21 July 2020

More than an old car #151: Honda Vamos

I have a soft spot for unconventional-looking cars simply because it demands you to look at them. Whether or not it rubs you the other way is subjective, but this 1970 Honda Vamos would make you yearn for more!

The Vamos was first introduced in 1970, where it was officially known as 'Vamos Honda'. Its name is derived from the Spanish word, meaning 'to go', and it was certainly an unusual conveyance to do just that. The car was intended to be a Swiss Army knife of sorts, as Honda claimed it was suitable for security purposes, construction sites, factory transportation and farm management among other uses. Beneath its rudimentary appearance, the Vamos incorporated safety features such as protective guard pipes (which served as doors) higher than the occupants' centre of gravity, a roll bar, lap seatbelts as standard and a partly tempered glass windscreen. The spare tyre in front also doubled as a shock absorber in case of emergency. Uniquely, it used a MacPherson strut front suspension and a De Dion tube with half leaf springs in the back.

It was offered in 3 different body types: a 2-seater (Vamos 2), 4- seater (Vamos 4) and a 4-seater with a full-length canvas top (Vamos Full Holo). Interestingly, the Vamos was offered in 4 colours: McKinley White, Caravan Green, Andes Yellow and Alpine Blue, although most were sold in green. The Vamos shared its engine with the N360 and Z360 sister cars, and was supposed to compete with the Suzuki Jimny and the limited-edition Daihatsu Fellow buggy. Due to the open cab configuration, all instrumentation and switches had to be both water- and dust proof.

It was powered by a 354 cc air-cooled i2 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 90 km/h. It was only 2,995 mm long and weighed 520 kg, with a load capacity of 350 kg. Owing to its small size, fuel consumption was also very favourable at 25 km/litre

Production of the Vamos ended in 1973, with only 2,500 units made. The Vamos name was resurrected in 1999 for a totally unrelated micro/kei van. Honda had intended to produce 2,000 units per month, but general unpopularity due to the lack of off-road performance despite its appearance greatly impacted sales. It is likely that even fewer still survive, with the overwhelming majority still in Japan. The fact that one actually made its way here is seriously impressive given how obscure it is even to car enthusiasts. A similar unit was sold for almost 2.1 million yen (S$27, 230), which goes to prove that such oddities do not come cheap.

While it remains unregistered, it is interesting to see what plans the owner has for this car. Despite its exposed nature, it can definitely attract eyeballs since very few cars are designed like that in the first place. If you are lucky, you may get to see it on the roads some day!

More than an old car #150: Triumph GT6

2 years ago, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the classic car concours held at the Fullerton Hotel, and I am sure we never thought that car events would be forced to a halt today. It may be a long while before we are able to feel the pleasure of admiring these pieces of history displayed for all to see, but let me indulge in some nostalgia with this 1967 Triumph GT6!

In 1963, the Standard-Triumph Motor Company commissioned the renowned car designer, Giovanni Michelotti to design a 'grand tourer' for its latest offering, the Triumph GT4. The prototype was stylistically pleasing, but the added weight due to the new body resulted in poor performance from the then-current 4-cylinder engine. Some time later, a more powerful 6-cylinder engine was used as a replacement, resulting in the GT6 (GT model and 6-cylinder engine). It was also called the 'poor man's E-Type': you could see the hints in the sleek fastback design and the opening rear hatch. While strictly for 2 occupants, a small rear seat could be ordered, big enough for small children.

The interior featured a wooden dashboard which housed a full range of instruments, with carpets and heater included as standard. Despite the superior performance when compared against its direct competitor, the MG BGT, the rear suspension was heavily criticised. It was unable to live up to the expectations of Triumph owners, who took issue with its propensity to break apart during hard cornering. As the GT6 was designed with the US market in mind, Triumph had to nip the problem in the bud.

In 1969, the Mk 2 was released with obvious facelifts done and an improved suspension. Shortly afterwards in 1970, the final iteration, the Mk 3, was released. The Mk 1 GT6 was powered by a 1996 cc i6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 171 km/h with an acceleration of 12 seconds [0-60 mph]. It was 3632 mm long and weighed in at an impressively light 864 kg.

Production of the GT6 ended in 1973, with 15,818 Mark Is made. It is understood that a majority of them were in LHD for the US market, making RHD versions quite rare too. This immaculate example is currently the only one in Singapore, as it was never sold here officially back then. However, at least 1 Mk 3 existed here in 1977 based from old newspaper ads that I found. The wire wheels are a classic touch and the red paint hints at its power under the hood. It doesn't appear on the roads often except during events, but the fact that this still lives on after so long is a testament to its timeless appeal even despite its obscurity. Hopefully, you will be able to see it soon!

13 July 2020

More than an old car #149: Mercedes W108/W109

Mercedes has often been associated with elegance and wealth, and this reputation has been well-entrenched back in the 1930s. It is therefore of no surprise that this 1966 W108 300 SEb and the 1972 W109 300 SEL 3.5 are stalwarts of this proud tradition!

The W108/W109 first debuted at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1965, featuring three W108s (250 S, 250 SE, and 300 SEb) and a sole W109 (300 SEL). Made only in sedan form, it succeeded the preceding W111/W112 as a result of changing fashion trends: while the styling cues was still by famed designer Paul Bracq, the W108/W109 lost the distinctive fintails although the windscreen was noticeably widened.

Initially, the W108 was designated for the standard wheelbase while the W109 had a longer one, and the smaller inline-6 engines were assigned to the W108 only, with the exception of the 300 SEb. Other than that, they looked alike externally. Both models eventually featured the larger V8 engines in 1967 (for W109) and 1970 (W108). The W109 had more luxurious items than the W108, such as burled walnut dashboards, automatic transmission, and power windows along with optional air conditioning system. Furthermore, the W108 had steel coil springs while the W109 featured self-leveling air suspension.

The W108 300 SEb was powered by a 2996 cc M189 i6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 195 km/h with an acceleration of 12 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4900 mm long and weighed 1575 kg, with a fuel consumption of 18 litres/100 km. On the other hand, the W109 300 SE 3.5 had a 3499 cc M116 V8 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 210 km/h with an acceleration of 9 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 5000 mm long and weighed in at 1670 kg, with a fuel consumption of 13.2 litres/100 km.

Production of the W108/W109 ended in 1972, where it was replaced by the W116 series. Out of the 383,361 built, only 2,737 were the 300 SEb and 9,483 were the 300 SEL 3.5. The more common 250 and 280 S were sold by Cycle and Carriage, where they were assembled locally at a factory in Hillview. The 300 SELs, however, were specially imported.

Both units happen to be very rare in the world, making them pleasantly surprising spots. I understand that the red W108 (most likely an import) has recently changed colour to white. While you have a higher chance of spotting a W108 in Singapore, the W109s are more desired and thus less common to pick out. However, it exudes class no matter which angle you look at it, and it is no surprise that W108/W109s were often associated with the rich and famous. I hope that you will be able to see these beauties some day!