Man behind Hard Rock Cafe's Cadillac has been restoring cars for 37 years

Mr Poon, who took over the business from his father in 1996, reckons that he has restored more than 2,000 vintage and classic cars.
PHOTO: The New Paper

About two decades ago, a white 1961 Cadillac Series 62 Deville arrived at the workshop of vintage car restorer Poon Kng Joo in Sin Ming Industrial Estate.

He had been hired to give the jalopy a makeover.

And boy, did he ever.

Mr Poon, or Ah Joo to his friends, gave the Cadillac a coat of striking purple paint and added flames running down its sides.

"I sketched out the design and painted it on the car," Mr Poon, 60, tells The New Paper on Sunday. "The guy that gave me the job gave me a very brief idea of what he wanted, and the rest was up to my creativity."

That Cadillac became part of an iconic landmark. It was hoisted above the entrance of Hard Rock Cafe on Cuscaden Road.

And there it stayed for more than 23 years before it was taken down on Monday as the restaurant is undergoing renovation.

The car was awarded to the winner of the Hard Rock Cafe 25th Anniversary Charity Draw. The draw raised $5,500 by selling raffle tickets at $25 each. The proceeds went to Melrose Home, a children's aid society.

But the man behind the restoration of the iconic Cadillac says he is "not sad" about the fruit of his labour being taken down.

"Not many people knew I was the man behind the Hard Rock Cadillac... It still is one of the most memorable jobs I've done to date, there is no doubt about that," says Mr Poon, owner of Seok Seng Motor.

"But life goes on and things change, even for a classic place like Hard Rock Cafe. That doesn't change the fact that I am proud of the work that I did to that Cadillac."


Mr Poon says his neighbour recommended him to the team that was looking for someone to restore the Cadillac, which was initially "plain and all white".

He recalls that it took about 21 days to restore the Cadillac after it arrived.

Besides repainting the car, he had to remove the engine, leaving just the engine frame in the hood of the car and repolish its dashboard.

"The idea was to make it look like a classic and stylish Cadillac on the outside," said Mr Poon.

Back then, restoring a Cadillac like that cost about $12,000.

"If I were to do a job like that now, it would cost at least $20,000," he says.

"It wasn't an easy task. I remember we had to reduce the weight of the car to about one tonne so it could be hung. On top of that, I wasn't sure if they would like the paint job."

He adds: "In those days, there weren't stickers and wraps for cars so I had to hand-paint the entire car myself."

But Mr Poon's worry about Hard Rock Cafe not liking his work was probably unfounded. After all, at that point, he had been restoring cars for over a decade.

Mr Poon reckons in his 37 years in the business, he has restored over 2,000 vintage and classic cars.

His company was started by his father in 1954. Mr Poon bought over his father's business in 1996, a few years after he restored the Cadillac for Hard Rock Cafe.

"My father loved restoring cars, and I guess I got that love from him," says Mr Poon, who also enjoys restoring bicycles.

"I am sure he'd be proud that I played a part in restoring what over the years became one of Singapore's most symbolic icons."

This article was first published on May 22, 2016. Get The New Paper for more stories.