28 November 2019

Special feature #2: SG's Toyota Corona

It has been a while since I did a special feature as I did not have the chance to talk to owners previously. I hope to do this once a while, now that I have content. Let me introduce you to this humble 1991 Toyota Corona T170 CD that does not exist anymore...

The Toyota Corona was first introduced way back in 1957, where it was first used as taxis in Japan. Over the years, it evolved gradually to become a popular people's car, including Singapore which received the 3rd-generation model in 1964. Its name is derived from the corona (the scattered light around the sun during a solar eclipse), and it was supposed to signify a 'bright and friendly family car'.

The Corona T170 was the 8th generation model, first released in 1987. It was available in a 4-door sedan and 5-door liftback version and featured a variety of engines. For the Singapore market, we primarily received units powered by a 1587 cc 4A-FE i4 engine, with a choice of automatic or manual gear transmission. The Corona of this generation was larger than its predecessors, up to the 1700 mm maximum width that made it eligible for lower taxes in Japan. It had a facelift in 1989, where the horizontal grille bars became vertical. The T170 Corona was 4480 mm long and weighed 1210 kg.

Production of the T170 Corona ended in 1992, where it was replaced by the T190 model. Borneo Motors, our local Toyota dealer, first sold them in 1988: apparently the managing director sent out video-cassette tapes to 2,000 owners of the Honda Accord, detailing the rally success and improved features of the Corona. Honda got so concerned that they sent 2 executives from Japan to take a look at Borneo Motors's facilities!

This particular unit was owned by a member of the motoring club in my school for a few months: he had recently bought it from a car dealer when he wanted a cheap and economical car to work on. As with a car that old, it broke down a few times and repair costs was dear on a student budget. Coincidentally, I had seen the exact unit 2 years ago (when it was with the previous owners), and SG graciously took a few of us for a short ride around school. It reminded me of the older taxis of the past, especially in a less-common manual transmission. The cloth seats and the audible rumble of the engine was pretty iconic, and the drive was smooth and efficient.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take more pictures even when I saw it around school: it did not occur to me at that time. SG decided to sell it due to a limited budget, even though he had driven it across to Malaysia to display it at a retro car show, among other adventures. However, no one bought it despite the discounts he gave, and it was sadly scrapped back in May when its lifespan was up.

The Corona T170 is quite iconic for me, since it was the bread-and-butter car that most people would recall driving back then. Not many Coronas are left in Singapore as people upgraded to better and safer cars, although I managed to see another manual unit a few weeks ago! It is always nice to see such regular cars on the road: they are a part of our motoring heritage even though they are overshadowed by many exotic favourites. Maybe you'll be able to see one of them some day and I hope you'll appreciate it for what it's worth!

SG kindly provided some of his pictures, featuring close-up shots!

11 November 2019

More than an old car #123: Nissan Skyline R32 GTR

Legendary race cars have made their mark on the classic car scene, and in the 80s, Japan was the place to be. The love for JDM cars started from this era, with revolutionary vehicles that changed the nature of racing. One of the pioneers would be this 1989 Nissan Skyline R32 GTR!

The Nissan Skyline was a series of passenger cars which was first released in 1957 as the Prince Skyline. Its name is derived from the 'ridge line' separating the mountains and the sky. However, the GTR itself only emerged in 1969 after the merger of the Prince company into Nissan operations. GTR stands for "GT Racer" and it paid homage to the 1964 Prince Skyline S54A.

After cancelling of the GTR name in 1973, Nissan revived it in 1989: it wanted to find a more competitive vehicle to take part in Group A Racing events. Various modifications were made to the base R32 generation, including converting the car to a special all-wheel drive system known as ATTESA E-TS [Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-Terrain with Electronic Torque Split], a rear-wheel steering system known as HICAS [High Capacity Actively Controlled Steering] and introducing a larger engine. All these provided low-speed maneuverability and high-speed stability, thus it was no surprise when it did a clean sweep in pole position for many races.

