30 March 2020

More than an old car #138: Toyota Starlet

Regular cars haven't really made an appearance so far, so I figured that it was high time to include one. One of my favourite random spots would be this 1983 Toyota Starlet KP60, especially when this does not exist here any more...

The Starlet was a subcompact car made between 1973 to 1999, as the successor to the Publica. Initially made available as a coupe, sedan and station wagon, it became only available as a 3 or 5-door hatchback and wagon from the 2nd generation (P60) onwards. Its name also means "small star", reflecting Toyota's desire to shine with its small car. The P60 Starlet was the first car to be sold extensively outside of Japan, where it capitalised on the rising popularity of supermini cars.

Various grades were offered, from the luxurious SE with woodgrain interior to the base-model DX version. Its hatchback design was given a unique aerobox styling, providing efficient fuel consumption and the roominess of a big car. The rear seats could also be folded back to form an extra 630 litres worth of cargo space, although the rear-wheel-drive nature of the car made for cramped living quarters for anyone sitting at the back. The steering was noted to be quite precise compared to its competitors and the instrument panel was limited to the essentials: a speedometer, temperature and fuel gauge, and warning lights for unsecured doors. Overall, it was practical and served its purpose well enough. It was powered by a 993 cc Toyota 2K i4 engine, allwing it to reach a top speed of 150 km/h, with an acceleration of 16.5 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 3895 mm long and weighed 786 kg, with a fuel consumption of 7.6 litres/100 km.

Production of the P60 Starlet ended in 1984, where it was replaced by the P70 series. P60 Starlets were sold by Borneo Motors (our local Toyota dealer) in 1979, where it retailed for S$20,688 [S$46,153 in today's money]. This unit was the last one remaining when I saw it back in 2015, but it was unfortunately scrapped in 2016. Currently the number plate belongs on a Hyundai Getz--an interesting choice of replacement. I was quite amazed that the owner had kept this quaint little car for so long, although it was unfortunate that s/he had not kept it until now.

Finding these unassuming economy cars is more amazing than exotic classics: you could see how the owner really treasured the ride well enough to save it from the COE monster. While there are still a handful of later-generation Starlets still around, this unit in bone-stock condition was a nice sight to behold. I hope this was a nice trip down memory lane, to learn about a car that most people would not have given a second look!

23 March 2020

More than an old car #137: Alfa Romeo 2000 Berlina

It always puts a smile on my face when I come across classics that are driven regularly on the road: the juxtaposition between it and the newer cars is interesting to look at, and I believe your eyes would be drawn to it as well. A fine example would be this 1972 Alfa Romeo 2000 Berlina which I had the pleasure of seeing quite a few times already!

The 105 series 1750 Berlina (sedan) was introduced in 1967 at the Turin Motor Show, in response to the problems that AR faced at that time: increased labour costs and difficulties in continuous technical development made the production of high-class cars uneconomical, and that more consumers were ditching AR cars for other domestic/foreign competitors due to their increased wealth. As such, then-president of AR Giuseppe Luraghi chose the commercial strategy of using the well-tested Giulia chassis to accommodate larger engines, and to make it compatible with the new production lines in its Arese plant.

While the 1750 Berlina was technically supposed to be designated as the '1800' (car manufacturers usually round up the engine displacement for their model names), the '1750' convention was thought to recall the past glories of its successful 6C back in the 1920s, and to accentuate the prestige of the new car. Designed by Marcello Gandini at Bertone, it was based off the original Giulia sedan of 1962 although there were numerous subtle differences. For instance, the Berlina had a sloping nose, flared front wheel arches and a generally plain, boxy look. The windscreen was fairly vertical and wrapped around the side (although subtly). Uniquely, the car body was built all in one piece with the chassis and almost everything was welded together (other than the doors, car boot and bonnet).

Some time in 1971, the engine increased its size to a 1962 cc twin-cam i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 191 km/h with an acceleration of 8.75 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4390 mm long and weighed 1110 kg, with a fuel consumption of 9 litres/100 km. There was also a facelift done: the quad headlights were now smaller but of equal size and the grille designed was modified. Comfort was also emphasised to make it more attractive for the average buyer: amenities included front head restraints, extensive use of carpets and velvets, a larger instrument panel and even air-conditioning, which was unthinkable for an AR car a few years ago.

Throughout its lifetime, it experienced remarkable success in sales but not as well as expected, due to labour unrests and the 1973 oil crisis that discouraged buying of 'thirsty' cars. Production ended in 1977 with 191,723 units made, of which 89,840 were the 2000 Berlina version. This unit still sports its original registration in 1977 and it should be the only one left with regular plates, although there is another unit that was recently imported from Australia. It was sold in Singapore starting from 1973 by City Motors Sdn Bhd, with a retail price of S$16,810.10 [S$49,588 in today's money]. Although Singapore had already gained independence from Malaysia by then, it was still common to have these Malaysian-registered companies still operating here at that time.
I also found out that the 2000 Berlina could also be won just by entering a contest...imagine winning a car just by sending in the entry form and a Milo coupon! Although I was also equally impressed that the top prize was a Mercedes W115 and the 3rd prize, a highly prized Datsun 1600 SSS.

It is very impressive that such an old car can still be daily driven on the roads, based on my sightings and that of others too. This car must be really treasured in the family for them to constantly renew its COE and extend its lifespan here. Having said that, it still looks well-maintained and the weather-beaten look gives it an added layer of authenticity. I understand it resides around the Bras Basah area and I hope that you can see it too to understand what I mean!

