Sat, Mar 30, 2002 - Page 11 News List

On the road again

In a country where ownership of the latest car is often a matter of face rather than of convenience, members of the nation's only classic car club ramain happy to be seen in unfashionable, but head-turning cars

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

With upwards of 5.3 million automobiles plying the nation's many highways and byways, for its geographical size, Taiwan is one of the world's most car-user-populated countries. And with entry into the WTO earlier this year, this already staggering figure is set to increase.

The once hefty import duty and tax imposed on foreign automobiles will be almost halved from its present 30 percent to 17.5 percent. And the increase in the annual quota of cars imported from Taiwan's largest hubs of automobile importation, Korea and Japan, is to rise from its' present rate of 7,700 units to 10,000 units annually.

According to recent reports, the change in import regulations will see the number of cars sold over the coming year skyrocket. It is predicted that the figure will increase by at least 100,000 units and reach an astounding 450,000 units.

In a country where the ownership of a top-range car is more often than not a matter of face, rather than of convenience, WTO entry has, needless to say left those looking to impress with the latest in four-wheel decadence salivating.

For car enthusiasts such as Chien Chun-ping (簡春平), however, membership in the world trade fraternity means very little. As founder of Taiwan's only classic automobile club, the Changchun Car Association (長春車協), Chien has enjoyed pottering around in used cars for over 20 years.

Since purchasing his first classic car, a late 1960s Toyota Corona Coupe Mk.II, 22 years ago for the then hefty price of NT$35,000, Chien has gone on to own over 60 of Taiwan's rarest classic cars at one time or another. Although the club has a membership of only 100, Taiwan's small number of collectors take their hobby very seriously.

Like international classic car clubs, the Chungchun hold regular rallies and its members and their cars have taken part in the official openings of both Taipei's Civil Boulevard (市民大道) and the Chongyang Bridge (重陽橋).

The local advertising and music video industries also keep club members and the automobiles pretty busy. Many of the club's cars have appeared in MTV videos and TV commercials. Not that Chien allows local celebrities to drive his pride and joy. Whenever his cars are used he takes firm control of the wheel.

"I don't let anyone else drive the cars at all. Even if the producer wants to move the car a couple of feet I do it myself," Chien said. "If I dent the car so be it, but I certainly don't want anyone else doing that." While the Chungchun Car Association pales in significance when compared to the huge memberships which classic car clubs in Europe and the US attract, Taiwan's classic car collectors should not simply be dismissed.

When almost 30 years of import restrictions on vehicles and the difficulties in obtaining accessories are taken into consideration, Taiwan's classic car collectors should possibly be applauded for their efforts in keeping some of the nation's oldest and rarest automobiles on the road.

"The situation in Taiwan is very different from the US or Europe. There's not an ever increasing or changing pool of classic cars in Taiwan. The cars that are here have been for many years and they are few and far between," explained Lin Yi-deh (林盈德), the proud owner of one of only three Triumph Spitfires in Taiwan.

According to Lin, there are somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 road-worthy cars of 30 years or older in Taiwan. The most commonly owned of which are huge US gas-guzzlers such as Cadillacs and Chevrolets. European sports cars come a close second, with Asian-manufactured cars taking up the rear.

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