Me And My Car

A Honda love affair

Mr Gay Eng Joo sends his Civic Type R for regular grooming, does simple maintenance work on the car himself and stocks up on vital spare parts in case they become scarce.
Mr Gay Eng Joo sends his Civic Type R for regular grooming, does simple maintenance work on the car himself and stocks up on vital spare parts in case they become scarce.PHOTO: ANDRE LAM
Mr Gay Eng Joo sends his Civic Type R for regular grooming, does simple maintenance work on the car himself and stocks up on vital spare parts in case they become scarce.
Mr Gay Eng Joo sends his Civic Type R for regular grooming, does simple maintenance work on the car himself and stocks up on vital spare parts in case they become scarce.PHOTO: ANDRE LAM

Engineer Gay Eng Joo has been yearning for a Honda since he was a boy

Engineer Gay Eng Joo's affinity for Honda spans more than three decades.

As a schoolboy, he went on numerous road trips to Malaysia with his father in his first-generation Honda Civic. Mr Gay, now 46, says he has wanted a Honda ever since.

Despite that, his first car, in 1998, was a Mazda 323 - an affordable ride for a fresh graduate who had just started working.

After nearly two years of driving the Mazda, he decided that he had to fulfil his dream and bought a Honda Civic in 2000. But the dream turned into a nightmare because the car's continuously variable transmission - a relatively new technology for Honda then - was problematic.

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In 2002, Mr Gay ditched it and bought a manual transmission Honda Accord Euro R, which he used regularly on track days at Malaysia's Sepang Circuit.

Because the car was relatively heavy, it required a substantial amount of work on the chassis to beef up handling on the track.

Mr Gay thought the Civic Type R would be more track-ready, so he bought one after driving the Accord Type R for five years.

He recalls: "The irony is that soon after buying the car, I decided not to go to the track anymore."

Starting a family had something to do with that.

"Having a child seat fixed to the rear seats is a disincentive to go fast," he says with a laugh.

He met his wife in 2000 when they found themselves regularly jostling for a coveted parking spot near where they were working at the time.

They got married in 2011 and have a six-year-old son, Ewan.

The silver Civic Type R has served the family well for nearly 10 years.

"This car has accompanied me through special stages of my life - from being a bachelor to a husband and a father," Mr Gay says.

He keeps it in pristine condition and it looks better than many one-year-old cars.

"I send it to a specialist car groomer every three to four months to keep it clean and shiny," he says.

He also changes the engine oil every 5,000km (the car has clocked 165,000km) and uses original parts for any wear-and-tear replacement. As he was worried that spare parts would become scarce, he decided to be his own stockist, buying and storing various vital spares.

He does some of the simpler maintenance work himself, such as changing spark plugs, air-conditioner filters, batteries and bulbs. He has even done some wiring work.

"The styling of the Civic Type R back then was a real head-turner," he says of the 225bhp car which revs up to 8,700rpm.

He has stayed true to the original car. Even the tyres have been replaced with the original hard-to- find Bridgestone model, despite the many viable alternatives available in the market today.

But when asked what his favourite Honda is, Mr Gay surprises by naming the S2000.

There is no Honda in his dream garage though. Instead, there would be a 997 Porsche GT3 RS, a Lexus GS F "and maybe a Subaru Forester as a park-anywhere car".

Despite the certificate of entitlement (COE) on his current car running out soon, Mr Gay has not been able to find a replacement. But because he has kept it in mint condition, he says he is considering renewing the COE.

If he does so, will he pass the car on to his son when he gets his driving licence?

"He will have to get some other car," he replies in all seriousness.

•The writer contributes to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'A Honda love affair'. Print Edition | Subscribe