HK Classic Car Club rolls out for luncheon

TheClassic Car Club of Hong Kong is attracting a younger local following.Mark Sharp crashes its annual luncheon

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 9:58am

Apart from muddy tyres after an unexpected downpour the night before, the more than 50 vehicles at the Classic Car Club of Hong Kong's annual lunch formed an immaculate line-up.

Taking place in the gentile grounds of the Jockey Club's Beas River Country Club in Sheung Shui two weeks ago, members displayed vintage marques ranging from stately Rolls-Royces and sporty Aston Martins to a historic Ford Model A and an adorably frog-faced Austin-Healey Sprite.

The annual gathering is one of the biggest private social events on the club's calendar, says chairman Ian Foster. It was attended by almost 300 members and 40 guests of British carmaker McLaren Automotive, which sponsored this year's lunch. The club's main public event is the popular Chater Road Concours d'Elegance.

The event, held each year in October, draws thousands of spectators and, judging by a recent spike in the club's membership, the interest in classic cars continues to grow. "We have always had about 500 members in the club over the years, but recently this has risen to more than 600, partly due to new owners looking for insurance for their classic cars, which we have secured with insurance agents," Foster, an architect, says.

The club was founded by a small number of enthusiasts in 1979 as a special interest group under the Hong Kong Automobile Association, and became independent in 1989. Most of the original members were colonial police officers.

Rather than newly arrived expats who have brought their cars with them to Hong Kong, however, most of the club's new members are local Chinese who have imported their favourite old models from overseas.

Committee member Elton Lau says a number of people under 40 have joined in the past few years. "It seems a trend that more younger members are joining," he says.

The club has remained true to its founders' aims: to organise technical and social events, and public displays, and form a registry for members to source spare parts. Helping owners insure their vehicles is another important function, of the club, without which their owners would not be able to take them out on the road.

"We have pushed about four agents to get their policy-givers to give favourable rates for specific classic car policies," Foster says. "Most normal insurance agents will say the car is too old and not want to insure it."

But the club does not recommend workshops, says Lau. "It would give an impression that the club is involved in commercial activities, and that may present a liability problem," he explains. "Alternatively, we encourage members to join the club's activities, where they can obtain the information they need from other members."

Gatherings like the annual lunch and weekend drives present members with the opportunity to mine such information, as well as share experiences and ogle each other's cars.

"If you are interested in learning about classic cars in Hong Kong, the best way to go about it is to talk to owners here," Foster says. "If you are interested in buying a car, then one of our members may be selling. And by talking to members who have a particular model, they can recommend a garage, or where to source parts, and so on."

Along with the boost in membership in the past year, the club's committee has organised an increasing number of activities, especially drives into China, which members are keen to join, he says. "We have also tried to get more information out to members through e-newsletters, which has encouraged more participation."

The club organised a few drives in Guangdong province last year, including a visit to Dongguan city for its annual lychee festival. Another mainland trip took members to Kunming, in the southwestern province of Yunnan, where their cars were transported ahead by truck. Members also organise their own outings.

"Friends often meet up themselves and head out driving, but the club organises a monthly gathering, on the first Sunday morning of each month. We head out around the New Territories, meeting at a restaurant for brunch," Foster says.

New members can look forward to more new events in the coming year, he says. "We are presently talking to the organisers of the Macau Grand Prix about helping them celebrate their 60th anniversary by taking 60 classic cars to Macau for parade laps, shows and exhibits during the two-weekend extravaganza in November."

The club's link with Macau dates to 1982, when it was first invited to organise a parade of owners' classic cars around the circuit for the grand prix's 28th anniversary.

"They are great hosts and we thoroughly enjoyed helping them mark their 50th anniversary. We also have some drives to China proposed, and a couple of weekend trips around Southeast Asia to see some classic car shows."

One of the rarest and possibly the most valuable car on show at the country club was an iconic McLaren F1, of which only 106 were made. The car is owned by local businessman Thomas Jefferson Wu, who was behind the transformation of Hopewell Holdings' properties on Queen's Road East into luxury car showrooms. McLaren is one of Hopewell's tenants - and Rolls-Royce's neighbour - in space once rented by another British institution: Harry Ramsden's fish and chip restaurant. Ian Gorsuch, McLaren's regional director, says the last time an F1 changed hands, it fetched the equivalent of about HK$45 million.

In contrast, the British carmaker also displayed a brace of cars it expects will themselves one day be counted among the classics of their time: a brand new MP4-12C Spider and MP4-12C B&W Edition, the latter a product of McLaren Special Operations and bearing a price tag of HK$4.68 million.

One of the oldest cars at the gathering was a 1930 Ford Model A, which has a historic link with Hong Kong. It was the second car to drive through the Cross-Harbour Tunnel on its grand opening day in 1972, tailing a 1917 Ford Model T.

The club also does its part for charity and has helped a variety of organisations over the years. A highlight of the lunch was the charity auction of a blue 1980 Mercedes-Benz 280 SLC, which was donated by a member and went under the hammer for HK$110,000.

"This was an original Hong Kong car, totally refurbished a year ago. The new owner is a young enthusiast and this is his first classic," Foster says.

As is also done at the annual concours, judges chose a winning car at the lunch - a green 1972 Porsche RS. "It has been actively used at many of the club's events in the past year, so the committee decided to honour this car and owner with the award."

Foster himself owns an eclectic collection of more than 100 classic cars and motorbikes, most of them in museums overseas, but none of them were on display at Beas River. The reason offers an insight into what you are letting yourself into when you buy a vintage model.

"My 1973 E-type [Jaguar] V12 is having her carburettors serviced; my 1985 Mercedes-Benz 380 SL is awaiting a new radiator; my 1957 Austin A55 [a former Hong Kong taxi model] is having the engine rebuilt; my 1998 Mitsubishi ex-Jackie Chan race cars are still a bit too 'new'."

Lau, who is retired, has three classics: the Ford Model A, a 1961 Jaguar Mark II 3.8 and a 1992 Mercedes-Benz 300TD.

"The Jag is my favourite. Although it was manufactured more than 50 years ago, it is equipped like a modern car - power steering, automatic transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, air conditioning, a powerful engine and outstanding looks. She turns many heads."

Foster is convinced there is enough interest in classic cars and motorbikes among locals and tourists alike to establish a dedicated museum in Hong Kong. He has been trying to secure a lease on the former Fanling Magistracy - under the Development Bureau's scheme to release heritage buildings for the benefit of the public. So far, he has been unable to convince the government to support the scheme.

The idea is to have a permanent display of vintage vehicles, and regular one-off exhibitions of members' cars. Foster believes that despite the location of his proposed site, close to the border, it would be a big draw. It could even be of special interest to mainland tourists, who may never have seen a vintage American or European car before, he says.

"The Classic Auto-cycle Museum [] has been my pet project for the past 10 years," he says. "I need a more robust business plan to make this proposed cultural facility sustainable ... I am an architect and car enthusiast, not a very good accountant. I am 100 per cent confident it would be a roaring success in Hong Kong. It's a matter of finding a suitable location."