23 December 2019

More than an old car #127: Toyota Supra A70

Walking around private estates can be rewarding even though there may be a lot of area to cover: I had no idea what this was previously, but after some checking, it turned out to be a very rare 1989 Toyota Supra A70!

The Supra is a sports car and grand tourer made by Toyota starting from 1978, where it was based off the Celica liftback: as such, the first 2 generations were known as the Celica Supra. Its name is Latin for 'supreme', which incidentally was the idea that Toyota wanted to promote to buyers. Interestingly, the Supra name was resurrected recently since 2002, with the current J29/DB model based off the BMW Z4. While it is still a far cry from its predecessors, the J29 Supra has received much positive reviews and I understand that there are at least 5 on the road now.

In 1986, the Celica and Supra became 2 different models: the A70 Supra maintained its rear-wheel drive layout while the Celica was now a front-wheel drive car. Notable features included an electrically-controlled suspension system known as TEMS and an anti-lock braking system (ABS). Export markets were given the larger 3 litre engine, while the Japanese market had smaller capacities in order to qualify for tax exemptions. The engines were also available in turbocharged form, and features such as an integrated spoiler were unique to these cars.

It underwent a facelift in 1989, with numerous changes made to the interior. This unit was powered by a 2954 cc 7M-GTE turbo inline-6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 224 km/h with an acceleration of 7.7 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4630 mm long and weighed 1583 kg.

Production of the A70 Supra ended in 1993 with about 241,471 units made. This unit is the last one remaining in Singapore, and it was also rare even back in 1987 when it was first released by Borneo Motors. It has been recently given a new lease of life with the extension of its COE, although it does not come out very often. While its successor (the A80 Supra) is more desirable due to its appearance in the Fast and Furious movies, this unicorn also deserves recognition for being able to survive for so long.

It is natural for people to gravitate towards a favorite car, though I feel some regular-looking models are equally desirable as well. The body style is certainly unique among cars of today, and the BBS wheels give it a nice classic touch. And who doesn't love some pop-up headlights? It would be better if you could see it for yourself and marvel at this timeless classic some day!

16 December 2019

More than an old car #126: Lancia Flavia

It is always nice to come across classic cars anytime, anywhere, but it was a bonus to have seen this elusive 1963 Lancia Flavia Vignale Convertible!

The Lancia Flavia was developed by Antonio Fessia, then Central Technical Director of the Lancia motor company in the 1950s, and was unveiled to the public at the Turin Motor Show in 1960. Fessia was determined to produce a suitable front-wheel-drive car, which was inspired by a prototype that he worked on. Its name is based on the Via Flavia, an ancient Roman road, which was in keeping with Lancia's tradition of adopting names from Roman roads.

Initially, only the sedan (berlina) version was available, but a coupe and convertible were gradually introduced. The convertible (introduced in 1962) was based off the sedan, and was designed by Giovanni Michelotti from the Vignale coachbuilder company. As such, it still looks square and sober, although the pouting grille and twin headlights gave it a certain tenacity. A variety of engines were offered, namely 1.5 litre, 1.8 litre and 2 litre engines. This unit was powered by a 1800 cc Lancia H4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 173 km/h with an acceleration of 13 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4340 mm long and weighed 1150 kg, with a decent fuel consumption of 11 litres/100 km.

Production of the Flavia ended in 1970, although the convertible version was discontinued in 1967. It was a very rare car even until today: out of the 1,601 units made, 834 cars had the 1.8 litre engine. Amazingly, only 49 in total were in RHD! Interestingly, there are only about 10 Lancias in existence in Singapore: seems like people were not that keen to keep the numerous bread-and-butter models that used to roam our roads.

This unit was imported some time in 2012 and I understand it rarely appears, except during the F1 Drivers' Parade every year. I was fortunate to see it up close when it was awaiting maintenance: it really blows the mind to see that we have such unique cars despite our restrictive ownership. This is not just some old car, but one that you'll be hard-pressed to find around the world...having said that, I hope you will be able to find it soon!

14 December 2019

More than an old car #125: Ferrari 348

Walking around office carparks in our financial district has its perks even though it may seem like an unusual place to spot cars. I have seen quite a few high-end models out and about, but never expected to see this 1992 Ferrari 348 TS just parked so casually!

