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Don’t underestimate the ‘Angry Bird’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 May, 2016, 9:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 May, 2016, 9:33pm

Carl Yuen, a barrister and vice-chairman of the Classic Car Club of Hong Kong, says you shouldn’t bet against his E30 BMW on a mountain run against a modern sports car

“I drive this E30 BMW from 1987. I guess progress drew me to the car. Its advanced multi-link suspension improved the handling infinitely and it has boxy, toy-car proportions. I found it for a friend and we went for a test-drive, but since he was new to Hong Kong, I took the wheel and he approved of it.

After he paid for the car and took delivery, he then found out it was a manual, and he couldn’t handle three pedals. So I paid a nominal sum for it. The previous owner named the car “Puface”, but most of Hong Kong’s car community know it as the “AngryBird”, after a red cartoon sticker replaced the stone-chipped – or should I say sand-blasted – BMW badge on the nose.

It is angry. To the unsuspecting, it’s a humble, old car, but if you get close enough to notice it’s hot-cam idle, wide tyres and squat suspension, you wouldn’t bet against it on a mountain run against a modern sports car.

My AngryBird is completely stock. So far it’s been utterly reliable – apart from that time when I stormed from the airport to Mong Kok in 15 minutes on a cold engine. It needed a motor transplant after that. It’s my go-to car, rain or shine. I know it will start, get me there and back, and the engine will cut out after I pull the key out. Not many cars of mine can guarantee such performance.

In the past decade I’ve been lucky enough to drive some of the world’s most exotic vehicles: Aston Martin DB5s, Lamborghini Miuras, Ferrari 275s, even the Benz tricycle from 1886 – but not a tram, yet.

I’m still in love with cars as a whole – maybe I am pickier in what turns me on – and it must also be thrilling to my five-year-old boy, Jack. We have one thing in common in that we prefer the analogue excitement of, say, a Lotus Elise S1, than the synthesised sensations of a Tesla. Our favourite bedtime storybook is The Little Red Racing Car – a story of a father-son team who restore a barn-find Maserati 300S, complete with accurate drawings and component illustrations. Jack’s extremely lucky to have [Maserati scion] Adolfo Orsi Jnr sign his copy.

Driving in Hong Kong can be as frustrating as hell when you’re crawling up Cotton Tree Drive at 6pm on a weekday in a Lotus 7, and it starts to rain. But on Shek O Road or Bride’s Pool Road on a dry morning … give me a Mazda MX-5 of any generation and you’ll see a very happy person at the wheel.

I’m looking at cars all the time. If anybody’s got a nice Mercedes 190 “Cossie” [Cosworth] let me know. Preferably an automatic – it’s for the wife.

The latest in car news in Hong Kong, I suppose, is it’ll be the Tesla X. People are queuing up to buy it like McDonald’s Hello Kitty toys, but will we really have the support network to charge so many new cars? And will the Hong Kong SAR government start taxing e-cars?

Which steers me to Formula-E. Go and see it on October 9. The Central Waterfront track is stunning, as will be the support events.

One last word to all Hong Kong car enthusiasts: we’re so lucky that our city has some of the best car collections in the world; the most generous owners who don’t hide their cars away; and the safest place to show off your prized possessions. Respect each other and your cars - drive safely.

By the way, the Classic Car Club of Hong Kong Chater Road Show 2016 is on November 20. See you there.”

As told to William Wadsworth