Brothers with air-cooled cars

Brothers with air-cooled cars
Brothers Benjamin (left) and Jeffrey Hong and their cars.

This is a story about two brothers and the three air-cooled cars they own between them.

Mr Benjamin Hong, 46, owns a 1977 Porsche 911 Turbo, while younger brother Jeffrey, 43, has a 1981 Porsche 911 SC Targa and a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle 1302.

The 911 Turbo, Porsche's first (the eighth generation was launched here in January), is in immaculate condition despite its 37 years. The 911 Targa has a completely rebuilt engine, while the Beetle - the oldest of the trio at 43 - looks in better shape than cars a quarter its age.

It was older brother Benjamin, a director in a telco service provider, who became hooked on old cars first. It started with a BMW E30 (codename for the second-generation 3-series) which he bought in 1995 "for $20,000-plus" and drove for 16 years.

"When I decided to sell it, the selling price was actually higher than what I paid for it... and it was sold in a day," he recalls.

He sold the car for "$30,000-plus".

He found it interesting that older cars could hold their value, whereas new cars depreciated by the month - sometimes, drastically.

The car that brought him to the 911 Turbo was another classic car he owned: an Alfa Romeo Spider.

"The Spider was made famous by Dustin Hoffman in the movie The Graduate. It was a boulevard cruiser, it had a lot of character," he says.

"When I put it up for sale, the person who was interested to buy it was a classic Porsche collector."

Mr Hong bought the well-kept 911 Turbo from him two years ago. The car was in mint condition and its history appealed to him. It was the first turbocharged car Porsche made, and it was one of the fastest production cars of its era.

"I managed to obtain a Porsche certificate of authenticity that lists the options that came with this car. The person who bought it had ticked all the option boxes. So not only did he buy one of the most expensive and fastest cars in the world, he ticked all the option boxes, which included a limited slip differential, automatic sunroof, Recaro sports seats, air- conditioning, etc."

Despite it being in "an amazing condition",

Mr Hong had to replace a few parts to ensure that the car is a reliable daily ride. He says that with the Internet, finding parts for a car made in the 1970s is not as hard as it might have been. In his quest, he got in touch with stockists in the United States, Britain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Australia.

He was particular and meticulous about the details, right down to the paintwork. To give the car a fresh coat of paint, he found a paintshop owner "who was familiar with paint of that era".

"The good thing was that it wasn't one of those cars that was heavily modified... so that was a good start," he says. His brother, Jeffrey, an industrial designer, prefers to do most of the restoration work himself - at least on the 911 Targa, which he bought in 2010 for $40,000.

He learns about the inner workings of the 911 Targa from manuals and online forums. He notes that cars back then were less complex - with very few electronic parts. Still, one of the toughest things he had to do was to replace the 911 Targa's rear spring plate bushing (a rubber isolator which a part of the rear suspension member rests on).

"That took a lot of work," he recalls.

Unlike his brother's Porsche, his Porsche was heavily modified. So quite a lot of time was also spent on identifying and removing non-original parts.

The engine, however, was sent to a Porsche specialist to be rebuilt. "It runs great!" the younger Mr Hong says, adding the farthest he has driven it was to Cameron Highlands. "And if it's a good running engine, it's easy to keep in tune. It doesn't look so great outside. That's because I've been focusing on what's underneath. I'm still working on it."

He does most of the major restoration work at a workshop owned by a friend - where he can be found on many weekends. For minor tinkering, he does it where the car is parked in a multi-storey carpark in his housing estate.

As for the Beetle, which is as old as him, he leaves the maintenance to a reliable mechanic. "I had the Beetle first. It was my first classic car, bought in 2003," he says, adding that it is also the more practical of the two "as I can carry more stuff in it".

But which car does he drive more?

"Actually, I drive them both every day - one in the morning and the other in the evening," he says.

And which car does he like more? "That's like asking a parent which kid he loves more."

The two brothers, who are both married with no children, say they find older cars possess a charm and character that most Singaporeans find hard to appreciate. Says the older Mr Hong: "In Singapore, people have this mental image that a car lasts for 10 years. But actually cars, if they are well kept, can go on and on."

This article was first published on Oct 11, 2014.
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