The Ferrari 348 was introduced in 1989 at the Frankfurt Auto Show, where it succeeded the popular 328. As with its predecessors, its name is derived from the engine capacity (3.4 litres) and the number of cylinders (8). It was available in coupe and targa versions, although convertibles were introduced later. The engine was mounted longitudinally and it was coupled to a transverse manual gearbox, giving rise to the TS (transversale spider) designation. As a nod to the classic Testarossa, it featured the iconic straked side intakes and rectangular headlights.

Other features of the 348 included a computer-controlled engine management system, anti-lock brakes and self-diagnosing air-con and heating systems. Initial reception was positive as people praised its revolutionary looks and its nice steering. However, it quickly drew criticism due to its heavy gearbox (where one needed a 'shot-putter's arm' to shift to 2nd gear), catastrophic engine failures and numerous leaks. It was powered by a 3408 cc Tipo F119 V8 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 275 km/h, with an acceleration of 5.6 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4230 mm long and weighed 1440 kg.

Production of the 348 ended in 1995 with 4,228 TS models made. This unit is one of about 10 left in Singapore, and it was repainted to this striking purple colour from its original yellow. I was aware of its existence previously, and it was a surprise to see that it was still regularly driven in the CBD area. They were sold by the original Ferrari dealer Hong Seh Motors back in 1991, at a rather princely price of S$535,000 [S$795,468 in today's money].

348s are known to be the cheapest Ferraris that one could buy, partly because it was unloved by many critics. It was not particularly quick nor impressive in any sense, and the gearbox made it more suitable for a weekend ride. Yet, it is still nice to see that the owner loves his/her car by driving it to work, perhaps you may see this some day!

2 December 2019

More than an old car #124: Triumph Dolomite 14/65

Having gone for quite a few car exhibitions and meetups, it is always good to see unicorns make their appearance. This 1939 Triumph Dolomite 14/65 Roadster was one of them during this particularly impressive car show!

The Triumph Dolomite was first introduced in 1937, available in both sedan and roadster versions. At that time, Triumph was facing bankruptcy and it was forced to reorganise its finances. Under the leadership of Donald Healy, then technical director of the Triumph Motor Company, the new car was targeted at the luxury sporting saloon market. Its name was derived from a 1934 prototype that Healy used to race in. The 14/65 designation referred to its horsepower output, and this format is still in use today.

One of the more striking details was the 'waterfall' radiator grille, supposedly inspired by American car designs of that era. Being targeted for the middle class, the roadster also featured 'high-end' items such as wire-spoked wheels, wind-up windows and interestingly, a double dickey seat at the rear. 'Dickey seats' were exposed to the elements and strictly speaking, not part of the seating arrangement in a car. As such, it was also known as the 'mother-in-law' seat. There were a range of engines available, although this unit is powered by the more desirable 1991 cc straight-6 engine. It was 4496 mm long and weighed about 1245 kg. The motoring press at that time noted that it could reach a top speed of 80 mph [128 km/h] with an acceleration of 8 seconds [0-50 mph], making it a serious competitor in rally events.

However, while the Dolomite was acknowledged as one of the finest Triumphs made, the company lacked resources to increase capacity and overall production ended in 1939, when Triumph went into receivership. Its factory was also heavily bombed during the war and the Dolomite was never re-introduced. About 50 roadsters with the 1991 cc engine were produced, and it so happens that this unit is only 1 of 8 still in existence! It is understood that this is the only one in Asia, as the majority are in the UK. If I am not mistaken, this was originally in Singapore before it was converted to the classic scheme, and given the rarity, it only appears for special events. However, it had taken part in a rally event in India back in 2015, showing that this is still no slouch on the road.

Looking at the imposing design, I find it a pity that people do not make cars like before. Although the introduction of safety features has benefited us, such elaborate designs had to be sacrificed as a result. Even the headlights of this car are bigger than the ones we see nowadays! The graceful curves and the spare tyre mounted seamlessly with the car body would not be replicated today. I was fortunate to see this exceptional unit last year, and I hope you'll get to see this someday!