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

This small number of classic cars has meant that many such cars have been owned by more than one member of the club at one time or another since its founding eight years ago.

"As the numbers of both collectors and cars are so small many of the vehicles have been passed around from member to member over the years," stated Chien. "Of course, we do occasionally get new members with cars we've never seen before, but as a whole I reckon between us we have probably owned nearly all the classic cars in Taiwan at one time or another."

While Chien has spent a small fortune over the past quarter century on everything from a 1955 Mercedes Benz to an early 1960s-model Chevrolet and still dreams of owning a 1956 Maserati 1505, it is the simpler, less obtrusive classic car that attracts him nowadays.

"Sure, big flashy imports are great to drive and it's a buzz to be seen in one, but there is nothing there except image and huge gas bills," explained Chien. "So I decided to begin collecting locally produced, less popular family cars instead. After all, I am from Taiwan so why should I spend my time collecting something from a foreign country?"

Chien's love affair with Taiwan's box shaped family four-seaters began in the late 1970s. While nosing around a garage searching for spare parts, Chien discovered a rusty and dust-covered early model Yulon (裕隆).

"I knew there was something special about the car even in its poor condition," recalled the car collector. "It was the fact that the slats on the radiator grill were vertical rather than horizontal which really caught my eye, however."

The 1,200cc Yulon did indeed turn out to be special. Originally intended for the garages of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (蔣中正), the car was the very first Yulon to roll off the factory production line in Taiwan and was given to the late president by Yulon executives.

According to Chien, Chiang, already the proud owner of five customized Cadillacs, the only remaining one of which sits at Taipei's Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall -- the other four were turned into scrap metal over 15 years ago -- was not overly impressed by the nifty little Japanese runaround. Instead of using the car himself, Chiang gave to it the then head of Presidential Office No. 3 (總統府第三局), Wang Tz-yu (王子渝).

"I spent months pestering the garage owner for the owner's contact number. I finally found Wang in the US, where he'd retired to many years before, and asked him if he'd sell the car to me," continued Chien. "He finally agreed, on the condition that whenever he returned to Taiwan he could see the car."

Not that Chien has always been so lucky. During a sojourn to Kaohsiung County several years ago, Chien discovered a Pre-World War Two Japanese sedan rotting away in a garage. After locating the owner, who had been given the car by Japanese soldiers prior to their withdrawal from Taiwan, Chien made what he considered to be a generous offer for the car.

"I repeatedly asked about buying the wreck and later I learned that I wasn't the only person to have inquired about it. But the guy just doesn't want to part with it," stated Chien. "I guess the guy feels the car is worth more in sentimental value than anything else and doesn't really care if it never takes to the road again. Which is rather a shame as it is one of only one or two such cars in Taiwan.

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