21 January 2022

More than an old car #186: Toyota Land Cruiser J60

As you may be aware, I have always been enamoured by boxy designs and they sparked off my love of classic cars. Recently, I was given a wonderful opportunity to cover this immaculate 1986 Toyota Land Cruiser HJ60 (which is currently on sale!) and it was a really good experience...

The history of the Land Cruiser dates all the way back to 1936, with the Kurogane Type 95 scout car devised by the Japanese Imperial Army. During the Japanese occupation in Philippines, they found an American Willys Jeep and promptly sent it back, where it was used as a reference to build a similar vehicle under orders from the military authorities. This led to the development of the AK10 prototype: although it did not see much use in the field, lessons were learnt which were applied to the development of the first Land Cruiser. 

During the Korean War, Toyota was tasked by the US government to make 100 new vehicles with Willys Jeep specifications. The subsequent output, known as the Toyota BJ, was larger and more powerful than its US counterpart: as it was a Jeep-type car powered by the Toyota B engine, the model became 'Type BJ'. First appearing in 1951, the Toyota BJ was able to climb up to the 6th stage of Mt Fuji which was unprecedented at that time. Much impressed, the National Police Agency quickly placed orders. In 1952, the name "Land Cruiser" was coined by the technical director Hanji Umehara: it was likened to a cruiser with the enthusiasm to drive out 'rovers', as Land Rover was regarded as their competitor. 

By 1980, passenger cars were changing and becoming more comfort-oriented than before. With the advent of SUVs in the US and the Range Rover, Toyota realised that they could build automobiles that would provide Range Rover comfort and versatility at a much lower price. The J60 was available only in 5-door wagon form but it was far more luxuriously appointed than its forebears. Comfort features included power steering, air conditioning and heated rear windows. Both petrol and diesel engines were available, and a facelift was carried out in 1987 with the round headlamps changed to 4 square ones.

This unit is powered by a 3980 cc Toyota 2H inline-6 diesel engine mated to a 5-speed H55F manual transmission, allowing it to reach a top speed of 145 km/h with a maximum power output of 76kW at 3500 rpm. With dimensions of 4750 x 1800 x 1825 mm, it can easily ford the increasingly frequent floodwaters that has been affecting the country recently. The HJ60's fuel consumption of 12.9 litres / 100 km is reasonable given its heft of 2010 kg.

Production of the J60 series ended in 1990 where it was succeeded by the J80 range, though production in Venezuela continued until 1992. The first Land Cruisers were brought in by Asia Motor Co Ltd in 1957, and small numbers existed in Singapore including the J60s. None are known to be left, but recently a few Land Cruisers have been imported under the classic vehicle scheme.

This particular unit, imported from Australia, was originally in Saint Moritz White (colour code 033) with an olive brown/light brown fabric interior (trim code FA42). It has been reupholstered lovingly, creating additional comfort and the exterior has been treated with the unique Raptor paint: its rough exterior pays homage to its rugged purpose and suitably protects the robust body from more scratches. 

If you are looking for a vehicle that can tackle roads, both on and off it while standing out from the crowd, this is the one for you! This urban warrior has had the following works done:

- Fully serviced brakes, aircon, engine and gearbox

- Full lubricant and coolant flush

- Full wiring repair

- Suspension repair

- Change of oil and fuel filter

Having sat in it myself and marveled at all the details, it presents a good off-road challenge for the adventurous (once more suitable tyres are fitted) and yet offers humongous storage space when the seats are lowered. The diesel engine is potent and is able to generate much torque, which will come in handy when conquering uneven terrain. An interesting component would be the inclinometer: it was quite cool to see the little figure tilt around when going on slopes.

For more details and inquiries, please feel free to contact me or Classic Motorworks SG as they are the ones who imported it in. With Japanese reliability packed into a fun and tough SUV, it is really the best of both worlds. You can see for yourself that they do not make cars like they do today, with the multitude of hands-on gauges and spirited driving. Who knows, you may just be the lucky owner to turn heads on your next rip down our roads!

13 January 2022

More than an old car #185: Nissan Serena

The 90s was an interesting period of flux: as the population grew, family needs also evolved and there was a greater need for people carriers to fit more inside them. At the same time, it had to be ideally affordable given the lower purchasing power during that time. This promoted the advent of multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs), and although car enthusiasts find them as exciting as watching paint dry, cars like this 1992 Nissan Serena C23 have cemented themselves as part of history whether people like it or not...

First introduced in 1991, it drew its roots from the Datsun Sunny/Cherry Cab back in 1969 and was launched as the fully remodeled version of the C22 Vanette, with internal designation of C23. Its name is derived from the Latin word 'serenus', and was intended to convey the image of a comfortable and enjoyable driving experience. Nissan's Aichi Manufacturing Division led the design and production: the vehicle has a semi-cabover structure with a small bonnet, but the engine was placed under the passenger seat. The shift lever was also mounted to the floor and it was also equipped with a combination sliding door and power windows, which was a world's first. Despite its rather unwieldy shape, it had a surprisingly low aerodynamic coefficient of 0.35.

