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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the late ‘70s and through the ‘80s when the industrialization process was taking off in Malaysia, motor cars became a telling symbol of “I have arrived”.
This old fogey remembers many young-blooded hotshots would proudly roar in and out of town in saloons that had been “macho-transformed”….with sports rims, extra-wide tyres, throaty-exhausts…and invariably one or several sets of halogen fog lamps in front !
Never mind that a fog in Malaysia is as rare as a blue moon, these lamps emitted a piercing yellow beam that was quite menacing and even hazardous to oncoming traffic. I guess the idea was to tell the lesser beings in the oncoming vehicles, “look, tai kor (大哥, ‘big brother’) is here”.
I believe such lamps might have been outlawed, as in recent years I have hardly seen any vehicle with these mounted.