1 September 2023

More than an old car #212: Rover P5


It never fails to put a smile on my face when I write about relatively obscure models here, regardless if it is not eye-catching. Having seen this 1972 Rover P5B Coupe a few times, I was glad to be able to go up close finally and admire how it stood out from the usual classics here!

Designed by David Bache since the early 1950s, the P5 was envisaged as a 'light P4' with a 'floor-cum-chassis' construction. It was Rover's first attempt at a monocoque design, and there were many variations put forth on the drawing board such as rear engines, gearbox mounted under the seat and various configurations of V6 engines for the car. Unveiled at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1958, it was well received although there were criticisms of sub-standard noise suppression and heavy steering. The cabin was one of the P5’s greatest assets: it blended modern ergonomics with traditional mahogany and leather that would not have looked out of place in a top London club.

While the P5 sold well to the older driver, Rover was keen to distance itself from this gentlemanly image and constantly modernised it throughout its existence. The Mark II version for the P5 was introduced in 1962, and notably featured the addition of the 4-door coupe: the roofline was lowered by 2.5 inches along with thinner B-pillars, with Hydrosteer power steering fitted as standard on the coupe. The Mark III, introduced in 1965, had a more powerful engine and the rear bench seat was replaced with two individually moulded rear seats.

The final iteration of the P5, known as the P5B, was released in 1967. Rover discovered that the Buick V8 engine was well-fitted for the car, and thus campaigned for General Motors to release the tooling. With the lighter engine, the P5B had better handling: reviews praised its superb insulation and good fuel economy. It was distinguished from earlier models with built-in foglights and chromed Rostyle sheels. The P5B was powered by a 3528 cc Rover V8 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 185 km/h with an accelaration of 12.1 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It had dimensions of 4750 x 1781 x 1473 mm and weighed in at 1625 kg, with a fuel consumption of 16.1 litres / 100 km.

 Saloon version of the P5B: note the differences in the windows and body style with the coupe.

The P5B was noted to be the British Mercedes and was a favourite with government officials: the late Queen Elizabeth II owned a few units in a special dark green colour and the last batch of P5Bs were reserved for government used when required. However, Rover went into a decline after their merger with Leyland and BMC, and the super-company had too many competing brands and priorities for Rover to get the investment that they needed to flourish.

Production of the P5B ended in 1973, with 9,099 coupes (split between 8,697 RHD and 402 LHD) and 11,501 saloons made. The first-generation Rover P5s were sold here in 1959 by Champion Motors Ltd, though P5Bs did not appear to be officially brought in. However, a few units did exist up till the early 1980s based on newspaper ads. This unit was imported from the UK a few years ago and was subject to an extensive restoration, where it was formerly grey. 

Coupes are noted to be more desirable and tend to be sold a few thousand pounds in the market. As 1 of about 13 Rover cars in Singapore, you would be forgiven for not knowing about its existence. The fact that someone found it interesting enough to import this curiosity here is wonderful in itself: makes you wonder what was going through the owner's mind? Hopefully, this post has been a good introduction to this rarity and perhaps you will be able to see it on the roads!


15 July 2023

More than an old car #211: Mitsubishi Toppo Town Bee


Many times, 'quirky' and 'classic' tend not to occupy the same space, given people's general impression of old cars as either being grandiose or run-down. However, this 1997 Mitsubishi Minica Toppo Town Bee begs to differ: it was also in my bucket list of 'to-spot' cars and I was glad that I could finally check it off!

First unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1989, the car was derived from Mitsubishi's Minica kei car: its name is a portmanteau of 'top' (referring to the high roof) and the Japanese 'noppo', meaning lanky. By having a spacious interior space, it was intended to be a selling point. 1st-generation Toppos had asymmetrical number of doors: usually 1 on the passenger side and 2 on the driver side.

The 2nd-generation Toppo appeared in 1993 with a longer wheelbase and round headlights. In January 1997, a retro-styled version known as the Town Bee was released: its name evokes the imagery of worker bees being busy. Town Bees differed from regular Toppos with their 'popping' headlights, akin to goldfish. A special edition known as the Pop Club was released in July the same year, featuring striking San Marino yellow paint, body-coloured mirrors and grilles (see below). The Town Bee received another facelift in October 1997, featuring a new grille, privacy glass, rear reclining seat and rear wiper.


Difference between the post and pre-facelift Town Bee

The Toppo Town Bee was powered by a 659 cc Mitsubishi 4A30 i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 139 km/h with an acceleration of 18.7 seconds [0-100 km/h]. As a proper kei car, it had dimensions of 3295 x 1395 x 1695 mm and weighed 730 kg, with a fuel consumption of 5.7 litres / 100 km

Production of the 2nd-generation Toppo ended in 1998 where it was succeeded by the 3rd-generation model. Despite it being a uniquely Japanese domestic market model, Town Bees were sold here in 1997 by Cycle and Carriage, retailing at S$78,800. A few units were also put up as lucky draw prizes! This unit, registered in December 1998, is the last one remaining in Singapore; however the expiry of its COE lifespan at the end of this year means that it must be either scrapped or exported subsequently. 

It is a pity that such a quirky and cute-looking car cannot continue to exist here, especially with its pink paint. Then again, trying to maintain the only car in the country requires one to be resourceful and have the right connections, which is easier said than done. The least I could do is to preserve its former existence in this post; hopefully you won't dismiss a flash of pink and see this unicorn before it disappears..