FROM BANGKOK, WITH LOVE

As thou­sands con­verge on the Thai cap­i­tal to cel­e­brate Porsche’s 70th an­niver­sary, we too head over to South-east Asia’s largest sports car fan gather­ing to un­der­stand why peo­ple go ab­so­lutely gaga over the fa­bled mar­que.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Cars -

What is it with the ob­ses­sion be­tween boys and their toys? What is it that makes them go weak in the knees, when they spy the iconic shape of a Porsche 911 or catch the sig­na­ture throaty roar of its boxer flat-six en­gine? At whose be­hest do they rouse at three in the morn­ing to em­bark on a three-day, 2,000km pil­grim­age in 40-year-old clas­sics up the en­tire length of the Malay Penin­sula – and then some – when dozens of direct flights would get them there any­way in just over two hours?

To even be­gin to com­pre­hend this love for what is – on the face of it – a cold, me­chan­i­cal ob­ject, I too make this over­land jour­ney,

par­tic­i­pat­ing in a press con­voy of the lat­est 911 Car­rera Ts and Panam­era Sport Turis­mos, from Sin­ga­pore to Bangkok. My des­ti­na­tion: Sportscar To­gether Day at the Show DC Oa­sis Arena, an ex­trav­a­gant, free-to-en­ter, one-day-only car­ni­val in July that unites thou­sands of fans – whether or not they are Porsche own­ers – with one goal in mind: to throw the car­maker its best birthday bash ever.

Here, more than 300 Porsche cars of all mod­els and vintages ar­rive through­out the day. Some are driven in from around the neigh­bour­hood. Oth­ers, like us, have tra­versed con­sid­er­able dis­tances from Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore – in­clud­ing, from the is­land state, six air-cooled 911s that among them sur­vived a flat bat­tery, an over­heated ig­ni­tion coil and a re­cal­ci­trant bon­net that re­fused to stay shut.

LOVE STORY NO. 1: DR BILLY TAN

I meet sprightly and lo­qua­cious Dr Billy Tan at the event’s gala din­ner on the ter­race of Bangkok’s grande dame, the Man­darin Ori­en­tal, on the balmy night prior to the event. With a lager in his hand, he rat­tles off the who’s who (or, more ac­cu­rately, the what’s what) of clas­sic air-cooled Porsche 911s and 356s that still ex­ist in Sin­ga­pore – in­clud­ing their cur­rent owner, their pro­duc­tion year and, some­times, their in­di­vid­ual his­to­ries. He lets on that he must have bought, re­stored and sold at least half a dozen such cars.

It would not be far from the truth to say that the eye sur­geon has an an­a­lyt­i­cal brain and deft hands that are as at­tuned to di­ag­nos­ing and rid­ding an el­derly pa­tient of cataracts, as they are in sys­tem­at­i­cally re­build­ing jalop­ies into show-qual­ity clas­sic cars.

A self-taught me­chanic, with skills honed through years of read­ing, googling and par­tic­i­pat­ing in spe­cial­ist fo­rums, he tells me that he or­dered seats from the UK be­cause those in­stalled in his 911 were from the wrong era. And that he im­ported three 356s and then took years to re­store them, so painstak­ingly, that he es­ti­mates that he can vis­ually iden­tify 80 per cent of the parts that make up the Porsche’s de­but prod­uct, sim­ply

“OLD CARS ARE GREAT WHEN THEY LOOK GOOD, FOR­GIV­ABLE IF THEY DON’T. BUT THEY MUST RUN WELL.” DR BILLY TAN ( ABOVE, RIGHT)

be­cause he had all but mem­o­rised the parts cat­a­logue dur­ing the process.

He drove up to Bangkok with his wife in his sil­ver 1972 911 2.4E that first came into his pos­ses­sion in 2005. Of the other five cars in the clas­sic con­voy – all driven by his bud­dies – two had, at some point in the past, ve­hic­u­lar log cards that bore his name.

