PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 June, 2005, 12:00am

North Point reader Steve Ellul kindly sends us a portrait of his father, Jim, with his beloved Triumph (below), painted from photos by his college-mate, designer Nik Coole.

Steve Ellul says car or bike portraits make splendid presents.

'I wanted something more interesting than the regular head and shoulders painting,' Ellul says. 'As a younger man growing up in Malta, my father was [and still is] a motorcycle fanatic and over the years had a number of Triumphs.'

So, Ellul gave Coole a selection of old black and white photos of his father. 'From these he did the painting, making sure that the colour and details on the bike matched my dad's,' says the graphic designer. 'My father loved the painting and immediately wanted to get his hands on a classic Triumph, but I don't think my mum would let him.'

Coole says by e-mail that he's always enjoyed drawing cars and bikes. Based in Marseilles, the Briton first drew cars at 17.

'A friend of my parents asked me do a watercolour of a couple of his cars, then friends of his started commissioning others, including murals, so it went from there,' Coole says. He says he prefers to work with the original vehicle, but also works from photos and reference materials, creating a rough outline before proceeding with the job. A portrait like Jim Ellul's costs about $10,000. Inquiries:

Bravo to the Hong Kong Police Force for patrolling the Peak in the sensible 1.3-litre Toyota Echo (right). The runabout mightn't seem as mean as the Italian Highway Police's Lamborghini Gallardo, but there's enough buzz in its little 1,299cc engine to slow speeding Bentleys and serve and protect our richest. Just 3.64 metres long and 1.433m wide, the Echo is perfect for the job.

'The main role of the small saloon vehicle is to help patrol steep and narrow roads in the Peak area, such as Lugard Road, Harlech Road and Pokfulam Reservoir Road,' says force spokeswoman, Cynthia Au.

'It enables frontline police to swiftly respond to any emergency, crime report or call for assistance in the Peak area, thus enhancing operational efficiency.'

Available for between $97,470 and $109,500 at Toyota dealers Crown Motors (tel: 2367 8332), the little 86 brake-horsepowered Echo has a top speed of 175km/h and sprints to 100km/h in 12.1 seconds, although two burly sergeants in the back might slow the car down on the steep bits above May Road.

The police Echo is a reminder for Hong Kong families to buy realistic cars. Our 1,934km of roads are crowded, with lots of speed cameras. Traffic crawls at about 26km/h in town and 43km/h in rural areas. Yet, many Hong Kong motorists insist on buying cars that were designed for 280km/h sprints down the autobahn - only to find they have to slow down to 10km/h on the Tai Tam Reservoir Bridge, just to avoid kissing wing mirrors with a truck.

We see too many fasties built for rasping bursts along the fleshpot croisettes of Europe maintained in shoddy, backstreet garages in Quarry Bay because their Hong Kong owners like the prestige of a Ferrari 355 or a Porsche Boxster, but can't afford to maintain it safely with marque-approved mechanics.

And we see too many hulking seven-seaters with just one or two passengers, even on Sundays, when families with tight residential-block parking spaces could be just as happy with the Durashift of, say, a 4.02-metre-long, five-door, 1.4-litre, 80bhp Ford Fusion ($139,900), the chic zip of the lovely Honda Jazz ($136,880), or the economy of the Hyundai Getz - the 1.3 litre's $111,400; the 1.6-litre's $117,200, and via Zung Fu. The 1.3-litre Daihatsu Sirion ($109,080) and the similarly powered Nissan March ($119,800) and Suzuki Wagon R+ ($119,000) make sense in Hong Kong, too, and we're told the tall Toyota Echo Verso ($118,000) is an excellent ride for dogs.

We'd like to get our hands on 1.5-litre rides such as the 100bhp Subaru Impreza ($110,000), or the Mitsubishi Colt ($138,388), and we hear fine reports of the Mazda2 ($125,500) and the Mazda3 ($119,900-$156,500). Then, there's the smart fortwo cabrio ($172,000) for convertible lovers who can't afford the Mercedes-Benz SLK200K ($455,000), and the 1.6-litre Mini Cooper ($229,800) - the 2001 SCMP Car of the Year, and still tops for here.

So, if you're buying a car, please remember you live in Hong Kong and match your car to its road. You'll pay less first registration tax, and soon realise - as we have - that a little car gives you more road, and is actually more fun in Hong Kong. So, we envy those policemen on the Peak. They and their little Echo are doing a grand job.