Just like that, summer has gone and Fall is upon us. Despite the ongoing fight against the Covid-19 epidemic, most are looking forward to relax in the cooler months ahead. Breaking out the sweaters, Pumpkin Spicing everything, and planning for the Spooky Season (Halloween). All at a reasonable social distance, of course.
Being the start of a new month, I have decided to introduce something new as well; for the HiddenPalmTree blog respectively. As you may know, the most regular outlet for the car scene here in Hong Kong, is the Sunday Morning Drives (SMD). Unofficially, the city’s weekly gathering for enthusiasts and cars of all types to wake up early and enjoy the roads at dawn.
What is unique about this weekly routine is every Sunday can be unpredictable: no one knows what the weather will consistently be that day, where will be the best spot (to avoid unwanted attention), or notably, what might be driving around that day.
It is that unpredictability that has led me to devise a new recurring feature here on the HiddenPalmTree blog: highlighting some of most surprising, or unique cars that myself and my small group come across during these morning drives; every month. This can range from cars you never thought Hong Kong had (registered and legal to drive on the road), a new model that just left the boat and is on ‘test’ plates, or cars that are generally just weird and leave you scratching your head.
With that in mind, let’s look into what interesting cars were out and about these past mornings last month in September, up until the first weekend of October, shall we?
Toyota Crown Royal Saloon
Anyone who has lived in Asia for a while knows how old, boxy Toyota sedans are the staple for taxi drivers in the region.
So it is a rare sight for a change, to see one of its more luxurious counterparts, the Crown sedan by which it is based upon, out in the wild.
This particular one that was out one Sunday is the Seventh generation: the S120, in ‘Royal Saloon’ trim. The ‘Royal Saloon’ represented the top of the range for the Crown model lineup; that meant amenities such as dual-zone climate control, AM/FM radio system with integrated audio cassette & a CD player, separate cassette audio system for the rear occupants (with their own headphones), automatic-functioning headlights, and seats with memory-position functionality, all came standard. The S120 was also one of Toyota’s first ever models to receive PEGASUS: Toyota’s independent four-wheel-suspension system, along with ABS, ESC, and the 4-speed ETC automatic transmission.
The S120 would also be the last generation of the Crown model made available for a worldwide market: generations succeeding it would primarily be sold in markets within Asia other than Japan.
For a car of its age, this one is a great example of a well-maintained classic Japanese sedan here.
Front-fender mounted mirrors, chrome hubcaps, and plastic bumper trims. You don’t see those body features on cars nowadays.
Whoever owned or was driving the car at this time was also dedicated to keeping it period-correct: he even brought along a 80s-sized cell phone for the day.
Even more fitting were the companions that were brought out that day, presumably for a photo opportunity: a Crown Comfort taxi and its flagship cousin, the Toyota Century (mildly modified with some DUB-esque wheels).
Honda Integra (DA3)
When you hear the words ‘Honda Integra’, images of the DC2 and DC5 are first to come to mind. It is a no brainer that these have won import crowds all over the globe: the combination of a finely-tuned chassis by Honda, a renowned powerplant with plenty of aftermarket support, have made it a hit in various tuning circles.
But not much love is given to the preceding models, or even the one that started the Integra name, thirty-four years ago. Ever heard of the first generation of the Integra, the Integra DA3?
Launched in 1985 in the Japanese Market, it was originally sold as the ‘Quint Integra’; with the five-door version in Australia being sold as a ‘Rover 416i’. While it was based on the Civic, the DA3 offered better brakes, suspension, tires, and utilized a DOHC fuel-injected engine over the SOHC (Single Overheard Cam) unit used in a similar 3-door Honda coupe: the CRX.
This generation would also be the first (and only) in the Integra’s run, to offer three/four/five door configurations. After the DA3, succeeding generations were solely available in four or five door body styles.