Various grades and engine types were offered (both petrol and diesel). The more desirable 2.3 litre engine version was never sold in Japan, instead it was for export markets. A larger version of the Serena, known as the Largo also appeared in 1992. While the Serena was intended to be a people carrier, a van version was also produced for the European market: first in Spain and then by the UK-based LDV Group. In 1994, the Serena had a facelift with a different grille and bumper design, while internal changes were made to the instrument panels and aircon switch. Driver airbags were made standard in 1995 and another facelift occurred in 1997, with modifications done to the headlights and front grille. Passenger airbags also became standard-issue in 1998.

Interestingly, this unit sports a 1997 front fascia: when it was on sale in 2009, it still had the pre-facelift look. The Serena was powered by a 1998 cc SR20DE i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 170 km/h with an acceleration of 12.2 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4315 mm long and weighed 1485 kg, with a fuel consumption of 11.1 litres / 100 km.

Production of the C23 Serena ended in 1999 though van production in Europe finally halted later on in 2001. Serenas were sold here by Tan Chong Motors in 1992, where they found favour with large families and business owners who desired an MPV for their clients. However, its dowdy image also led to much criticism and was voted worst new car on sale in Britain in Top Gear. This unit no longer exists as it was scrapped in 2019, and none of the C23 Serenas still remain here. However, some Malaysian units do make their way to Singapore from time to time...hopefully you will be able to see them about!

6 January 2022

More than an old car #184: Alfa Romeo Alfa 6

Happy 2022 to all my readers! It is my hope that on the 6th day of this year, life will be able to go back to some sense of normal and that you will be able to fulfill your New Year resolutions! This leads me on to a car which I have have been wanting to write about for a while now (where its name may or may not be coincidental): this 1982 Alfa Romeo Alfa 6!

The Alfa 6, also known as the Alfa Sei (6 in Italian), was conceived back at the end of the 1960s and production was slated to begin in 1973. Alfa Romeo desired to return to the market segment of large 6-cylinder sedans, and wanted to position it as an Italian Rolls Royce so to speak. The new car (with internal code 119) was designed to share parts with the lower-end Alfetta: the overall design with its 4 round headlights and the C-pillar intake were clear indications. Interestingly, the Alfa 6 was designed earlier than the Alfetta, but due to the 1973 fuel crisis the car only debuted in 1979. 

It featured a 2.5 litre V6 engine designed by Giuseppe Busso with 6 single-body carburetors, power steering, central locking and braking circuits from BMW among other equipment. This made the 6 competitively priced compared to similar saloons of its time, where such equipment would have been costly to add on. It also featured new safety features such as a shock sensor in the boot that would cut off the fuel supply during a crash. 

Unfortunately, the 6 was doomed from the start: the rear light clusters were deemed too large, the bumpers too dated and the C-pillar air intake was judged to be inelegant. On top of that, there were many issues such as a non-working speedometer, loose spotlights and badly-mounted door panels. The potent V6 engine with its carburetors (though powerful on paper) was tricky to work on and maintain for the average user. Even when Alfa Romeo tried to promote the robustness of the car body, it was dispelled by a bad accident from actor Gino Bramieri in 1981.

At the end of 1983, the 6 underwent a redesign: the quad round headlights were replaced with squarish ones, bumpers were now fully in plastic, the grille was changed and aerodynamic spoilers were fitted in the bumpers. The carburetored 2.5 litre engine was downsized to 2 litres, while 2.5 litre turbodiesel and fuel-injection variants were introduced. However, the 2-litre engine was noted to have poor fuel consumption and the image of the 6 as a rather pointless car was further reinforced. This unit is powered by a 2492 cc V6 engine mated to a 3-speed automatic transmission, allowing it to reach a top speed of 185 km/h with an acceleration of 11.5 seconds. It was 4679 mm long and weighed 1390 kg, with a fuel consumption of 12.7 litres/100 km.

Production of the Alfa 6 ended in 1986 with just 12,070 units leaving the Arese plant: it was a far cry from Alfa Romeo's target of 30,000 per year. Among them, 5,748 were the pre-facelift version like this unit. It is estimated that only about 400 of them still exist today: while exact figures for RHD units are not known, it is likely that the numbers are even fewer. 6s were sold in Singapore by City Motors Pte Ltd, the former distributor for Alfa Romeo where they retailed for an eye-watering $105,000 back in 1980; one was even owned by the Italian embassy. None of them still exist today: this particular unit was imported a few years ago. 

Getting to know about this ordinary-looking unicorn was a big surprise: I had no idea that this even existed until I saw it and this line of thought appears to be prevalent even among Alfa Romeo enthusiasts. Its poor sales and generally forgettable performance does not evoke any kind of memories. Furthermore, spare parts for the 6s are almost non-existent since Fiat destroyed everything that was related to the 6, Arna and 90 when they took over the plant. The fact that one of them made its way here is a miracle in itself, though it would be interesting to know why this was brought in. Now that you know that this is more than an old car, perhaps you may get to admire this unique survivor some day!