Mr James Wong is all of 31, but prefers music from the 1960s and 1970s and cars of the same vintage – thanks to his father.
“My dad had a few second-hand Mercedes cars in the 1990s and always loaded his favourite music CDs in them,” says Mr Wong, who helps run the family business.
“The Mercs weren’t always reliable, but they were quiet, spacious and comfortable. These early experiences left lasting impressions. Because of this, I read more about German cars online and learnt a lot from fellow enthusiasts from all over the world.”
In 2014, he bought his first classic, a 1974 Mercedes 350SL (R107), for $58,000. He had wanted a Mercedes W113 – a classic model also known as the Pagoda – but baulked at the prices, which were easily double of what he paid for the 350SL.
The car “represents the right blend of classic and modernity”. He adds: “It has the creature comforts one needs, yet is still built like a tank and the doors close like a bank vault.”
It was available with straight-six engines, but Mr Wong picked a 3.5-litre V8 with a manual gearbox – a rare combination here.
The car had 200hp when it was new, but its fuel injection system deteriorated over the years, resulting in a drop in output.
Earlier this year, Mr Wong replaced the old system with a Pertronix electronic injection system, which largely restored power and reliability to the 46-year-old engine.
The car is registered under the Classic Vehicle Scheme, which comes with concessions for road tax and certificate of entitlement renewals. But the car can be used for only 45 days a year.
Mr Wong says the 350SL functions as a three-in-one car: “I like that it is a hard-top, soft-top and open-top car bundled into one.”
He adds: “It is so well-designed that the canvas top, when folded down, doesn’t eat into boot space. It looks best topless and I always smile in amazement that this beautiful car is still running on our roads. Being able to look good in 1974 and 2020 is the mark of great design.”
What’s in the boot?
• A picnic basket containing a book on classic Mercedes
• A Porsche picnic mat
• A box of face masks
It brings joy to others as well. “I took part in a charity drive where we gave rides to the elderly. They were so happy to be in cars that they remember from their era,” he says.
He had the car when he was courting his wife, Grace, 30. They married in 2016 and have a 17-month-old son.
“She has always supported me in my passion and has even learnt some terms such as V6 and rear-wheel-drive,” he says. “We would even spend dates attending automotive-related events. I’m so glad she also prefers old cars.”
Mr Wong, who graduated with a business management degree from King’s College, London, previously worked in the motoring industry.
When he returned to Singapore in 2013, he landed a public relations and communications job with Volkswagen Singapore. He moved to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in 2014, and then to Porsche Asia Pacific in 2016, taking up the same role.
He felt then that he had the ideal job, one which allowed him to be close to cars.
But last year, he made the difficult decision to leave that behind to help with his family investments. His father, 69, felt he was getting on in years and wanted “an understudy”.
At least he still has a car he loves.
“The 350SL rekindles a sense of nostalgia from my childhood, but at the same time, it builds new memories for my life ahead,” he says. “It’s remarkable how a car can have this intangible sentimental value.”
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