Its reputation as a race-destroyer originated in Australia, where it was given the nickname of
Godzilla due to it being a 'monster from Japan'. The R32 GTR ironically led to the demise of Group A racing due to its overpowering dominance. It was powered by a 2568 cc RB26DETT straight-6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 180 km/h with an acceleration of 4.9 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4545 mm long and weighed 1480 kg, while fuel consumption was noted to be 7 litres per 100 km.

Production of the R32 GTR ended in 1994 where it was replaced subsequently by the R33 GTR. 43,924 units were made in total, of which 40,390 were the standard specifications. This particular unit was one of the first few to be registered: around 1 week after Nissan released it for sale in September 1989. Only 2 are known to exist in Singapore, where the other unit is a 1991 model in Gun Grey Metallic. This blue colour is not original: it used to be white, then grey. Back then, R32s in general were not sold officially by Tan Chong Motors, so this unit would have been imported directly from Japan.

There is a nice touch added with the fitting number plate and the fact that it is very rare here makes it all the more amazing. It does not come out on the roads often but I understand it usually resides in a workshop somewhere in Jurong. It may look like an ordinary old car at first glance, but with this information, I hope it has educated you on how extraordinary this is!

4 November 2019

More than an old car #122: Rockne Six 75

Having covered relatively newer cars recently, I decided to change tack and focus on oldies once a while, or what I call the "big boys". This 1932 Rockne Six 75 was an interesting sight to behold, as it was about to set off for a race!

The Rockne Company was an American car brand that was founded in 1932, under the management of the Studebaker Automobile Company. Studebaker was established by the German immigrant brothers Peter and Clement way back in 1852, where they started out making horse wagons. The first Studebaker car appeared in 1897 and it enjoyed moderate success from the 1920s to the 1950s, before becoming defunct in 1967.

In 1928, Albert Erskine, the president of Studebaker, approached his long-time friend Knute Rockne with a position as sales promotion manager of cars that would eventually bear his name. Rockne was a renowned American football coach at that time for the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, which was near the Studebaker factories at South Bend. Rockne was worried that this would interfere with his duty as a coach but Erskine allayed these concerns. In 1931, Rockne was formally appointed and the first Rockne cars appeared in the showroom. Tragically, Rockne himself died in a plane crash near Kansas 12 days later. This partly accelerated the demise of the Rockne brand just 2 years later in 1933, where it was subsumed back under Studebaker.

The car itself was designed by 2 independent engineers, who had been contracted to create a new low-priced car for the Willys-Overland Company. Ralph Vail, one of the engineers, was passing by South Bend when he decided to drop by the Studebaker plant to advertise his creation. That very afternoon, Erskine was suitably impressed and hired the 2 engineers on the spot. Two cars were greenlighted for production: the "65" on a 2,800 mm wheelbase [which was designed by the engineers], and the "75" on a 2,900 mm wheelbase, which was based on the Studebaker Six. Different variants were built, such as 2-door coupe and convertible, 4-door sedan and a panel van. It was mostly powered by a 3365 cc i6 engine, which was derived from other Studebaker cars.

Production ended in 1933 with 7,324 "75" models made, which was about 20% of all 37,879 Rockne cars. Most cars fell victim to rust or were crushed for scrap metal during WW2, and it was also popularly involved in hot-rod customisation after the war. About 250 Rocknes are known to exist, making this an unlikely rarity to take part in a punishing rally race! This is a Swiss-registered (Zurich) unit that came here in 2018, to take part in a rally from Singapore to Saigon, Vietnam. From what I understand, none were sold here although some were used as taxis in Hong Kong in 1932.

It is not everyday that you get to see such an old car on the road, much less racing against competitors such as the Ford Mustang and Porsche 911. However, it was a nice unique touch to the whole rally and I am sure the owners have many experiences to share. Such events are also very effective in allowing one to see a large variety of cars that Singapore did not receive and I recommend you to go for one if you hear about it!