16 March 2020

More than an old car #136: Porsche 911

Mention the numbers "911" and other than the US hotline number for the police, one would also be reminded of the car as well. 911s have always remained popular in Singapore, with an estimated 40% of all Porsche cars being this model across all generations. Old 911s still retain their old-school charm and inside their shell lies power and enjoyment, ready to be tapped by the intrepid driver. I was thus pleasantly surprised to come across this 1979 Porsche 911 SC just chilling out near my house!

The 911 traces its roots to sketches drawn by Ferdinand Alexander 'Butzi' Porsche (the founder's grandson) back in 1959. At that time, the 356 had been released to much critical acclaim and helped to make Porsche an established brand. However, it was also recognised that the 356 was becoming outdated and the engine was becoming more costly to make. With that in mind, Butzi ordered a new design to be conceived while meeting certain criteria, such as being able to fit at least 1 set of golf clubs in the car boot, still resemble the 356 in shape and having the engine at the rear. Together with Erwin Komenda, the lead designer for Porsche at that time, both men came up with the timeless fastback styling that continues to be recognised all over the world.

The prototype, known as the Porsche 901, was unveiled to the public at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1963. However, Peugeot subsequently filed a complaint on the basis that in France, it had exclusive rights to name its cars using the "_0_" format (where the blanks are numbers). In order to avoid re-branding its cars in the French market, it was renamed to 911. 82 units of 901s were already made by 1964 before the name changed went into effect, making them extremely valuable today.

Cars considered as a "classic 911" were made up till 1989, with many generations in between. In 1978, a new version of the 911 was introduced, known as the '911 SC (Super Carrera)'. Up till this time, it had undergone a major facelift, with the addition of front and rear bumpers and was known as the G-series. Originally, Porsche intended the 911 SC to be the last 911 model, and were touting its 928 model as its flagship. However, due to strong sales of the 911, it was decided to inject new life in subsequent 911 cars, which turned out to be the right decision. It was powered by a 2993 cc 6-cylinder boxer engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 225 km/h with an acceleration of 7 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4291 mm long and weighed 1160 kg, with a fuel consumption of 17 litres/100 km.

Around 58,914 units of the 911 SC were made and this is one of the few units that still remain, more remarkably on normal plates! 911 SCs were first sold in Singapore in 1981 by Ngo Hock Auto Spares Co. Pte Ltd, our first distributor of Porsche vehicles here. It retailed for S$146,557 [S$267,707 in today's money], which was quite a fair sum back then. Singapore units were equipped with air-con, headlight washers and power windows. Reviews back then praised its superb driving capabilities, although it cautioned about the possibility of oversteer for less experienced drivers. This unit has been "backdated", meaning that it has been modified extensively to look like a late 1960s 911. The centrally-located exhaust is a big giveaway: actual 911s have the exhaust pipe coming out from either the left or the right.

I last saw this unit 5 years ago at the same place, and it is nice to know that it is still around. The difference is that I was able to take a better shot with my camera, I hope it looks nicer now...! 911s have always remained legendary status in the classic car world and seeing one in the wild near my area was an added bonus. Even till today, the modern 911s still pay homage to its ancestors by adopting the well-known shape, matched with superior performance and sheer driving pleasure. There are a handful of old 911s still around and they appear once a while, do catch them if you can!

9 March 2020

More than an old car #135: Datsun Bluebird 310

It is always a pleasure to find classics that I had never thought would exist here, especially older Japanese cars. People often wax lyrical about the golden age of Japanese motoring in the 80s and 90s, but I decided to show love to them as well, such as this 1963 Datsun Bluebird 310 DeLuxe!

Introduced in 1959, the 1st-generation Bluebird was also known as the 310 series, following its previous 110 and 210 series cars. Interestingly, its name is derived from the 1908 play L'Oiseau bleu (The Blue Bird) by the Nobel-Prize winning playwright Maurice Maeterlinck. The then-president of Nissan Motors, Katsuji Kawamata, named it as such after changing it from 'Snowbird', which was slang for 'drug addict'. As with cars of that era, it adopted styling cues from larger US cars

Initially released in sedan form, an estate version was introduced in 1960. In 1961, the engine was upgraded and cars were known as the 311. In the same year, a facelift was done to the front grille and the headlights and it was known as the 312, along with a larger engine upgrade: Nissan learnt from the success of the VW Beetle and felt that a more powerful car could be a game-changer. The 310 was available with a variety of trims, the highest being the DeLuxe which sported a full-length stainless steel strip on the body. It was powered by a 1189 cc E-1 i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 120 km/h with an acceleration of 24 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 3915 mm long and weighed 900 kg, with a fuel consumption of 11 litres/100 km.

Production of the Bluebird 310 ended in 1963 with about 210,000 units made. They were sold in Singapore from 1959 by Tan Chong Motors, back when we were still part of Malaya. It sold for RM 5,975 [S$11,432 in today's money], which was a manageable price at that time. This unit was recently imported from Japan and is currently on sale, although there does not seem to be any takers yet.

It is indeed a very quirky little car to own, and the fact that not many Japanese cars from the 1960s survive does speak volumes about its durability. On the other hand, this unit is most likely one of the few that still exists worldwide. Will there be any takers? Who knows, maybe you may consider getting this when it is still available!