Hong Kong-born Silicon Valley entrepreneur admits a love affair with Alfas

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 August, 2016, 3:52pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 August, 2016, 10:05pm

Leslie Yuen, 57, entrepreneur and adviser at Wearable IoT World, says he hopes more Chinese will catch the classic car bug

I drive a 1961 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider and call her “Little Julia”. I purchased her from the estate of the late Jack Castor, my car mentor, who had stored this convertible for 43 years. He kept it alongside Elvis Presley’s old BMW 507, which will be presented at this weekend’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California.

Little Julia’s 1,300cc engine and transmission were out of the car and her parts were in boxes, but my old Italian mechanic, Angelo, and his assistant, Geronimo, put her back together again, at Import Motor Services in San Francisco.

I was raised with cars. In the 1960s my father had a black Morris Minor and my first drive was a Toyota Corolla 1.6 hatchback, a great motor, but something was still missing. Then I fell in love with Alfas. My first was a 1979 Alfasud in Hong Kong, during the 1980s.

I just love their handling and their dashboards’ colourful lights. I was hooked, and have had six more Alfas since then. In addition to Little Julia, I also drive a 1967 Alfa Duetto, 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS and a 1989 Ferrari 328 GTB. They all have unique personalities, and are used for different occasions.

My taste in classic cars hasn’t changed for 30 years, and I’d buy another If I had the money.

Little Julia accelerates and stops slowly in San Francisco, as she has 1950s technologies and is very original, with a single Solex carburetor, and all drum brakes, for example. When up to speed, Little Julia is nimble, handles well, and is sensational with the top down.

On April 29-May 1, she completed the 2016 Snowball Rally, a 1,280km round trip with great camaraderie for over 100 participants (paying US$325) in 66 cars. We took back roads from Sacramento through “Gold Country” to the 2,743-metre slopes of Mount Rose, south of Reno, Nevada. Little Julia’s only niggle was that she needed a push-start when crossing a stream because the original Lucas regulator gave up.

In San Francisco, I like to drive to the Marin Headland with breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city. Alternatively, you can head northwest along the coastal Highway 1 to Point Reyes and Tomales Bay for local oysters, or head north to Napa wine country. The 17-mile [27km] Pebble Beach to Big Sur drive, along the Pacific coast, is one of the most beautiful in the world, and then there’s Lake Tahoe via Highway 50.

As a Hong Kong native and a Chinese-American, my heart always has a place for China. Hong Kong is a more congested, demanding drive than San Francisco, but when I’m here I go to Tai Mo Shan, Sai Kung and the south side of Hong Kong. I’m here because [friend] Jack Castor and I planned to take his 1959 Ferrari California Spider to the October 9 to 21 Beijing Rally, but he passed away two years ago and I honour his wish. There was much paperwork to join the rally, but I was guided by Keith Martin, vice-chairman of the Classic Car Club of Hong Kong.

I keep Little Julia original, and if I need “improvement” I’ll drive my modified Ferrari 308 GTS.

The hottest cars in the Bay Area? Well, Tesla and the Google self-driving car are much discussed in Silicon Valley, and I organised a Charity eRally for electric vehicles on July 8, when Team China stopped over on their 80-eDay Tour.

Plug-ins are gaining momentum worldwide and the joy of traditional driving will become a hobby. The two can coexist. Hong Kong is lucky as it is a global city and the only Chinese city with a deep-rooted classic car culture. I hope more Chinese will catch this bug, and mingle with like-minded global counterparts at the Pebble Beach Concours d”Elegance, Laguna Seca Historic racing, and the Mille Miglia Rally.