“It’s in­ces­tu­ous,” he says with a laugh. “The trou­ble with new cars for me, I al­ways say, is that if you and I bought a new car and we put them next to each other, what’s there to talk about? They are spank­ing new and ev­ery­thing works beau­ti­fully. But old cars, you know, are great when they look good, for­giv­able if they don’t. But they must run well. Is­sues may arise, but if you can sort them out along the way and make the jour­ney up here and back, it is re­ally an ac­com­plish­ment for both car and driver. Yet peo­ple are fright­ened of them.”

The in­vet­er­ate car col­lec­tor has, over the years, grad­u­ally con­verted his Yio Chu Kang semi-de­tached house into a mo­tor­ing mu­seum of sorts. The en­tire front yard was paved over and cov­ered with awning, but, when his stash grew even larger, he in­stalled dou­ble-deck car lifts. De­spite ac­tively of­fload­ing his cars – he has just turned 61, he says, and can­not af­ford to keep up the “hobby” – he still has, at last count, two Porsche 356s, a Porsche 924 Car­rera GT, a Mercedes-Benz “Pagoda” 230SL, a Lo­tus Su­per Seven, a Fiat Abarth, an Austin-Healey 3000, a Volk­swa­gen Beetle Cabri­o­let and a Volk­swa­gen Kar­mann Ghia Con­vert­ible. And he is cur­rently restor­ing a 1963 Alfa Romeo Gi­u­lia Spi­der.

That is not in­clud­ing his wife’s mod­ern Porsche Boxster and his Mercedes-Benz E200 daily driver, nor the 1957 Porsche 356 and 1947 Cisi­talia 202 SMM Spy­der Nu­volari that he keeps in Cal­i­for­nia and Italy re­spec­tively. The lat­ter is a re­cent pur­chase, made specif­i­cally for his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Mille Miglia ear­lier this year.

His fix­a­tion with clas­sic car road trips started when he took a bud­get hol­i­day in his Volk­swa­gen Beetle to Kota Baru at the north­ern

tip of Malaysia as his re­ward for pass­ing his med­i­cal ex­ams. Since then, he has made count­less drives in his var­i­ous cars, to des­ti­na­tions like Kuan­tan (where all three of his Porsche 356s were driven in con­voy for Porsche’s 60th an­niver­sary), Ko Sa­mui, Krabi and, now, Bangkok.

So strong is his love for clas­sic car tour­ing that when he bought a newer Porsche 911 – a 996-se­ries twin­turbo – and hav­ing made the drive to Phuket with the Porsche Club, he de­cided to sell it, just shy of 10 months of own­er­ship, be­cause he felt that the 310kmh car was too “se­date”.

“It is pow­er­ful but too civilised,” he ex­plains. “The older one is more thrilling to drive.”

LOVE STORY NO. 2: SIHABUTR ‘TENN’ XOOMSAI

Un­der the blaz­ing sun, with storm clouds ap­proach­ing and threat­en­ing to rain on the pa­rade, I stand on a piece of open tar­mac, per­haps the size of two foot­ball fields, filled to the edges with Porsche cars. Some proudly wear a cake of dust and mud as tes­ti­mony of the ar­du­ous dis­tances they have con­quered to be here. In sharp con­trast, tak­ing cen­tre stage are two gleam­ing owner-sup­plied show­cases: the “Su­per­car Cir­cle” con­sist­ing of eight of the fastest Porsche cars of all time, and the “7 Gen­er­a­tions of the 911” that fol­lows the evo­lu­tion of the iconic model through its 50-plus-year his­tory.

Amid the ca­coph­ony of an­i­mated speech, rau­cous laugh­ter and the at­ten­u­ated mu­sic at the ad­ja­cent show stage, cu­ri­ous mem­bers of the pub­lic min­gle with Porsche drivers while nib­bling on street food dished out from the stalls sprin­kled around the event area.