I actually remember coming across this DA3 at a car show in Hong Kong three years ago, at a display at Step4Stance (the show I wrote about a few weeks ago). It has been brought in by J’s Auto HK, one of the Japanese import specialists here in Hong Kong. So it was a nice surprise to see it again, now registered and being used out on the roads here.
To quote one James Pumphrey of Donut Media, you can’t miss its “pop-up up and down headlights”. This was also the only generation of the Integra to come with these lights. What a shame, it would have been interesting to see the DC2 with some pop-ups.
This was one of those oddballs that we came across on Sunday. Similar to the Crown, the Toyota Succeed (XP50) has served as a tool for many commercial firms, government agencies, and couriers.
The Succeed, introduced in 2002 to replace the preceding Caldina Van, was designed like its more roomier cousin, the Hiace: to haul cargo of various loads, with the occasional passenger(s). A shorter-wheelbase version based on the same chassis, the Probox, was also sold alongside it.
A unique fact about the Succeed is that it is not made under Toyota. Rather, Daihatsu (a subsidiary of Toyota), a marque focused on producing kei-cars and commercial vehicles, produces it under their name. In addition, while CVT transmissions became standard among most of the Toyota family around the mid 2000s, it was only introduced to the Succeed range in 2018. Not long after, two years in fact, Toyota ended production.
But it is not everyday that you see one serving as a build, slightly stanced, and with a roof box on the top, it makes for an interesting wagon build; one that can look the part alongside wagons from European brands that are the prime targets for the aftermarket treatment.
It is an odd choice, but where credit is due: its a great example that you can build anything out of something with the right mindset.
If you’re interested in keeping up with this box build, give the owner a follow on Instagram: @shitbox_succeed.
Volvo 850 T-5R Estate
It seemed that this month was a theme for boxy cars made in the 1980s and 1990s. When you think of a vehicle in the shape of a shoebox and with minimal curves, Volvo is easy to spring to mind.
How about a Volvo that has hidden racing pedigree? At first glance, the 850 T-5R looks like any other Volvo estate seen on the school run or at the supermarket. But take another look, and it is anything other than your average suburbanite family car.
Even more hidden is the quirk that Porsche had a hand in developing this estate. You read that right: Porsche, with the Swedes, helped tune the 2.3 litre straight-five Volvo B5234T5 engine, along with the transmission and powertrain components. Thanks to an upgraded ECU which generated an additional 2 psi from the turbocharger, the 850 T-5R could get from 0-60 mph in 5.8 to 6 seconds. It was also surprisingly aerodynamic with a drag coefficient of 0.29.
A true sleeper.
The unique color made exclusively for this car by Volvo, ‘Cream Yellow’, was only made for 2,537 out of the 6,964 models produced in total. Production ran for only one year for the entirety of 1995.
This particular one is no stranger to SMD; always good to see a modern classic like this is not being hidden away to amass value as a collector’s item.
Mazda RX7 FD3S
Most JDM aficionados will know what a RX7 FD3S is: powered by a rotary engine, built between 1992-2002, and made famous in various forms of pop culture from anime to TV. But how about a FD3S riding on air suspension?
I have seen plenty of RX7 FDs throughout my travels and within Hong Kong, but to see one bagged? Not until one Sunday. With air suspension and “tucked fitment” catching on nowadays, it was only a matter of time I would see more of these purist favorites receive the slammed treatment.
Aside from the air suspension and aftermarket wheels, this FD has been left untouched on the outside. If anything, it turns more heads with its stock wing and body, than had it been modified extensively on the outside.
Purists may say a once perfect RX7 FD has been ‘ruined’ with this approach, but speaking as a JDM fan, I would have to disagree. Tucked fitment-style is not for everyone, but to each their own. Build it how you want it, enough said.
McLaren Club of Hong Kong
Just last Sunday, we happened to meet up in the Central business district right when the McLaren Owners Club of Hong Kong was also rendezvous-ing for their own Sunday drive.
