Text by Cheryl Tay
Photos by Adrian Wong
There’s nothing quite like driving a classic car, like this rare 1967 Porsche 912 here, to experience the real feeling of driving.
Motoring purists would know what I mean when I say I like the raw feeling of driving. Feeling the carburettor in your feet and smelling the fuel from within the cabin were just part of my experience driving a 1967 Porsche 912.
A true classic indeed, I was initially apprehensive and scared to drive the car and was really gentle with it, because I was afraid that this 45-year-old machine would be too fragile.
But once we were out on the roads, I adapted to it quite quickly and soon I was taking it to speeds of 90km/h in its highest (fifth) gear!
This 1967 Porsche 912 is only one of two left in Singapore today, belonging to Singaporean Lim Tiam Hai, an avid fan of all things vintage. Hai loves collecting vintage cars and draws great satisfaction from restoring them back to daily use in modern time. Other than restoring classic vehicles at his workshop VesVolk in Johor Bahru, he also runs a retro-themed diner called Kombi Rocks at 66 Yio Chu Kang Road.
It was four years ago when Hai got to know about this 912 through a customer at his diner. Managing to persuade the owner to sell it to him, Hai bought it for S$85,000 then, before spending the past three years painstakingly restoring it. Thus far, Hai has spent about S$80,000 on restoration works for this 912 and even had to renew its Certificate of Entitlement (COE) for over S$30,000 last year. The car is eligible for Singapore’s classic car scheme, where only 10 per cent of the COE and road tax is required, but the car can only be driven 28 days a year. Preferring to have the 912 as a daily drive, Hai registered it under the normal car scheme.
Hai was telling me how the 912 was in quite a bad shape when he acquired it. Completely rusty, Hai worked hard on renewing the car inside out.
Housing only original parts, he swapped the old seats (that had no headrests) with original seats of a newer-generation classic Porsche, changed the rims and gave it a totally new paint job from its original silver to this cream beige colour.
The first thing I did when I got into the car was to reach out for the seat belt, immediately laughing out loud when I realised there weren’t any. The next thing I usually do when I get into a car for the first time is to adjust the mirrors, but this 912 only has one side mirror!
Spoilt by modern technologies and innovations, it took me some time to familiarise myself with the knobs and dials of the 912. There are no onboard computers, no electronic seats, no reverse parking sensors, no fanciful amenities or technological driving aids, no central locking, no electric windows – everything was minimalist. Think manual wind-up windows and pull-out knobs for the headlights.
While I adored the joy of such pure driving, I have to admit it was a tad exhausting. Because of the absence of power steering, suddenly the typically effortless manoeuvres such as U-turns and three-point turns needed a lot of strength and effort. Then there’s also the heavy clutch – for the case of this particular 912, the gears have to be engaged intuitively and I had to make sure that the revs do not drop below 1,000rpm at any one time or the engine will stall. Without features like brake assist, I also needed a lot of anticipation to brake much earlier and harder.
To make the ride more suited for today’s needs and preferences, Hai added an air-conditioning system and an in-car audio system, neatly housed in the glove box. I preferred to have the air-conditioning turned off and the windows down instead, so I could appreciate the raw sounds of the engine on the drive. The 1.6-litre rear-engined 912 is capable of drawing lots of attention and stares on the roads and Hai often gets people coming up to him asking, “This kind of car still exists?!”
Besides this 912, Hai’s existing vintage fleet includes four Volkswagen Kombis, two Volkswagen Beetles and a cute Austin Healey – all of which are registered for normal road usage and rented out for weddings or other commercial purposes. It all started in 1996 when he restored his first Vespa and managed to sell off the refurbished classic. Since then, he was hooked and he went on to collect vintage motorbikes, bicycles, cars and vans to restore and sell. Hai even goes to the extent of following vintage vehicle owners home just so he can make them an offer to buy the vehicles back. On one occasion, Hai waited a whole 10 years before the Indian owner of a 1961 Lambretta Series 1 scooter finally agreed to sell it to him. That’s persistence for you!
No one else in Hai’s family is keen in classics and Hai was in fact discouraged by his parents when he brought home that first Vespa. They told him to scrap it and buy a new one instead of wasting time and money to restore and rebuild it. He endured and pursued his passion against all odds, even resurrecting his retired father’s Koon Kee Restaurant to today’s Kombi Rocks at 66 Yio Chu Kang Road that serves up a mean menu of Thai-Chinese inspired cuisine.
Hai loves anything vintage and hence the décor of Kombi Rocks is filled with antiquated collectibles, some of which are for sale. He said, “I love the originality of a classic and the feeling of taking something that others deem worthless and converting it into something of value. Think of a vintage car as fine wine – it gains more value as it ages!”
For more photos of this Porsche 912 and Kombi Rocks, view here.
Also watch my video review on it here:
*This was first published in Autogridz.
66 Yio Chu Kang Road
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