In The Passenger Seat: Clarence Tan, Owner of Singapore’s Mystery Machine

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(Photo: @mysteryvan1991)

Everyone always has that ONE thing in their house which makes it cool. For Clarence Tan (@mysteryvan1991), it’s his Mystery Machine! Clarence has a passion for transforming cars and his most notable one is from everyone’s favourite ghoulish comedy-cartoon, Scooby Doo.

This fun-loving father of three makes dreams and wishes come true for that little kid in all of us. Just imagine going about your day when you see the Mystery Machine pull up next to you on the road!

Besides the Mystery Machine, Clarence also owns a Mr Bean Mini Cooper, complete with the iconic faded lime green colour and black bonnet.

Let’s see what he has to say about his unique hobby of transforming and collecting movie cars!

Why the Mystery Machine? Tell us the story behind it.

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(Photo: @mysteryvan1991)

The Mystery Machine has been on my “to do list” for the longest time, the purchase of the van basically made it come true. When the van was put on sale, I quickly decided to buy it as the shape and size was perfect. I also needed a van for my growing family.

What inspired you to start transforming cars?

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I think Mr Bean was the main reason why I started. It was a simple car, plentiful in Singapore. When I realised the registration number series SLW was coming and it corresponds with the Mr Bean’s SLW287R, I jumped and decided it must be done.

You must get a lot of attention on the road! Could you describe the funniest interaction you had?

While car manufacturers strive for higher miles per gallon, I would strive for ‘smiles per gallon’. Once, I stopped to collect a parcel and I saw two 10-year-olds jumping when they saw the van. I also heard them shout, “The Mystery Machine! It’s real!” It was quite a laugh.

If you could pick one fictional vehicle to drive, what would it be and why?

The Jetsons
(Photo: Tech Crunch)

It has to be The Jetson’s flying car. A bubble car that gets you a 360 degree view is perfect. Not to mention the ability to fly to your destination in record time!

If you don't mind us asking, how much have you spent on the Mystery Machine?

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(Photo: @mysteryvan1991)

The whole car was wrapped in vinyl stickers so it cost about S$2,500 for all the graphics to be done. There were also a few dents on the car that needed repair and that cost S$500. Did I mention the car also needed a new 10-year COE which was $25,525?

You also own a vintage 1977 Austin Mini Cooper and 1969 Volkswagen Beetle. Any reason why you bought these cars?

Photo 2020 07 03 14 14 46(Photo: @mysteryvan1991)

I started radio control car racing with a Mini when I was 14. Coupled with the popularity of Mr Bean, the Mini became the first classic car I strived to own. The Beetle just happened to be in the colour scheme of a race car that I own, the Tamiya Sand Scorcher, so that got my attention.

Could you share some tips for maintaining older/vintage vehicles?

Here are my six tips:

  • Diligently complete preventive maintenance
  • Find the right components.
  • Always check the engine oil and radiator water level to keep the car’s engine healthy.
  • Hear for weird sounds that are abnormal.
  • Shelter the car whenever possible.
  • Join a car club or group where information / experience can be shared.
You seem to have a fondness for vintage cars. Could you name one modern car that you would love to own?

Honestly, I do not look forward to owning any modern car. Financially, it’s not a wise decision and there is nothing much to work on and is too easy to drive. By too easy to drive, I’m referring to automatic transmission cars as most old ones are manual transmission. Getting the clutch-work right is both challenging and fulfilling for me. I love it!

If you had to sell all your cars except one, which would you keep?

This is a very tough question but in an event that I have to, I will still keep my first car, a 2006 Toyota Rush, which will also be transformed soon.

What have your friends and family said about your love for cars?

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(Photo: @mysteryvan1991)

I have always been regarded as weird by them. However, they are very supportive of what I do as it brings a smile to their faces too. As for my friends, they actually encourage and chip in their ideas from time to time.

Has anyone requested to borrowed your car for an event or photoshoot?

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Plentiful! Weddings are common, so are a few birthday parties. If I collected $1 for every selfie people take with the Mystery Machine, I could buy another car!

What car do you see yourself driving in 10 years?

I am quite sure I will still be driving the same cars! I worked too hard on them!

You seem to be a fun-loving dad! Have your kids helped you out in any of your transformations?

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(Photo: @mysteryvan1991)

They would always love to help when I am working on the car, however, they are still too young to hold a screwdriver properly, so they just pretend. If I could pass my cars down to them and they’re interested, why not?

Are you planning to transform other vehicles in the future? What are your plans?

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(Photo: The Drive)

Yes, I have a few other vehicles and will be transforming them into recognisable cars that have appeared in movies, cartoons or tv shows. The Jurassic Park jeep, Ghostbuster Ecto 1, A-Team van, and the Ninja Turtle Van are all on my wish list already.

What do you hope to achieve with all these transformations? Is there a goal in mind?

To have a fleet of movie cars would be really interesting. My ultimate goal is to give every car its well deserved character, from movie to life!

Follow Clarence Tan and keep up with his upcoming transformations on Instagram.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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