In The Passenger Seat: Luhan, Old is Gold

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(Photo Credit: Alex Tan)

Vintage cars are things of great beauty and appreciation in the hearts of car enthusiasts, but appreciating can't be done without the mechanics who restore it. Luhan of Classic Motorworks does a super job in restoring classic cars from Vintage Land Rovers to even 1960s' Rolls-Royces for us to enjoy.

Started in October 2016 on his 24th birthday, Classic Motorworks started out as a 2 man workshop that in, the owner, Luhan’s own words was in “Kampong Style”. It's located deep in Tuas and has seen significant changes, now becoming a larger workshop that houses more eye-catching classic and vintage cars. We look into his account as he recalls his experience since opening his workshop:

What’s the story behind Classic Motorworks? How did you guys start? Where did your passion for restoring classic cars come from?

Classic Motorworks started with my passion for tinkering and repairs. My favourite toys were Tamiya and Lego, and it went from there to bicycles and eventually to cars. I was fortunate enough to own a 1971 Land Rover Series at 20 years old. I repaired and maintained the vehicle myself, learning from the internet and vehicle maintenance manuals.

I owned the vehicle for 5 years and had a lot of fun with it. I eventually sold it and got myself a Land Rover 109 instead because I wanted more space for overlanding. I get quite a good kick out of making spoilt things work again and that's how the workshop came about.

Which classic car was your favourite to restore?

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My favourite car to restore is definitely a Land Rover Series. It is the simplest vehicle to do, straight panels all over, and the parts are cheap! Because of my ownership, I am extremely familiar with the vehicle and will be able to restore one without googling.

Is it hard to import a classic car to Singapore? What’s the whole process like for you and how long does a project like that take?

Contrary to popular belief, it is actually pretty straight forward to import a classic car into Singapore. The rules and regulations are clearly spelt out on LTA’s and ICA’s websites. Of course, there is a lot of paperwork involved, but once you get the hang of it, it's the same for all cars.

The challenging part is to restore the vehicle to a roadworthy state. Some vehicles have been parked for over 10 years, all the parts have seized and will need heavy repairs to work again.

The typical import and restoration process takes 6 months. The long timeline is always due to waiting for spare parts to arrive. Some parts are no longer available, and I have to modify a similar one from another car. The modification is trial and error so it takes up time as well.

What’s your earliest memory of vintage cars and what’s the story behind it?

The earliest memory has to be seeing a Land Rover Series outside my house when I was 18. I just got my license then. It just so happened that this blue Land Rover series driven by an old uncle mechanic was parked opposite my house (the uncle is still driving the same land Rover, and this was 10 years ago).

The house was under construction and the mechanic came over to repair the excavator. I begged the uncle to let me drive the car, and he only let me test it after much persuasion (I still have a video of it! Almost stalled!).

I was very amused that a 40 year old vehicle is still functional and running on Singapore roads. That led me to research more into classic cars here, and eventually purchasing a Land Rover Series for myself.

What car are you driving now?

My daily car is a Toyota Prado. After repairing Italian, British, Japanese and German cars, I can say that without a doubt that Japanese engineering is the best! My Land Rover Series 109 is also parked at the workshop. I use it to ferry heavy stuff around the island.

You guys rent your cars for events, what was the most interesting event you rented a car out for?

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We have rented cars out for advertisements, weddings, and events. The most interesting one has got to be renting my Series for a Starhub shoot. At that time I didn't know it was Starhub, not much info was given to me. Looks like they picked it because it was green.

I found it funny that they used a very slow vehicle when their business is about speed. I also rented out my Morris Minor for a short shoot. I drove it to Kampong Buangkok, and was shown in one of the National Day videos.

What is your ultimate dream car to restore and own?

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I am happy to say that I have owned my dream car since I was 20. I have no other dream cars to own. That being said, my second favourite vehicle is the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. The refinement in the 60s and 70s is still unparalleled today.

The workmanship of the car, the quietness and smoothness of the drive is superb. It feels like you are sitting on a cloud. You know what they say about Rolls-Royce, the engine is so quiet that you can hear the clock tick. Well, it's true.

My third and final favourite are the American V8s. Nothing beats the roar of an American V8. There is no replacement for displacement!

What are the struggles of owning a classic car?

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Speaking as an owner of classic car before I opened a workshop, I will say that the biggest struggle in Singapore is finding a good workshop that is capable and honest in doing repairs on classic cars. While it is good that the owner can tinker here and there, the heavy lifting still has to be done by the workshop.

Most of the mechanics repairing classic cars are in their 60s, and are either retiring or not taking in further jobs. This leads to a case whereby there are many new owners who want to own a classic car , but are afraid to do so because they don't know of a workshop that can maintain those cars. They are also afraid that the workshops will charge a premium to repair such cars.

What do you think of the car culture in Singapore and what are your hopes for it moving forward?

I hope the car culture here can grow with more legally allowed modifications. While the classic car population is growing, we are not seeing variations or modifications because they are not allowed by law. I do hope that LTA can relax the laws slightly on classic cars, that will bring out greater fun in owning such cars.

I also hope to see new owners who are more involved in understanding and maintenance of the cars. While a workshop can settle everything, nothing beats sorting it out on your own!

If you're looking to purchase, restore, or even import a classic car, check out Luhan and Classic Motoworks SG on their Instagram and website!

This interview has been edited and condensed.