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Car artists met on the sideline of the Hua Hin Vintage Car Parade

POSTED BY Yamin Vong ON 04 January 2018

In the vintage and classic car world, there are a variety of enthusiasts.

First, there are the conventional collectors and restorers of vintage and classic cars, followed by a rare breed of enthusiasts who go beyond societal norms on a journey of personal commitment that is beyond money.

These vintage and classic car enthusiasts possibly do not have the budget for a multi-million USD classic Bugatti or Alfa Romeo. What’s more relevant is that they use their own hands and skills to rebuild their cars from the ground up, sometimes starting from an engine, some body panels, from a chassis or some running gear.

A Jaguar XK120 designed by Sir William Lyon initially as a test bed for his new twin-cam XK in-line 6 engine.

I’ve had the privilege to know of two such individuals and I met one very recently on the side-lines of the Hua Hin Vintage Car parade organised by the Thailand Vintage Car Club.

John Smith, 74, has a collection of vintage cars but, over the years, he has also hand-built motor cars along the lines of legendary classic cars. These are not kit cars nor are they replicas.

They are genetically re-engineered with large portions consisting of original parts or made to look almost like the original legend. Smith rebuilt most of the cars that we saw in his Hua Hin residence with the help of his petite wife, Suvipa.

One of Smith’s originals is a 1900s Darracq, a model that became popular after winning one of the London to Brighton races. A marque of French origin, Darracq was founded by an eponymously named French businessman who made quality, low-cost bicycles. He sold the business to an English bicycle manufacturer and went on to make cars so as not to breach the No-Competition clause that he had signed.

With a group of designers and engineers, Darracq built his legendary status by holding the world land speed record from 1905 until almost the end of the decade with his Darracq 200HP, a 25-litre V8 with short (one foot) exhaust pipes that spat out fire and thunder on the run. Darracq’s business peaked and was eventually taken over by Talbot and the Darracq marque was lost in history.

A Triumph TR3 rebuilt by Lee Huang Sang of the Malaysia Singapore Vintage Car Register.

So we have an original Darracq, probably the 12HP Genevieve, in Smith’s residence beside the Royal Summer Palace in Hua Hin.

We were also introduced to three other original cars in his collection: a RM3mil Bugatti, a Packard and a Ford Model A. All these cars were rebuilt by Smith using parts and components sourced and bought all over the world. For the Bugatti, Smith bought many parts from Bugatti itself.

In many of his activities, Smith has a network of fellow enthusiasts who share a similar passion. In Southeast Asia, his best friend and associate is Lee Huang Sang aka Carbon Lee, 67, who is also one of the pillars of the Malaysia Singapore Vintage Car Register.

One of Smith’s more whimsical cars is a re-interpretation of the Jaguar SS100 built on a Mazda Familia pick-up chassis. He didn’t like the original Jaguar SS100’s rear and thus fabricated a rear that he fancied.

Another 1900s-era car sported modern disc brakes all round.

“It all started with my first car 50 years ago. It broke down, so I opened the engine and repaired it by trial and error,” said Smith, who was the owner of a business that supplied components to shoe makers.

If you want to meet the legend, Smith would probably be in Hua Hin for the Hua Hin Vintage Car Parade in 2018 as well, which will take place a week after the closing of the Thailand International Motor Expo which is scheduled for Nov 29 to Dec 10.