Me And My Car

A tycoon and his Rolls-Royces

Yeo Chong Lin talks about his affinity for Rolls-Royce and how he went from being a hawker assistant to shipping tycoon

Shipping tycoon Yeo Chong Lin, 81, has a soft spot for Rolls-Royce limousines.

He has two in the driveway of his bungalow in Upper Thomson - a white Phantom he bought three years ago and a blue-and-silver Phantom Series II acquired this year.

"Except for the shape of the lights, almost everything is the same," he says of the newer Roller. "But the price went from $1.2 million to $1.8 million."

Then why did he buy it?

"It's the latest model," he declares matter of factly.

  • WHAT'S IN THE BOOT

    "Nothing," he says. "I don't golf. People tell me you have to play golf to do business. I say that's rubbish."

The car is Mr Yeo's 10th Rolls-Royce. "The first one was a Corniche, which I bought in the 1980s," he recalls.

Explaining his Roller fixation, he says: "I belong to the old school. In the old days, the best car in the world was a Rolls-Royce.

"And when I drive to a hotel, they will let me park right in front."

But other than that, he says there is not much else that sets it apart from his other cars.

"People ask me, of all the cars I have, which is the best. To me, they're all the same," he says with the authority of one who has owned "more cars than I can remember".

But he remembers the first one he owned - a used Fiat 500 which he bought for $500. His first new car was a Toyota 2000, acquired in 1972.

It bore the registration number "8499", which Mr Yeo has used for all his cars since.

He has owned Ferraris, Maseratis and Porsches. But these days, he says he prefers cars that are less flashy - and easier to get in and out of.

Which is why he has just traded in his sporty Jaguar F-Type convertible for a BMW 640i. "The F-Type is nice, but it is too loud," he says, adding that it is unbecoming of an elderly gentleman to own such a loud car.

His stable of cars also includes a Bentley Mulsanne, Mercedes-Benz CLK Cabriolet and Jaguar XJ, which he alternates between the two Rollers.

"I have a driver, but I prefer to drive myself," he says. "He has eight cars to clean, so he usually drives me only when I go to town."

Cars are the only major indulgence of the self-made multi-millionaire, who left school after Standard (Primary) 6 at St Andrew's.

"There was a polio epidemic and the school was closed for months. When it reopened, it wanted backdated school fees. My parents couldn't afford it."

He started work immediately, helping at a noodle stall, earning $30 a month. Soon, he landed a job with the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA).

"My parents rented a place in Bukit Ho Swee and one of my neighbours was a cashier at PSA and he tried to help us because we were very poor.

"He recommended me to be a clerk as I knew my ABCs. In those days, it was very easy."

He spent 19 years there and rose to become a cargo supervisor. "I worked very hard and learnt a lot," he recalls.

But he was sacked in 1972 when PSA found out he had started a marine supply business, Swissco.

So he left and grew Swissco into an oil-and-gas major. The company was listed in 2004 and Mr Yeo cashed out a few years later.

These days, he dabbles in the buying and selling of ships, plays mahjong twice a week and, of course, enjoys his fine collection of cars.

He is estranged from his four children after an acrimonious divorce in 2005 and lives with his girlfriend and several rabbits.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2015, with the headline 'MeAndMyCar A tycoon and his Rolls-Royces'. Print Edition | Subscribe