Automania

The Singapore SS Jaguar

One of the all-time legendary vehicles is the SS 100 Jaguar, given the number 100 because that is what it would do in miles per hour. One of the most amazing SS 100 stories came out of WWII, a tale so fantastic it needs to be made into a movie. This was written up by a late departed friend of mine, Brian Woodward, but he swore it was true.

SS 100 Jaguar

In 1937 a very wealthy Chinese movie theatre owner saw a photograph of the new SS 100’s and ordered one to be shipped to his home in Singapore. It duly arrived and became transport for the movie theatre mogul. However, motoring for pleasure in the small island finished when a certain event called Adolf’s Bunfight took over the world’s stage.

For Singapore, it was the take-over by the Japanese army that stopped motoring fun (not the wholesale importation of Toyota Corollas or Nissan Sentry boxes), and the invaders impounded all the vehicles and then scrapped them, crushed them and sent the steel back to Japan to help the war effort.

To do this they needed a skilled mechanic and one of these was a chap by the name of Lim Peng Han. This gentleman liked the Jaguar and decided to keep it and dismantled the SS 100 and buried it in his back garden, piece by piece, hiding it away from prying Japanese eyes.

After the war he dug it up again and put it back together. However, since he wasn’t supposed to have had it, he disguised its origins, putting on cycle guards instead of the beautiful flared SS 100 front wings, sticking a hard top on it and a side mounted spare wheel. He even engraved “Lagonda” on the rocker cover!

Eventually (fortunately) it fell into the hands of an enthusiast, and even more eventually found its way to Australia. New mudguards were ordered from the original coach-builders in the UK and the car was restored to its original pristine (and concourse) condition. One of the rarest SS 100’s owes its existence to a Singaporean mechanic who loved cars too much to totally destroy one of which legends were made.


Auto investment. Is Thailand worth it?

According to the latest figures released by many sources, including the Thai Board of Investment, Thailand is looking good for many of the major players in the automotive industry. This is despite the looming threat of China, and the apparent slowness in getting the AFTA (ASEAN Free Trade Area) agreements off the ground.

You only need to look at the two majors in the one ton pick-up sales, Isuzu and Toyota, who together spent over 155 million baht just in advertising their respective products. Market leader Isuzu have already indicated they will close their Japanese pick-up and SUV plants and relocate to Thailand. The expected output is to export 100,000 units per year from Thailand, within the next two years.

Toyota are spending 5 billion baht on a Research and Development Centre in Samut Prakan and this facility which will employ 240 local staff has been given the task of producing two new models for Asia by 2006. On top of that there will be new production plants requiring another 43 billion baht big spend, as Toyota expects to produce 200,000 units a year plus 7.7 million parts.

Michelin and Bridgestone are also investing further in Thailand production, plus many parts suppliers, led by Yarnapund, Thailand’s biggest parts manufacturer who are pumping 1.5 million baht into new plant and tooling to supply parts for Toyota and Isuzu.

No, despite the ‘threat’ of China, Thailand is in good shape, and with the major manufacturers concentrating on one ton pick-ups here and 10 ton trucks in China, it stops there being too much of an overlap between the two manufacturing centres.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I wrote about an engine that was used to garner several world speed records. It was a 24 litre 12 cylinder engine, with the cylinders arranged in three banks of four, known as a ‘broad arrow’ configuration. I wanted to know the engine, the car it was in, and the driver. The answer was the Napier Lion aero engine that was put in the Napier-Railton Special driven by John Cobb. From 1933 to 1937 it set many records, including the 24 hour record at over 150 mph (240 kph in the new money).

And so to this week. Quick and easy. What Japanese car manufacturer was founded in 1920 to make cork products?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email auto [email protected]

Good luck!


Charismatic French chic

Our Down-under correspondent has been out with a French chick, or that’s what I thought at first glance. However, it turned out to be the Citroen C3 1.4 litre that sells for around 1.3 million baht in this country. Here is John’s opinion on this imported French chick!

“The Citroen C3 is the first five-door hatchback the French company has offered in Australia since it first came here 80 years ago. It is snazzily styled - genuine French chic - very well equipped and extremely economical.

“The C3’s styling both inside and out was admired by all - modern yet functional, practical because of its rounded high roofline, and dead easy to manoeuvre because of its tight dimensions, higher than normal seating position and large glass areas.

