lima and was first introduced in 1982. It took styling cues from classic Morgan and Allard cars, while using a series of Ford engines. The modern front chin spoiler helps with aerodynamics although it looks somewhat out of place with the styling. It was also noted to have relatively poor cushioning and restricted luggage space, according to a review in 1984. This unit was powered by a 1597 cc CVH i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 170 km/h with an acceleration of 11.5 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 3905 mm long and weighed 870 kg.

Production of the Kallista ended with around 1,437 made. This is 1 of 6 units remaining in Singapore, although I have yet to see the others personally. Kallistas were sold here by Autohouse Trading Pte Ltd, a distributor that also sold TVR cars too. At S$76,455 [or S$149,165 in today's money], it was a car not meant for anybody but multi-car owners who were fine without creature comforts. This particular unit is the most active: it tends to appear during events and partly because it still runs on normal plates. Personally, this car always confuses me: it is hard to tell immediately that it is an old car, rather than a modern-day neo-classic vehicle instead. It still looks brand new and belies its actual age. That said, it is an interesting car to see up close; maybe you'll see it soon!

21 October 2019

More than an old car #120: Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO

Japanese cars really took off in the 1970s with revolutionary designs such as the Datsun 240Z and Toyota Celica. Naturally, they continue to be hot favourites among collectors today. However, there are plenty of less popular siblings that fall by the wayside, such as this 1972 Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO!

The Galant GTO (Gran Touring Omologato) was first introduced as a sporty coupe version of the Colt Galant sedan. "Galant" is French for "brave and brilliant", a sentiment that Mitsubishi wanted to impress on the public. Mitsubishi designer Hiroaki Kamisago, who was studying design in California, took inspiration from contemporary muscle cars such as the Ford Mustang and Pontiac Firebird: it featured a long hood, a raised cut-off ducktail rear and round quad-headlights. Furthermore, the unique reverse-slant nose produced an image of sharp, skillful driving despite its small size. The 3 side-intake outlets and the curves along the base of the window further increased its aerodynamics. It was the second Mitsubishi car to feature roll-down side windows and a pillarless design: you can see that the glass windows are touching each other without anything in between.

The GTO was unveiled to the public in 1969 as the Galant GTX-1, and sales began in 1970. In 1972, the engines were upgraded and a facelift was carried out, most notably a 1-piece slat-style grille and 3-piece rear lights. In 1975, the grille was changed to a honeycomb pattern and the engines were further upgraded. This unit was powered by a 1597 cc 4G32 i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 180 km/h with an acceleration of 10.2 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4125 mm long and weighed 950 kg.

Production of the Galant GTO ended in 1977 with 95,720 units made. However, only about 150 pre-facelift models are known to exist today, making this an unlikely rarity. Most owners switched over to other Mitsubishi offerings such as the Sigma and those who continued to hold on to them treated it as a hobby, not for daily use. This unit was imported from Thailand and registered in 2018, although I am not sure how much it is being driven currently. Galant GTOs were sold in Singapore back then but they were not popular due to a higher price, compared to the Toyota Celica. Furthermore, they are underappreciated and relatively unknown, thus contributing to their low numbers. It was nice to come across an obscure classic and that someone here actually appreciates it; maybe you'll get to see it soon!

14 October 2019

Historic classic rides #2: Rolls Royce Silver Wraith State Landaulette by Hooper

State cars have always been a source of fascination for me: how the head of state traveled could indicate a lot about his/her prestige and, to an extent, the loyalty to the country. Most office-holders will travel around in the respective car brand from the country, but for those that do not have an automobile industry, it is also interesting to see what cars are used too. I was inspired to find out more about these special cars from an Instagram post showing how the vehicles featured in our National Day celebrations have changed over the decades, and was I surprised when I discovered this 1954 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith State Landaulette by Hooper that existed here before!

The Silver Wraith was the first post-war car made by RR, introduced in 1946. It replaced the earlier RR Wraith made between 1938 to 1939 (where 1 unit exits here!), although in keeping with the mood of post-war austerity, the size was somewhat reduced. England after the war had more urgent requirements than luxury cars: there was a shortage of raw materials and even petrol was rationed. As a result, RR was initially hesitant to take on this project. However, it was decided that both RR and Bentley cars, which were strictly separate series previously, would have parts that were interchangeable so as to cut costs.

