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

Even if he had purchased the wreck, however, Chien would have had a very lengthy wait before the car was road-worthy. It took a total of six years for mechanics to restore the rust-covered 1,200 Yulon to its original form and other cars have been known to take even longer.

"It's boils down to a question of spare parts. Sure, if I was in Europe or the US I'd have no trouble getting parts from a garage or scrap dealer, but in Taiwan old, unwanted cars are scrapped very quickly," explained mechanic Liao Ching-long (廖清龍). "Because of the lack of spare parts, I have to order them from abroad. Or as I had to do once, personally travel overseas to purchase parts."

First taking an interest in such motors' after purchasing a 1956 Mercedes Benz 20 years ago, Liao has by sheer fluke found himself in the position of being one of a very small number of classic car restorers in Taiwan.

From a 1940s Nash brought to Taiwan by an officer in Chiang's army to a dilapidated Rolls Royce, Liao has tinkered with scores of makes of cars since the mid-1980s.

"It's not a position I went looking for, it just happened. I fixed my own Mercedes up and word spread about that and people began to bring their cars to me," recalled Liao, "It's a bit of a headache at times. People new to collecting old cars are often under the impression that fixing an old car is like fixing a new one."

According to Liao, a classic car can take anywhere from two months to a year to restore a car to its original state. "I've got a 1970s BMW in the garage at present. It's a real mess and needs both body and interior work done," he said. "Even though it's not an uncommon car, I reckon I'm looking at least a year of work."

When fully restored, driving around inconspicuously in a rare motor is of course all but impossible in Taiwan. While ensuring classic car theft is virtually unheard of, many owners of older cars often find themselves the target of traffic cops' curiosity.

According to Lin, however, local classic car hobbyists have little to worry about if pulled over by the police for minor traffic violations.

"Ok, if you get caught driving an unregistered car it can be confiscated," said Lin. "But the flashier or rarer the car, the more chance you have of getting away with most minor infractions. In my experience, the cops are more interested in talking about the car than arresting you.

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