What took me (and pretty much everyone who happened to be in Central that morning too) was the star of the morning: a McLaren Senna. Its looks and name divide McLaren purists, car fans, and internet commenters everywhere, but you cannot deny: it will still turn heads. Especially in a spec as this. White with orange and black inserts.
A good range of the McLaren family made it out for the morning drive that day alongside the Senna.
There was at least one 570S, 600LT, 650S; even a MP4-12C, the model that signalled McLaren’s return to the production line after the end of the Mercedes-McLaren venture. A good collection of the McLaren family were observed rolling past the Star Ferry terminal to make their way across the harbor for their next stop.
Having personally been out of supercar spotting for a bit, getting to come across these McLarens was a great opportunity to get back into it.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI (CP9A)
This car was also present for the morning gathering of McLarens last weekend: parked off the side, but it still managed to draw some attention from a few fans.
Being a clean, well-kept Evo VI aside, its presence alongside the supercars there served as a great metaphor in my opinion, on what defines ‘SMD’.
Context: Someone made a big fuss on social media arguing what SMD was intended to be: an outlet solely for Hong Kong’s expensive supercars and hyper-cars to enjoy themselves, while owners of ‘lesser’ vehicles were not worthy to be out driving at the same time.
Contrary to what some may believe, the fact is that there are no rules as to what is allowed out on Sunday. It’s during these mornings as well, cars that do not normally encounter each other throughout the week, have a chance to meet and share the road with people who are just passionate towards cars; regardless of what they drive.
And I can’t perfectly describe it visually like this.
Alfa Romeo Giulia TI 105 Super
A nice break from the highlight of Japanese cars here. I knew this was an Alfa Romeo, but it took a bit of fact finding online and on Instagram to figure out which model this one was, considering my knowledge on classic Italians is not exactly up to scratch.
The example you see above is a Giulia 105 Super, built between 1962-1978. The ‘Super’ was designed with the intention to enter the Giulia into competitive racing: with major weight-saving and more powerful carburetors . It might only have had a 1.3 (later 1.6) litres, but it made up for it by weighing only 2,200 lbs, thanks to the weight saving and some clever reengineering to improve the weight distribution in true Alfa-style (notably: mounting the column gear shifter and handbrake to the floor). Just like the one we saw, all Supers only came in white from the factory, paired with the famous ‘four-leaf’ clover decal.
Even as someone vested in imports, I have to admire the odd European classic car that passes by. Especially ones that have a bit of motorsport in their DNA.
Bonus: Toyota Crown Comfort GT-Z (TRD)
It always happens: that one weekend I decided to take a break, something special comes out on Sunday and I miss it.
Thankfully one of the group was out there with his camera, hence why I am borrowing his photos from that week. Thanks Engus.
It’s so special because apart from this one that now lives in Hong Kong, 58 exist in the world. Yes, 59 models of these were only ever made by Toyota in 2003.
Take a Crown Comfort - a sedan normally designated to ferry taxi fares and serve as the working environment for taxi drivers from Japan to Malaysia -, add a supercharger to a 2.0 litre inline-four cylinder 3S-FE from a Camry and what do you get? You get a TRD Crown Comfort GT-Z.
You get a sedan that typically produces 80 horsepower, to 160, all sent through a five speed manual transmission. Not exactly hair-raising, but when you consider that the stock independent-leaf spring suspension was left untouched, you can imagine the difference 80 horses makes. Oh, and the original rear drum brakes were also kept in this ‘performance’ model too.
Other changes Toyota made included a TRD steering wheel, dials, bucket seats, and 15-inch Watanabe-style wheels.
Toyota never gave a reason as to why they decided to build these Crown Comforts. Who knows what the research and development office at TRD was thinking?
Those are some of my favorite picks from the last month's Morning Drives: the first of many roundups of what I manage to encounter on Sunday mornings here, and help illustrate to you how diverse HK's car scene can be.
Did any stand out for you? Or, were there any other cars you saw out on Sunday that caught your eye? Feel free to comment below.
- Adrian Ma Photography
- Engus Ng (@ej_nostalgia)