Category Archives: automobile

The Rust Was History

In the earlier years, motor cars were prone to rusting and were often seen with patches of the lower regions of body panels eaten through by rust.  European makes, notably Alfa Romeo, seemed specially vulnerable, though Japanese brands were not spared either.

Then circa the mid 1970s, a chemical treatment called “Tuff Kote” splashed onto the automotive scene.  It was touted as the wonder coating that could prevent one’s gleaming trophy on wheels from morphing into an unsightly chunk of brownish iron oxide. 

I remember salesmen of both new and pre-loved cars, quite persistently coaxed their customers to send in their mounts for this “extra protection” (of course they earned a commission).

Later on, as full-immersion cathodic protection technology became mainstream for auto manufacturers, Tuff Kote appeared to have a tough time selling their proposition. 

The Rust Was History,…..,maybe.

Achtung Bitte: My “Bugs-Wagen” Sob Story

My long-time dream of owning a German-made car came to fruition in 1998 – in the form of a 4-year old secondhand maroon-coloured VW Passat. Being in Singapore, I had paid S$76,000 for that SOB (“Son Of the Beetle”).

I loved the clean sleek design, and the feel of tight, precision Teutonic engineering.  Driving it was sheer exhilaration.  However, my joy was short-lived.  Spare parts were extremely expensive.

Worse, after about 6 months, the auto gearbox malfunctioned – always jumping back from 4th to 2nd gear unexpectedly.  The agent – Champion Motors – told me the fault could not be fixed, and I would need to fork out S$10,000 to buy a new gearbox!!  So, I took the car to an outside mechanic who did a temporary fix – and then I sold it for S$60,000/= (the Asian currency crisis was in full swing then). Sob, sob.

What The Fiat Was This Car?

Going back to the mid-1960s, I had a neighbour who used to sell cloth at the market several miles away from the kampong. One day, his son brought home a funny-looking car — apparently to help in transporting the family business merchandise.

Firstly, the driver seemed to be sitting in the rear, and facing rearwards!! And the car actually went “gostan” most of the time – at least that was what my young and imaginative mind thought!! 

As can be seen in the photo, the sloping end was actually the rear (engine was rear-mounted) , while the much more upright end was the front.

Interestingly, it had “suicide doors” in front, and even more intriguingly, the spare wheel was kept inside the front passenger compartment.  Legroom must have been tight.

It was only recently that I learned the model was the Fiat Multipla.

It’s A Bug’s World…

In the late spring of 2004, my company CEO despatched me to the city of Chihuahua, Mexico – to deal with a quality issue that had doggedly bugged the production line of our customer, Honeywell Mexico.

It was a long, circuitous  journey, flying via Newark, then to El Paso, and finally to Chihuahua — taking more than 30 hours. 

Fixing the so-called quality bug was  a piece of taco for me, as I found out the factory had a laissez-faire management and, tended to pass the buck and their bugs to the suppliers.

With the job done, there was plenty of time and the Mexican amigos took me for a tour of the city.  And guess what, I realized that It’s A Bug’s World after all.   Everywhere, on every street, every nook and corner, there was the VW Beetle, of every age and vintage. 

Oh Ghia ! The Karmann — Glam Bug From VW

Can you glam up a Beetle ?  Apparently, it could be and was successfully done in the early 1950s.

Volkswagon engaged the Italian design house Ghia, and German coachbuilder Karmann to create the eye-catching VW Karmann Ghia, and started production in 1955. (up to 1974 in Germany).  But the engine was still the venerable rear-mounted flat-four-boxer, air-cooled powerplant that drove all the Beetles.  (Later versions had more powerful engines)

My first encounter with one specimen was in the mid-60s – it was all-white, owned and driven by a lady dentist who worked at the Butterworth District Hospital.  (She used to do up the many ‘potholes’  on my teeth when I was a kid).  

Sleekness and glamour notwithstanding, the signature “chug-a-chug”  sound of the Beetle engine was unmistakable.  A close look at the badge verified the car’s bugsy heritage.

Bath Tub On Wheels ?

As I was in the bath tub this morning, an old memory flashed by.  Yea, I recalled seeing a very cute, stubby motorcar in my early primary school days.

It was a 2-seater, with a convertible top (at that time, I thought it was funny that the car had no roof) and the driver seemed to be yanking a stick that was stuck to the steering wheel (I did not know that was called a ‘column shift’ gear stalk).

The other interesting feature was that it had the spare wheel mounted prominently (almost ornamentally) at the back. Last but not least, the  other four regular wheels were half-hidden by the body panels.

Even at that tender age, I had mischievously thought the car looked like a bath tub on wheels.

I later learned it was called Nash Metropolitan.

Chill In From Down Under

It is now unimaginable for anyone buying a car – new or preloved – that it would come without an airconditioner built-in.  Yet, up to the very late 70s, airconditioning was an optional item.

And so, my very first full-size car (a 2-yr old Mazda 323 Hatchback) did not have one.  After sweating it out for a couple of months, and with my hair blown into a bird’s nest after each ride (windows had to be down), I decided enough was enough.

A trip to a workshop, and about RM1,400 poorer, ah ha, got me a brand new Sanden kit installed, with the blower/evaporator unit mounted under the dashboard.  Cool !  Wow, “to chill it out” had taken on a new wonderful literal meaning.

The first stop after that was to go over to my GF’s home and pick her up in cool comfort.

Stripping To Look Good

Disclaimer : This is not about flaunting of private assets in public.

In the late 70s through to the late 80s, it was fashionable to affix a thick strip of rubber, called “side molding” to both sides of one’s car doors.  These supposedly protected the sides of the vehicle against accidental knocks by the doors of other cars parked adjacent to one’s mobility pride.

More importantly, I suspect that these side moldings endowed the stripped cars with a perception of added strength and a touch of machismo. 

Thus, when I got my first ‘proper’ car in the form of a second-hand, first-gen Mazda 323, the first thing I did was to drive it to an accessories shop for a stripping job.  It looked great afterwards.

I think these days such side moldings are no longer cool or chic.

The Original “MPV”

In the old days – 1950s/60s/70s —  the Jeep-like Land Rover was a multi-purpose vehicle much favoured by the government agencies. 

Notably, it was almost always associated with the mata-mata (policemen), though the Department of Information, Fire Brigade, Health Department, and the Army also deployed substantial numbers of these “MPVs”.

The vehicle, with its 4WD, and high chassis was capable of taking on off-road terrain, flood-deluged mud tracks and shallow rivers.  It could even be equipped with a winch to haul itself out of miry bogs. Well, passenger comfort was not outstanding in anyway.  But it could carry a wide variety of payloads.

Over the years, many improvements and upgraded variants have been made. Competition also came from the likes of the Mitsubishi Pajero and Toyota Landcruiser, but none has attained the legendary status of the Land Rover.

Swedish High Five

After years of making tank-like cars, Volvo made a radical departure in the early 1990s.  Enter the model 850.

It came with a 5-cylinder engine, transversely mounted and driving the front wheels !  The body underwent some slimming, but the end result was exotic sexiness in boxiness.  The Volvo look was still unmistakeable (what a relief), albeit no longer stolid nor stodgy.

I like the clean, straight lines, the regal front, and elegant rear.  And the windows were large and there were glass panels in the C-pillars.

I was saving as much as I could in the hope of buying one, but until the day its manufacturing stopped, I still did not have enough money. Poor me !

Sadly, Volvo cars today no longer have any product differentiation. Worse, Volvo Cars had been sold to Geely of China.