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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Story of My Cars

In 1957 I took my car driving test at the Maxwell Road Traffic Police car driving test centre. The theory test and toy car pushing was at the office. The practical test consisted of parallel parking was held at the parking lot beside the Traffic Police office. Next was driving around the China town circuit to test my driving skill. I had to filter from one lane to another, putting up the correct car indicator when turning to the left or right and applying emergency brake when the tester suddenly tapped on the dashboard of the car. The final test was driving uphill at Erskine Road. I was instructed to stopped the car at the slope with the handbrake on. When releasing the handbrake to move forward, the car must not jerk or slide backward . I passed all the tests and got my car licence the same day.

My first car was a second hand 1953 Hillman Minx. But I owned only half the car. The other half belonged to my uncle. We had an agreement that I used the car at night as I was on permanent graveyard shift. He used the car during the day for his business. A year later I attended a diploma course at the polytechnic. During the term break, I and 3 classmates drove the car to Kota Tinggi waterfall for a picnic. It was smooth sailing all the way there. We had an enjoyable time swimming, walking under the waterfall and exploring the area.

The return journey was more challenging. The car broke down on the road due to overheating of the car radiator. We had no container to collect water and the few passing motorists refused to help. There was no house within sight. After walking quite a distance we saw a hut and was glad to buy a pail from the owner and took water from his well. As we headed for the Singaopore the car radiator heated up again a few times. We had to search for water to top up the radiator. At last we made it to Singapore. I thought my car was fine except to fix the radiator. On closer examination I found the engine block had a hair line cracked.

Car broke down

I replaced the Hillminx with another second hand car, a Triumph Mayflower 1951 model and continued the same arrangement with my uncle. Due to its shape the Hokkien community referred to it as 'kwa cha chia' or coffin car. It had hand gear and I had problem engaging it. I had no choice as I could not afford a better car then. I used it for a few years and then sold it away.

Picture from ST 20 Oct. 1952

In 1961 I was the proud sole owner of a second hand 1960 Triumph Herald. It was about one year old and was in a very good condition. It looked like a sportscar with low chassis, 2 doors, white colour body with a metallic blue streak on both sides and 4 white wall tyres. White wall tyres cost more and was very popular in the 60s. I liked the car very much and it served me for 7 years.

1960 Truimph Herald

1968 Volkswagen 1300

In 1968 I bought my first new car, a Volkswagen 1300 cc. The beetle shaped car was very sturdy. It had air cooled engine at the back of the car and needed little maintenance. I drove my family of six to Fraser's Hill and returned without any problem. It had the power to go uphill easily. The only drawback was its fuel comsumption (about 26/7 miles per gallon). In 1974 I was working in Jurong. Due to the nature of my job I had to get a fuel economy car. I bought a 1000 cc car Datsun FII. It gave me a mileage of about 35 miles per gallon. Though with less power than the beetle, I was compensated by its fuel consumption.

Datsun FII 1000 cc

As my 4 kids had grown up, I needed a bigger car for the family. In 1979 I bought a new Mazda 626 hatchback from Asia Motor at Kg Ampat. It had a 1600 cc engine and looked very stream lined and stylish. It was a cheap big car. I drove the car to Penang when the Penang Bridge was just ready for traffic. In those days, there were no highway to the north. The roads were narrow and rugged with many heavy vehicles on both sides. Overtaking needed good pick-up and power. Mazda 626 was lacking in both areas. I tried to overtake the front vehicles many times with the accelerator all the way down but in vain. Often I had to quickly move back because of on coming vehicles. On another occasion I drove to Genting Highland with my wife. I had to drive on second and third gear most of the time to go uphill. Hokkien saying " ho kwa bo ho chiah".
Mazda 626 Hatchback 1979 model

Picture from

My last new car was Alfa Romeo T15 (1500 cc) similar to the one in the above picture. It had a boxer engine that packed with nearly 100 horse power. I loved the car. The pick up was fantastic compared to all other made 1500 cc car. It also had the power to climb steep slope. At the traffic light I tested the pick up with many cars including bigger ones. I was very satisfied with the car performance but it was very costly to maintain. It served me well for 5 years until I retired in early 1993.


Lam Chun See said...

My family too used to own a Volkswagen Beetle. Have you read my story here?.

Philip. I am very curious about a couple of the places that are shown in your photos. Can enlightened us?

1) The one of the 1960 Triump Herald.
2) The one of the F II 1000.

PChew said...

I think your Volkswagen had a 1200 cc engine. It gave more mileage than my car.
The picture of my 1960 Triumph Herald was taken at Katong Park drive way. Entry was from Meyer Road opposite the Ambassador Hotel.
Datsun FII photo was taken at Marine Terrace carpark fronting my block.You can see my point block apartment behing the tree on the left. The carpark is now a garden.

unk Dicko said...

My father also bought a Volkswagen in the 60's. In fact, during the 1964 Racial riots in Sept ( the 2nd one , it was my elder brother who managed to "rescue" me at Horne Road in that same car.
If I remember correctly, our former Min of Health colleague Philip Loh, also drove a VW.

PChew said...

So in Sept 1964 you were working in the French Road pigs abattoir. I was there at that time. Philip Loh was my junior. If you think hard, maybe you would remember me as there were about 5 of us on each night shift.