20 August 2021

More than an old car #176: Volvo S40


It would be reasonable to say that even though I generally know quite a fair bit of old cars, there are still some which slip through the cracks. Being able to find relatively unknown models within famous brands is refreshing, and my thoughts would invariably go "We have this here?" and "How is this still alive?" Seeing this 2001 Volvo S40 evoked the same reactions, especially when it was on campus!

The first S40 was developed and manufactured in collaboration with the Mitsubishi Carisma, an Europe-only model and was intended to replace the 440/460 series. Initially, Volvo wanted to call the cars 'S4' and 'F4' (for the wagon), but Audi had already claimed a trademark on the S4 name. As such, it had to rename them as S40 and V40 respectively, where the V stood for 'versatility'. Designed by Peter Horbury, it debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1995 and many of them were produced at the Nedcar factory in Born, Netherlands. This also marked the last Volvos to be produced at the Born plant. 

3 different engines (with 1.6 litre, 1.8 litre and 2 litre capacities) were available; Singapore received the 1.8 litre and 2 litre turbocharged (T4) variants, where the latter was used by the Traffic Police Expressway Patrol. In mid-2000, the S40 underwent a facelift and subsequent cars were called 'Phase 2'. Other than external changes such as larger headlights, modified front bumpers and front wings, there were technical improvements such as revised suspensions and larger tyres. Another update came in 2003 with chrome mouldings and a button on the tailgate. This S40 was powered by a 1783 cc B4184 S2 i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 200 km/h with an acceleration of 10.5 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4516 mm long and weighed 1255 kg, with a fuel consumption of 11.5 litres / 100 km

Production of the 1st-generation S40 ended in 2004 where it was replaced by the 2nd generation, with a total of about 1 million made. This unit was an unexpected find as it first appeared in school out of nowhere. Gradually, I realised that the owner was apparently a student as well, although I never had a chance to find out more. It has been given an extended lease of life, although whether for 5 years or 10 years remains to be seen. A further check on this car also revealed that it used to be black, before being painted red some time in 2019. While I am hesitant to claim that this is the last one here, it would be prudent to maintain that the number of 1st-gen S40s remaining can be counted on 1 hand. 

S40s were sold here by SM Motors, retailing at S$132,888 in 2000. While Volvo's reputation has been greatly boosted by the legendary 200/700/900 series, the S40 tends to be a 'forgotten child': the loss of its traditional boxy look could have been a factor. Not many would have been aware of its existence and it appears that others have faded out quietly as well. It may look so ordinary that you could have missed it out, but now that you have learnt about this, I would hope that you may be able to recognise it!

8 August 2021

More than an old car #175: BMW E23 745i

It has been a while since I posted as I was busy with real-life stuff. While I may post less often, I will still work on content to continue spreading knowledge about old cars here. There have been many interesting cars that I have seen over the years, and bigger ones just look amazing with their presence. However, big cars does not mean they go slow, as this 1984 BMW E23 745i can attest!

The E23 was the first generation of the 7 Series luxury cars, replacing the earlier E3 series produced in 1968. Its design styling was conceived by Paul Bracq, but he left in 1974; Manfred Rennen continued with work on the exterior styling. At the market launch in 1977, the lower-end 725, 728 and 730 models made their debut. Options available included leather upholstery, wood trim and an in-car cellular telephone, among other creature comforts. Anti-lock braking system was introduced in 1979, and a facelift occurred in 1982 with wider and more 'angular' front grilles, along with changes in the dashboard and controls. 

It was also in 1979 that the range-topping 745i was introduced for the European market, but only in LHD configuration. The name 745i comes from the theoretical assumption that turbocharged engines have approximately 1.4 times more power than naturally aspirated engines. As such, a 3.2 litre (3205 cc) turbocharged engine would have similar power to a 4.5 litre (4487 cc) naturally aspirated engine. Due to the specific engine bay configuration, the additional turbocharger could not be fitted on the left side as it would interfere with the steering column, thus a RHD version was impossible. 

At this moment, the brains at BMW's Rosslyn plant in South Africa sprang into action. Naturally, they were not content with selling a LHD-only car in the RHD SA market. Helmed by Eberhard von Koerber, the team worked closely with Paul Rosche, the head of BMW's Motorsport department and experimented with various possible engines to solve the problem. In the end, instead of using the original 12-valve M106 engine, they proposed using the more potent 24-valve M88/3 3453 cc straight-6 engine, derived from the same heart behind the legendary M1 supercar and designed by Rosche himself no less. It produced more power (280 hp) compared to the Euro version (248 hp) and was the fastest 7-series car in the world when it appeared in 1984.

BMW did not label this unlikely child as an 'M7', and till this day it has never developed a range-topping M version of the 7 series, despite almost all other models having an M version. It is unknown why BMW did not equip the Euro 745i with M88s in the first place, although it is widely conjectured that the M88 was too noisy for a refined luxury sedan. Compared to the Euro 745i, the SA spec had stiffer suspensions and larger 16-inch BBS Mahle alloy wheels on the exterior: there were no M badges or any special trim items. 

The interior, however, was covered in ultra-soft (and expensive) Nappa leather and the centre console was shaped slightly different from the Euro spec. Cars fitted with the automatic transmission also did not have the typical "PRND321" markings, instead it was covered by a leather boot. A review by CAR magazine praised its 'sumptous interior' and noted that it was unassuming enough to be used on grocery runs, and yet true enthusiasts would have a 'marvellous experience, if you could afford it': it retailed for 70,052 rand in 1984, which is equivalent to 1,106,026 rand (S$101,493) in 2021! The SA 745i could reach a top speed of 235 km/h with an acceleration of 7.1 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4860 mm long and weighed 1690 kg, with a fuel consumption of 9 litres / 100 km

Production of the E23 ended ended in 1986, where it was replaced by the more popular E32 series. Out of around 285,000 units made, only 209 of them were the SA 745i! This unit is one of 197 that was equipped with the 4-speed automatic transmission, and it is plausible that even fewer remain on the road. Decked out in the 745i-specific Arctic (blue) metallic colour with a unique Oyster (tan) interior, it would have looked like just another old car, but there is more that meets the eye. Although E23s were sold previously in Singapore, the SA 745i naturally did not make its way here; this car is noted to be a recent import hailing from Gauteng province. It still sports a sticker from Mapogo A Mathamaga, a private security firm in South Africa. Judging from the dust and overall condition, it appears to have been idle for a long while.

One can only imagine the price paid for such a unicorn, especially when only RHDs can be used in Singapore generally. Being a 'sleeper' as well is the cherry on the cake: owning a bland-looking 4-door car that could give a modern-day Porsche a good run of its money is an ultimate power move. I had always wondered if someone brought this exclusive version here after reading about it some time back, and lo and behold, my dream was answered. I admit that I nearly overlooked its rarity and thought it was just a typical E23 that was brought in, even though it was a novelty in itself since apparently only 1 original Singapore unit remains. Just to make sure, I went to the back to check for badges and was dumbfounded to see the real McCoy.

It is likely that it will be registered some time in the future, although how long will that be is a question in itself. I am sure that when it appears, it would be in better shape than it is now; although I like the rather rugged look. Who knows what stories are there behind all the chipped paint and rust? Do stay tuned for this unique rarity!