One of the high­lights of Sportscar To­gether Day, this is “Das Tr­ef­fen” – “The Meet­ing” in its na­tive Ger­man – and is said to be the largest carpark meet for Porsche fans in South-east Asia. De­lib­er­ately kept ca­sual with no set agenda, it is the brain­child of one Sihabutr Xoomsai, known as Tenn to his friends. An af­fa­ble man flu­ent in

“THE BEST WAY TO EN­JOY PORSCHE IS TO SHARE IT.” SIHABUTR ‘TENN’ XOOMSAI (BE­LOW, RIGHT)

both Thai and English, he tells me that he was in­spired by the Porsche meets he had at­tended in the United States.

“There are var­i­ous Porsche in­ter­est groups in Thai­land, but we never had a real meet,” he shares. “Be­ing a GT Porsche Mag­a­zine edi­tor made it eas­ier for me to get ev­ery­one to join and have some fun to­gether. So, with the help of Porsche Club Thai­land and Ren­ndrive, we did our first Das Tr­ef­fen. It was amaz­ing. Lots of peo­ple came to show their sup­port. We saw cars that we have never seen be­fore. Old friends were re­united and new friend­ships were made. So it’s not re­ally about the car as much as it’s about the peo­ple. It’s also for peo­ple who like the brand, but don’t have a chance to own one yet.”

Tenn’s fas­ci­na­tion with Porsche be­gan when he was lit­tle. Hav­ing al­ways been a fan of the shape of the 911, his big break came when his dad’s friend came to their house in a brand new 964-se­ries model, tossed him the keys and asked him to get them some­thing to drink.

“I fell in love with the whole pack­age. The feel, the sound, the way it han­dled,” he re­calls. “The most im­por­tant thing I learnt that day is that the best way to en­joy Porsche is to share it. Since then that is what I tried to do – to share my pas­sion with my friends and fel­low en­thu­si­asts.”

He con­tin­ues: “A friend of mine, who has a young son, brought him to the event for the first time. He was so happy be­cause his son was so ex­cited, and kept say­ing the word ‘Porsche’. He said, ‘Now I don’t have to worry about sell­ing all my clas­sic Porsches when I can’t drive them any­more; now they are the fam­ily heir­looms.’ That re­ally put a smile on my face.”

LOVE STORY NO. 3: ACHIM STEJSKAL

With a face framed by black-rimmed glasses and a thick salt-and-pep­per beard, Achim Stejskal looks ev­ery inch the mu­seum di­rec­tor that he is. Care­taker of Porsche’s 985-mil­lion euro (S$1.5 bil­lion) his­tor­i­cal col­lec­tion, he grew up just out­side of Stuttgart, where the mar­que is based, play­ing Au­to­quar­tett (a Ger­man car-themed card game sim­i­lar to “Go Fish”) and al­ways want­ing to rack up the Porsche cards.

Although ask­ing him which car among his 500-odd stock he loves the most is akin to press­ing a par­ent to sin­gle out a favourite child, Stejskal ad­mits that the ob­scure Porsche “904” Car­rera GTS, a light­weight mo­tor­sports car from the mid-1960s, would be his pick. It is unique, he says, noth­ing like what Porsche has done be­fore or ever since. “But I also love the oth­ers,” he quickly adds.

Over at the main stage at Show DC Oa­sis Arena, where a starstud­ded line-up of celebrity Thai singers and disc jock­eys belt out live mu­sic to en­ter­tain the flocks of at­ten­dees, it is in­stead the two cars flank­ing the plat­form that hold court: the leg­endary 959 ParisDakar, a tech­nol­ogy demon­stra­tor that earned its stripes at one of the world’s tough­est ral­lies, com­plet­ing the fa­mous 13,800km desert course with a one-two vic­tory in 1986; and the 919 Hy­brid, which won mul­ti­ple vic­to­ries at the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship, in­clud­ing four wins

“THE MIS­SION IS TO KEEP ALL THE CLAS­SIC PORSCHE CARS ALIVE.” ACHIM STEJSKAL (FAR LEFT)

and five podi­ums in the 2017 sea­son.