Some changes included a more rigid frame, a newer type of gearbox and chromium-plated cylinder bores for the engine. As with RR cars of that period, only the chassis was provided and the bodywork were supplied by various independent coachbuilders: it was unlikely that 2 units looked alike due to customer specifications and requests. The Silver Wraith was available in 2 different wheelbases: 3226 mm and 3378 mm. Depending on the bodywork placed on the car, it could easily exceed 5 m in length. It was powered by a 4566 cc i6 engine, which was pretty huge considering the time period. Production of the Silver Wraith ended in 1958, of which 1,244 were the short-wheelbase version and 639 were the long-wheelbase version.

This particular unit [chassis number #BLW92] is not a typical Silver Wraith, but a one-off State Landaulette version built by Hooper & Co. The coachbuilder had been commissioned in 1953 to build this car, and other than its unique collapsible roof at the rear, it also featured a internal telephone, seats coated in special plastic to deter termites and teak covering the dashboard etc. In all, it weighed an estimated 2340 kg when it was sent to Singapore in 1954! The Governor of Singapore had used a RR Phantom III as his official car and this Silver Wraith was its replacement.

Throughout its time here, it was used for official duties such as ferrying our first President, Yusof bin Ishak: he is most well-known for gracing his visage on our dollar notes. Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh also travelled in it when he visited Singapore in 1959. Interestingly, it does not sport a number plate but a crown insignia instead. You can see how the landaulette would work in the above picture.

Unfortunately, it was sent back to Europe some time after 1965, where it was owned by a automobile collector: as seen below he took it to the Swiss Alps in one of his many adventures. It was also loaned for use in official ceremonies back in the UK as well: the late Queen Mother and Princess Alexandria travelled in it before. Currently, someone else bought it from the collector and it is now available for wedding rentals and film features, while sporting a nice number plate too.

It boggles the mind to imagine that such a grand, imposing car literally ruled the roads so long ago. Such a sight would be very uncommon nowadays, as flashiness is generally frowned upon in the current economic climate. This was a car that commanded immediate respect from the poor to the rich, and it continues to strike awe even today. It would have been really cool to see it still around here, but it seems like good things must come to an end. I hope this has given you a sneak peek of the over-the-top grandeur that we used to possess!

[Credits to National Archives of Singapore, rrab.com and Google Images]

7 October 2019

More than an old car #119: BMW 327

There has been a massive backlog of cars that I want to write about, and the ones I have covered so far are barely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ones I have found.  Let me focus on showcasing one of the "big boys" such as this 1937 BMW 327!

The BMW 327 was first introduced in 1937 and was based off a shortened version of its predecessor, the 326. As with cars of that era, it was noted for its distinctive streamlined flowing style and the iconic BMW grille. It was initially launched as a cabriolet, although a coupe version appeared in 1938. The 327 was equipped with an innovative hydraulic braking system and an advanced suspension, contributing to its popularity as a sporty cruiser.

In the 1930s, the main plant was located at Eisenach, where bigger cars such as the 327 and motorcycles were made. Production of the 327 was halted in 1941, as motorcycles and aircraft engines were made for the war effort. This drew the attention of the Allied forces and the subsequent partial destruction of the factory. After the war, the region where the factory was located belonged to the Soviets, who did not want to return the factory to BMW. A protracted dispute arose concerning the title of the BMW brand and its assets. It was only in 1952 when it was determined that cars made in the Eisenach plant after the war would be badged as an EMW instead (with a red-and-white colouration).

The 327 was powered by a 1971 cc M78 i6 engine, although a higher-powered version was also available (known as the 327/28). As a result, it could reach a top speed of 140 km/h, which was considered impressive back then. It was 4500 mm long and weighed 1100 kg.

Production of the 327 ended in 1955 with the introduction of the BMW 503. A total of 1,965 were built, of which 1,396 were made before the war. This unit is a LHD model and is thus eligible for registration since it was made before 1940. Although I saw it a few years ago, I took this opportunity to take a better picture and appreciate its beauty. It is evident that this is only driven on special events and it looks well taken care of. Not every day can you see this on the road, and you should keep a lookout for events such like this!