30 October 2021

Miscellaneous classics #8: Mercedes Atego

I guess it's one of those moments where I have to clear my backlog, and that this has been sitting in the archives for a long while. Being caught up with work also means that I have less time to work on the blog, so it would have to be something that does not take up much resources in planning on what to write. Speaking of this, I naturally thought on writing about the few commercial vehicles that I have seen, and I was reminded of this 2001 Mercedes Atego 1517/5360 that I saw some time ago!

The Atego (internal code W970) was introduced in 1998 as the successor to the LK series. It was made available in different cab sizes, from S to L high-roof version, along with different wheelbases between 3020 mm and 6260 mm. Different tonnages were available and designated in the following format: 7xx for 6.5 tonnes, 8xx for 8 tonnes and so on. The 'X's following the designation is the engine horsepower but given as a tenth. Thus, this particular unit thus has a tonnage of 11.99 tonnes based on its 15xx designation with a horsepower of about 170 hp, and its wheelbase was 5360 mm long.

In 2000, a heavy version of the Atego chassis was brought to the market, with designations 1533 and 1833. A year later, the Axor truck replaced the heavy Atego chassis and became a standalone model. The Atego, which remains in production today, went through a facelift in 2004 with wider indicators and a revised front end to be more aligned with the Actros. This Atego was powered by a 4249 cc OM904 94 engine, with a maximum power of 174 hp. It was 6900 mm long and had an unladen weight of 6080 kg, with a gross weight of 11990 kg.

Production of the first-generation Atego ended in 2004 with about 170,000 made, where it was followed by the second generation. It is likely that there are no first-gen Ategos left in Singapore, although a handful of second-generation units still see service under the fire brigade. This particular unit was owned by an art logistics company, which makes sense for it to be so huge. It was fortuitous running into this truck as I only took the picture since its number plate was relatively old. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find out that it was already a classic this year. However, that also meant that its lifespan was up and sure enough, it had been scrapped.

To be honest, I was not expecting anyone to even know that this actually existed here, such is the general perception of heavy-duty vehicles. As always, I will continue to give these workhorses their much-deserved spotlight just because I would like to. Now that you have heard of this, I hope that you may be able to recognise it in the future..



15 October 2021

More than an old car #180: ZIS-110

With travel plans put on the back burner currently, I figured that it would be a good time to reminisce about my trip to South Korea. It has been a while since I wrote about a vehicle not in Singapore, and I was reminded of this unique rarity while scrolling through my archives. Given its novel background and history, this 1948 ZIS-110 would mot likely be your first exposure to a Soviet-era classic car!

The history of ZIS spans back to 1916, where it was first known as the Avtomobilnoe Moskovskoe Obshchestvo (AMO), or the Moscow Automotive Society. It was part of a government program to establish an automotive industry in Russia: it started out producing Fiat trucks under licence before designing its own vehicle, the AMO F-15 truck in 1924. The company had its name changed to Avtomobil'n'iy zavod Nomjar 2 - Zavod Imeni Stalina [ZIS] (i.e. Automotive Factory No. 2 - Factory named after Stalin) in 1931, after it was re-equipped and expanded with the help of the American firm A.J.Brant Company. As it was during the reign of Stalin, his name had to be incorporated in it somehow.

The first production car known as the ZIS-101 began in 1936: while different car models were made, the company continued to predominantly manufacture trucks and buses instead. Its name was changed in 1956 to Zavod imeni Likhachyova [ZIL], which was named after its former director Ivan Alekseevich Likhachov. However, as the years went by, its vehicles became severely outdated and the company went bankrupt in 2013. It continued to survive as a joint-stock company without producing any vehicles under the name MSC 6 AMO ZIL until its liquidation in 2019, by which time the original factory buildings had been demolished for residential usage.

The 110 was first conceived back in 1943 under the guidance of chief designer Boris Fitterman. Its design was heavily inspired by the pre-war Packard Super Eight 180, which Stalin received as a gift from Franklin D. Roosevelt. Stalin apparently loved the Packard so much that he wanted something similar on Soviet roads, and the task fell on lead designer Andrei Ostrovsev. While it has been claimed that the dies for the 110 were originally from the Packard, it is noted that the production of the 110 used the metric system compared to the imperial system in Packards, resulting in both cars being actually distinct from each other. Body panels were not transferrable and there were slight variations in lengths due to the varied systems used. However, it is undeniable that the decorative trim, fittings and interior design carried Packard DNA, so to speak.

On the exterior, the 110 was fitted with 2 rear lights even though traffic rules at that time only required 1 to be placed on the left. It also had headlight lamps, where the bulb itself was both a reflector and a diffuser: this was different from conventional headlights with separate components. It was also the first Soviet car with direction indicators (made in the American style), which could be turned on by switches on the dashboard or via the left steering column lever. 

The dashboard was fitted with the standard gauges (speedometer, thermometer etc), but an interesting feature was the speedometer needle changing colour at different speeds: it was green up to 60 km/h, yellow from 60-120 km/h and red above 120 km/h. The numbers on the speedometer scale also did not have the last zeroes i.e. "8, 10, 12" instead of "80, 100, 120". As the flagship Soviet car, the interior was fitted with a radio receiver, hydraulic windows and a cigarette lighter among other luxuries.