Stejskal is the man in charge of the loan of those two ground­break­ing mod­els to the event. Each car costs 10,000 eu­ros to be flown here and re­quires ded­i­cated teams to han­dle all the nitty gritty, from the Cus­toms pa­per­work to phys­i­cal prep work, such as drain­ing all the flu­ids pre-flight and top­ping them back up again at the des­ti­na­tion.

“It was quite an op­er­a­tion,” he con­fesses. “But this is what we want to do. A lot of com­pa­nies run a mu­seum and only show the cars as static dis­plays. But this is not what we are. We are Porsche. And you know that 75 per cent of all Porsche car ever pro­duced is still run­ning. We want to show it to the peo­ple that es­pe­cially cars like th­ese are ready to use. Just get in and drive.”

Porsche is also one of a hand­ful of man­u­fac­tur­ers that main­tains a de­part­ment to sup­port clas­sic cars and their own­ers. Up to 150,000 dif­fer­ent parts are ware­housed. Some are new old-stock parts, but oth­ers are re­pro­duced. For ex­am­ple, spares for the 356’s drum brakes have long been ex­hausted, but Porsche has de­vel­oped new ones us­ing the mea­sure­ments from the 1960s.

He de­clares: “The mis­sion is to keep all the clas­sic Porsche cars alive. This is our obli­ga­tion to help all the cus­tomers and fans to even drive their cars within the next 70 years at least.”

AND THE STORY CON­TIN­UES…

My per­sonal first en­counter with the Porsche badge was more than 20 years ago, when my el­dest brother bought a used 911 “964” Car­rera 4, which he then traded for a 911 “993” Turbo. Liv­ing in the same home then, I re­call the daily rou­tine. At around 6pm, his ger­man shep­herd dogs would sud­denly awaken from their late af­ter­noon slum­ber and rush to the gate, bark­ing fu­ri­ously, their acute hear­ing pick­ing up the sound – far away enough to yet be au­di­ble to the hu­man ear – of his ap­proach­ing ve­hi­cle. His pets, it seems, share his same taste in cars.

I am re­minded of this fond mem­ory as I sit snugly en­sconced in the bucket seats of the 911 Car­rera T, pi­lot­ing the lat­est in a leg­endary line of sports cars that I was too young to be in­sured to drive two decades ago. With a thou­sand kilo­me­tres down and an­other thou­sand to go, I am some­where north of the MalaysianThai bor­der. The cabin per­co­lates with the en­gine’s gut­tural sound­track as I whizz past smoky mo­tor­cy­cles and trucks filled to the brim with durian. Stripped of ex­tra­ne­ous weight and sound­proof­ing, the “Tour­ing” vari­ant of the 911 range morphs into a per­sonal ex­ten­sion. Like an ex­oskele­ton, it re­acts re­as­sur­ingly to my ev­ery in­put – steer­ing, throt­tle, gear pad­dles, brakes – with im­me­di­ate feed­back, whether it is a change in course or an in­crease in tempo.

It is the ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of free­dom, of agility; an en­abler of wan­der­lust, as if one were rid­ing a steed, with no par­tic­u­lar des­ti­na­tion in mind. Shar­ing the high mo­ments of the road trip over Thai iced tea at one of the rest stops with fel­low jour­nal­ists, I too be­gin to un­der­stand how th­ese ma­chines could, in ef­fect, pos­sess the abil­ity to emote, to tell sto­ries and… to get you to fall in love.

PAST AND PRESENT The press con­voy, com­pris­ing two 911 Car­rera Ts and two Panam­era Sport Turis­mos (right), makes its way from Sin­ga­pore to Bangkok to unite with its air-cooled fore­bears (above).

SPEC­TAC­U­LARSHOW­CASES The 959 Paris-Dakar (above) is one of two his­tor­i­cal cars shipped from the mu­seum in Ger­many; Porsche own­ers sup­ply their own cars to form the Su­per­car Cir­cle (right).

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