It’s de­crepit but it moves

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents - But cru­cially, with­out a plan.

You know you’re in for a rough time when the used car sales­man tries to man­age your ex­pec­ta­tions about the car you’ve just called to en­quire about.

You know you’re in for an even rougher time when you show up for the view­ing and the first thing he says af­ter in­tro­duc­ing him­self is: “Why are you buy­ing this again?”

So, this car, then. You might be won­der­ing about his con­ster­na­tion, given what it looks like on paper. It’s a mid-en­gined rear-wheel-drive, has rel­a­tively low mileage (just un­der 15,000km a year) and here’s the crazy bit—it’s a gen­uine one-owner car. In its 20-year life­span, I was to be only its sec­ond owner.

Now, I say ‘car’, but what I ac­tu­ally mean is ‘van’. Specif­i­cally, a 1998 Dai­hatsu Hi­jet mi­crovan.

You also know how they say “you get what you pay for”?

Well, what do you think pay­ing SGD3,000 for a car gets you in Sin­ga­pore, a place where a semi-de­cent new car costs in the neigh­bour­hood of SGD100,000?

Not a whole lot, sadly. Its paint, body­work and up­hol­stery, ac­cord­ing to the sales­man, was “in its orig­i­nal con­di­tion”, which is code for “the pre­vi­ous owner never main­tained it all that much”.

And it looked ex­actly as I ex­pected a two decade-old work­horse to look. That is to say, an ag­glom­er­a­tion of peel­ing paint, rust and putty filler. Not so much abused as it was used as God in­tended.

Of course, I had to have it. Be­cause science de­mands to know what own­ing some­thing truly abysmal is like, but mostly be­cause I needed a car to drive and there was noth­ing else on the market I wanted at the time af­ter scrap­ping my Re­nault Clio RS.

Just to veer off-topic slightly, I drove up to view the Hi­jet in the Clio, which prob­a­bly ex­plains the seller’s con­fu­sion.

But any­way, I handed over the money and got a ve­hi­cle (al­beit a ratty one) in re­turn, which is an in­cred­i­bly lib­er­at­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, when you con­sider most car pur­chases here in­volve mort­gag­ing your first­born.

There’s also some­thing lib­er­at­ing in own­ing a car that’s so dis­pos­able. For in­stance, in the course of my own­er­ship, the Hi­jet got keyed re­ally badly by a neigh­bour and I couldn’t care less. They could’ve blown it up and I would’ve just shrugged. Own­ing a car that’s worth more as scrap metal or as an in­surance pay­out is cer­tainly an ex­pe­ri­ence.

In even more lib­er­at­ing news, I haven’t driven some­thing so rudi­men­tary in awhile. But call­ing the Hi­jet rudi­men­tary would be char­i­ta­ble. I’m sure there are wash­ing ma­chines out there that are more me­chan­i­cally com­plex.

It’s al­most re­fresh­ing, since many cars I get to drive in the course of my work have fea­tures lists that are a mile long. The Hi­jet, well…it doesn’t have cup hold­ers (un­less you count the plas­tic box zip-tied to the wire cage sep­a­rat­ing the pas­sen­ger and cargo com­part­ments), or a trip me­ter, or a rev counter, or a ra­dio an­tenna you don’t have to man­u­ally ex­tend/re­tract, or cen­tral lock­ing, or power-ad­justed side mir­rors and win­dows, or power steer­ing, or airbags...

Or, for that mat­ter, a working air­con­di­tioner. I can live with­out all the

above and I thought I could live with­out air-con­di­tion­ing, too. I was wrong. Here’s a pro tip, kid­dies: never, ever buy a car with­out a working air-con­di­tioner. Just don’t.

But, and this might be sur­pris­ing, the Hi­jet is not the worst car I’ve driven. This is in spite of how it has quirks up the wa­zoo.

To start with, its steer­ing. It’s in­cred­i­bly vague, con­sid­er­ing it has no power steer­ing and you can see the pin­ion mov­ing around be­tween your legs as you drive along.

As for power, it helps if you like to live life in the lit­eral slow lane be­cause, be­ing reg­is­tered as a goods ve­hi­cle, it’s pro­hib­ited from trav­el­ling in any­thing but the left lane and no higher than 70km/ Not that it mat­ters any­way, be­cause it has a lit­tle un­der 50bhp… when it was new. Af­ter 20 years of hard use, well, as with most things in life, I’ve found it best not to ask ques­tions you might not like the an­swers to.

Peo­ple of­ten ask me what the 0 to 100km/ ac­cel­er­a­tion time on the Hi­jet is like, and the an­swer to that is: it doesn’t ex­ist. Again, in the in­ter­est of jour­nal­is­tic science, I have con­tem­plated jour­ney­ing to the fa­bled land of triple-digit speed.

But with­out a rev counter to know how close I am to blow­ing up the en­gine lo­cated un­der my bum and send­ing a piston into my nether re­gions, it’s a risky propo­si­tion. To say noth­ing of how any­thing above 70km/ in this thing is also kinda il­le­gal.

Then again it’s a good thing it isn’t par­tic­u­larly fast. You see, the Hi­jet feels like it’s made of re­cy­cled Milo tins, has a front crum­ple zone made of your knees, a dis­tinct lack of ba­sic safety fea­tures (its seat belts seems to be merely cos­metic) and is taller than it is wide. I can’t imag­ine it be­ing par­tic­u­larly crash­wor­thy at speeds of any­thing above a brisk walk.

Then there’s the heat.

Hav­ing no air-con­di­tion­ing is bad, but ab­so­lutely hellish in Sin­ga­pore. Add to that en­gine heat ra­di­at­ing out of the park­ing brake’s boot and you have a rolling tor­ture chamber.

De­spite all that, I still re­gret noth­ing. The Hi­jet is starkly hon­est in a sea of cars that pre­tend to be sporty, lux­u­ri­ous or upmarket. The Hi­jet is none of the above and proud of it.

Ac­tu­ally, I tell a lie. The Hi­jet isn’t com­pletely with­out ar­ti­fice. Its seats, while they seem to be up­hol­stered with fab­ric, are made of vinyl. Why some­one would go to the trou­ble of mak­ing faux cloth seats—com­plete with a mul­ti­coloured wo­ven print—is be­yond me. Pleather I get, but pfab­ric?

For all the com­plaints I have about it, I’ll just say this—it costs SGD3,000. Re­peat af­ter me, a SGD3,000 ve­hi­cle. In Sin­ga­pore. In 2018. And that fact alone can for­give a great deal of ills… ex­cept per­haps a busted air-con­di­tioner.

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