2 main body styles, namely a 4-door sedan and a 4-door convertible (phaeton) were produced although an ambulance version was also available. Sedans were painted in black, burgundy and blue, although 1 unit was painted in green and gifted to the then-Patriarch of Moscow Alexy I by Stalin. Phaetons were available in black, gray, gray-blue and beige. The 110s were primarily distributed to government branches and was out of reach for the typical peasant unsurprisingly, though some were also gifted to foreign communist leaders like Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh. Interestingly, some also saw use as inter-city taxis, where they were painted in dual-tone white and brown. An armoured version known as the ZIS-115 was commissioned by Stalin, which featured reinforced aviation armour and bulletproof glass.

The car was powered by a hefty 6002 cc inline-8 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 140 km/h with an acceleration of 23.1 seconds [0-60 mph]. Naturally, whoever owned it would probably not be terribly concerned with the eye-popping fuel consumption of 23 litres / 100 km. With a length of 6000 mm, height of 1730 mm and weighing in at 2575 kg, it was simply The Car to be in. There is a saying that goes "don't measure by the miles per gallon, but the smiles per gallon", which rings true for this instance, but I would probably be feeling like a literal god and forget about the dollars being converted to exhaust gases.

Production of the 110 ended in 1958 (or 1961 as some sources suggest) with just 2,083 cars made. It is estimated that about 200 still exist today, with half of them still on the road. This unit was noted to be a gift by the Soviets to Kim Il Sung, the first leader of the DPRK. It was captured by the ROK forces on 22 October 1950 near the Chongchon river in Pyongyang, where it was subsequently gifted to the widow of General Walton Walker. It made an appearance at the 1951 Los Angeles Motorama, but after that its history became quite murky. Nothing was heard of until 1982, where the UN Korean War Allies Association (UNKWAA) discovered it in the possession of a car collector in New Jersey. The UNKWAA returned the vehicle in 2013, where it has since resided in the War Museum of Korea in Seoul. 

It goes without saying that none of them existed in Singapore: in fact the only time a Russian car brand entered the local market was the short-lived Lada between 1977 to 1981, and subsequently in the 1990s under Togliatti Cars. The lack of maintenance knowledge (and trying to decipher potentially useful manuals in Cyrillic) effectively puts these Soviet-era cars out of reach from even the most enthusiastic collector in this part of the world. The fact that there was one right here in Seoul was a big surprise as I had never heard of its existence before...I hope that this has been a fresh insight to Soviet classic cars, especially one as illustrious as this. Hopefully, you may be able to see it some day!

1 October 2021

More than an old car #179: Sunbeam Rapier

Car events now seem to be a lifetime ago as a result of current restrictions, and I am sure many of us are raring for a time where we can enjoy looking at many cars again without any fear. As a little throwback to when we were oblivious to the situation today, I felt it was a good moment to introduce this little obscurity of a 1956 Sunbeam Rapier!

The Rapier was launched by the Rootes Group in 1955, where it was based off the Hillman Minx. Curiously, the Hillman Minx itself debuted later in 1956 instead. Its styling, undertaken by Raymond Lowey Associates, was heavily influenced by the titular designer's Studebaker Starliner. Car bodies were built by Pressed Steel, shipped to Thrupp & Maberly in London where they were painted, then sent to the Rootes assembly plant where their engines were installed. Overall, the fractured nature of car production back then was an unwieldy beast that had fortunately died out. 

The car was equipped with a steering column gear change, leather trim and a Laycock de Normanville overdrive system. Typical of the period, cars were available in two-tone paint schemes like the above unit. The overdrive system was given praise by the late Sir Stirling Moss, who noted that the car could perform like a 2-litre engine car instead of a 1.3 litre one. Reviews also praised the instrument panel for showing important information at a glance, the wide view from the windscreen and seat comfort. Minor gripes included sluggish brakes and unnecessary clicking sounds when the wipers were in operation.

Despite being a 2-door car, it was able to fit 6 adults decently. Interestingly, the Rapier was also used in competition despite looking anything but sporty: it won the Special Touring Class up to 1600 cc in the 1956 Mille Miglia, and emerged 5th place at the 1958 Monte Carlo rally which were significant achievements. The Rapier was powered by a 1390 cc overhead valve straight-4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 85 mph with an acceleration of 21.7 seconds [0-60 mph]. It was 4070 mm long and had a fuel consumption rate of 9.3 litres / 100 km.

Production of the Series 1 Rapiers ended in 1958 with only 7,477 units made, where it was replaced by the Series 2. Rapiers were sold in Malaya (ie before Singapore became independent) by Lyons Motors Ltd in 1956, where they retailed at $7,180. While some units had been registered here in Singapore, none have survived till today: this unit was from Malaysia which had been here for an event. As with most 50s cars, not many remain partly due to scarcity of parts and knowledge to maintain these machines. With just 20 remaining in the UK, it would be reasonable to approximate around 100 remaining worldwide...

Although cars from your grandparents' era tend to be overlooked, they are veritable time machines that carry a nostalgia for a simpler period of history. The styling cues that appeared pioneered the way for car designs later on and are duly recognised as a significant part of what makes a car, a car. I was fortunate to be able to see this unique rarity, although I lamented not being able to take proper pictures due to the lack of access. While you probably won't see this anytime soon on the roads, I hope this has been fruitful in letting you know about its existence!