29 January 2021

More than an old car #163: Alfa Romeo 146

I was asked to do a post about 'rare cars' in Singapore and to be honest, I have a hard time struggling to decide what to write about. Through my time, I have seen many of them and my posts have covered quite a few accordingly. But as you may have known, I tend to favour non-exotic cars since people don't pay much attention to them in the first place. This will not be any different with this 2000 Alfa Romeo 146 1.6 TS!

The 146 was first introduced in 1994 at the Bologna Motor Show as a 5-door hatchback, where it was intended to be a replacement for the ageing 33. The development of this project, known as Tipo 930B, took 3 years and was aimed at the more traditional AR clientele compared to the outgoing 33. A 3-door hatchback known as the 145 was sold around the same time as well. 

It was available in a variety of engines ranging from 1.4 litres to 2 litres, and 2 different trim levels. In 1997, the entire range was revised with the arrival of new Twin Spark engines in response to the new Euro 2 engine regulations. External differences were limited to a new design for the alloy rims, while internal changes included new seat fabrics and a better air-con system. A facelift was carried out in 1999, featuring a revised front end with body-coloured bumpers, round fog lamps and narrow protection strips. This unit was powered by a 1598 cc Twin Spark i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 197 km/h with an acceleration of 10.5 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4235 mm long, weighed 1190 kg and had a fuel consumption of 11.3 litres / 100 km

Production of the 146 ended in 2001, where it was replaced by the Alfa 147. A total of 233,295 units were made, although no detailed breakdown between the engine types and RHD/LHD are available. The 146 was sold here in 1996 by Massa Motors and someone even won one as a lucky draw prize that was organised by Takashimaya. However, reviews have lamented its poor build quality and the 146 is generally seen as less desirable than the 145. 

This unit no longer exists and I would dare say that none remain here anymore. Even in the UK, only an estimated 100 are still on the register. While times may change, I think I was fortunate to be in the right place and time to record its existence. Whatever journeys and ownership it has gone through will remain a mystery, but I hope that this still fits the theme of 'rare cars': seeing a now-extinct car would definitely be more rare I suppose?

16 January 2021

More than an old car #162: Chevrolet Bel Air

Car meetups have become a novelty event given that the pandemic still shows no sign of slowing down. However, I will still aim to catch up on the backlog and feature some eye-catching ones like this 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air here!

The 'Bel Air' name first appeared in 1950-1952 as the Bel Air Sport Coupe, which was only used for the 2-door hardtops in the Chevrolet model range. From 1953, the Bel Air became associated with a premium level of trim that was applied across different body styles. Early models of the Bel Air are highly-prized partly due to its association with Hollywood glamour such as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. 

The 6th generation of the Bel Air appeared in 1965, and it received an extensive styling change compared to the previous generation. Its overall length was increased, the grille became slightly veed, headlights were now round and window glass was curved. While all of the Bel Airs were either made in the US or Canada, a handful were shipped to Australia as complete knock-down units where they were converted to RHD specifications. The General Motors-Holden (GM-H) plant in Woodville, South Australia was one of the few places where the car interior, electrical wiring and glass were installed. Cars were assembled from a mixture of imported US-made components and locally-made parts, such as interior trim and tyres. 

This proved to be a sales and financial success for GM-H as people saw it as an economical car for working-class Australians. Furthermore, it was able to circumvent the high import duty by reducing the number of imported parts used for each vehicle. While these RHD Bel Airs had to be promoted as expensive high-end luxury cars, the high-quality Australian Howe leather and 100% Westminster wool helped to justify the high prices. These GM-H cars were more often than not used by wealthy directors and VIPs in the state and federal governments.

Australian-made Bel Airs featured Impala-style triple tailights instead of the usual double headlights due to safety regulations. This Bel Air was powered by a 283 cubic inch (4638 cc) small block V8, allowing it to reach a top speed of 170 km/h with an acceleration of 12.1 seconds (0-100 km/h). It was 5413 mm long and weighed 1640 kg, with a thirsty fuel consumption of 17.7 litres /100 km.

Production of the 6th-generation Bel Air ended in 1970 with more than 1 million made, of which around 163,600 were the V8 engine versions produced in 1965. It coincided with the end of Chevrolet manufacturing by GM-H, where it shifted to producing Holdens only. This particular unit had spent its whole life in a South Australian farm, before the first owner's son sold it to a collector who never got about trying to restore it. The current owner then took over the project, and has spent quite a fair bit in revamping the paintwork and interior upholstery. I had the chance to take a look inside and all I can say is that it is like a sofa on wheels.

Bel Airs were sold here back in 1957, and the 1961 models sold by Orchard Motors were retailing for $12,990, with an additional $650 for the 'Powerglide' automatic transmission. It seems that the 6th-generation models were not sold here, at least officially. Whatever it is, American barges are very rare here partly due to the lack of maintenance knowledge, spare parts and the restrictive RHD import regulations. You have to see one yourself to appreciate the classic American excess that is symbolic of the time period. I hope you will get to see this some day!

1 January 2021

More than an old car #161: Citroen SM

Happy new year to everyone and may you have a blessed 2021 ahead! With my first post of this year, I hope to start things on a bright note with this exquisite 1971 Citroen SM!

The SM was first conceived back in 1961 as the 'Project S', a sports-oriented model of the DS. Over the years, it became an entirely new model. Citroen purchased Maserati in 1968 with the intention to harness its engines to make a high-performance car, and the result appeared in 1970 at the Geneva Motor Show. The origin of its name is not entirely clear: it could either stand for Systeme Maserati/Série Maserati or even Sa Majesté (Her Majesty in French).

The car featured many innovative features, such as the hydro-pneumatic self-levelling suspension, self-swivelling lights that turned along with the steering wheel and a new type of variable assist power steering known as DIRAVI (Direction à rappel asservi), which has become commonplace in cars today. This enabled the steering to feel constant at any speed and enabled a maximum area of tyre contact with the road at all times. Furthermore, the SM was also very aerodynamic with a low drag coefficient of 0.26, and no expense was spared in the interior design too.

While it was produced exclusively in a two-door fastback coupe style, there were conversions such as a 4-door convertible (SM présidentielle) and a 4-door sedan (SM Opéra). The main export market for the SM was the US, and due to regulations, US-spec cars had 4 round exposed headlights compared to the 6 square enclosed headlights in Euro-spec ones. Over its lifetime, 2 types of engines were produced (2.7 litre and 3 litre): the small engine size was due to French puissance fiscale taxation, which made large-engined cars hard to sell. The SM was powered by a uniquely-shaped 2670 cc 90° V6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 220 km/h with an acceleration of 8.9 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4893 mm long and weighed 1450 kg, with a fuel consumption of 15.7 litres / 100 km.

Production of the SM ended in 1975 with only 12,190 units made, of which 7,133 were the early manual versions. While it was revolutionary for its time, maintaining it was very tedious as it required both a Citroen specialist for the car body and a Maserati specialist for the engine. Coupled with the 1973 oil crisis, sales levels were lower than expected. Furthermore, Peugeot (which owned a stake in Citroen) proceeded to sell Maserati, spelling the end of the SM. The SM made many appearances in popular culture and had famous owners such as Leonid Brezhnev and the Cheech & Chong duo.

None were made in RHD and hence no units were sold here, although there were RHD conversions done in Australia. This unit, in AC088 Meije White, still sports original UK plates and was on display since it cannot be registered here. The SM is one that continues to take the breath away, with its beautiful proportions and sleek design. While it is a shame that you can't see them on the road, I hope that this has been informative for you. Maybe you will get to see it one day!