Citroen C3

“Standard equipment includes remote locking, power front windows with fast up and down, air conditioning, four airbags, radio station and volume adjustment from the wiper control arm, digital speedo, fuel and temperature gauges and a host of storage spaces. There are automatic wipers, a two level glove-box, funky alloy-look fascia air vents and individual front centre armrests for the passenger and driver.

“The standard Citroen C3 SX costs AUD 19,990 with cloth upholstery (that is about a little over 500,000 baht, if you want to have a little cry in the corner). For an extra AUD 1000 the C3 Exclusive has velour plus ABS brakes and front fog lights. I’d go the extra grand. Automatic is available only for the C3 Exclusive. It adds AUD 2000.

“Power - I use the word generously - is a no more than adequate 57 kW from a 1.4 litre four cylinder engine which develops just 115 Nm of torque. Thankfully, the five-speed manual gearbox is a sweet shifter because it needs lots of use on any road.

“Surprisingly, an afternoon in an automatic C3 dispelled notions that it would further stifle progress. Indeed the excellent auto proved adept at extracting the most from the little engine’s lungs, thus demanding a rather less frantic performance from the driver.

“The C3’s leisurely progress - it takes 14.2 seconds to reach 100 kph - is compensated for by outstanding fuel economy. The highway figure is quoted as 5 litres per 100 km. We did not do that well, but the figure for a week of widely varied motoring was near-as-dammit 50 mpg in the more easily understood imperial measurement - say, around 6l/100 km.

“Likes were many, balanced by some disappointments. The cutesy digital fuel gauge gives an inadequate indication of the state of play nearing empty, but I liked the clarity and easy reading of the large digital speedo. The forward folding rear seats are useful, but leave a far from flat floor. There is a high lip to lift loads over. My lasting questions relate to overall quality. There were some unexpected noises-off. Some items felt a little flimsy which is rare these days. This otherwise endearing little Eurocar falls short of the solid feel of such less charismatic Eastern competitors as the Hyundai Getz, Mazda2 and Honda Jazz. Its main European competitors are French too - the delightful Peugeot 206 and Renault’s fun Clio (see my piece on the Clio V6 next week - Dr. Iain).

“The C3’s ride is fine, but not traditional ‘Citroen-superieur’. While there is a mite more road noise than usual the ride is commendably comfortable. Body roll is well contained but it is sufficient to encourage an early easing of the accelerator in twisty terrain.

“The C3 has bags of practical appeal and genuine style. It will never look or feel boring, but you’d best check that the performance is OK for your needs. Its minimal thirst is a major plus. Five door access adds to everyday practicality.”

Thank you John, for the Thailand situation, the (relative) lack of power would not be such a problem. After all, sitting in Bangkok or Chiang Mai traffic jams, the most important performance item is the air-conditioner!


Anyone for Bahrain in April next year?

Having just flown to and from the UK and having stopped at Bahrain both ways, I can tell you the airport is lovely. Those who have ventured outside tell me that the Grand Prix track is coming along well too, with over 42,000 cubic metres of concrete having been poured already.

Although the FIA has yet to reveal the schedule for the 2004 season it’s understood that the organisers of the Bahrain GP are looking at an April date. Originally it was thought that the Bahrain event would be slotted in at the end of the season - most likely in October - but it was then realised that this would involve a clash with Ramadan in subsequent years.

The deadline for completion of work at the track is March 7 and according to the latest report everything is on schedule with 31% of the work complete. It’s understood that almost two thousand men are working around the clock to ensure that the facility is completed on time, and the mild summer has helped progress.

“So far we have been very lucky,” resident engineer Rizwan Mumtaz told the Gulf Daily News. “There were only one or two bad days of humidity and it has definitely helped in construction work.”

The most crucial time is the period from September to November since that is when the various specialists in different department will need to work together as the final phase of the construction begins. This is when the track surface will be laid and the steel structures designed to support the grandstand roofing will be erected.

Somehow the three weeks between completion of the circuit and a Grand prix in April sounds too short for me, and I doubt if Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA will approve. More later! However, it is interesting to note that April is the date for the San Marino GP. What bets that it gets forgotten next year? After all, they have threatened they are scrapping the Canadian GP!