Me And My Car

An Italian love affair

Mr Kelvin Aw drives the 1996 Fiat Coupe daily and its odometer reads in excess of 234,000km.
Mr Kelvin Aw drives the 1996 Fiat Coupe daily and its odometer reads in excess of 234,000km.PHOTOS: KONG YONGYAO
Mr Kelvin Aw drives the 1996 Fiat Coupe daily and its odometer reads in excess of 234,000km.
Mr Kelvin Aw drives the 1996 Fiat Coupe daily and its odometer reads in excess of 234,000km.PHOTOS: KONG YONGYAO

Undergraduate Kelvin Aw falls for the 1996 Fiat Coupe, a model with a past

It is Italian, but does not carry an exotic badge. A sports coupe, but front-wheel-drive instead of rear- wheel-drive like most bona fide sports cars. I point these out to Mr Kelvin Aw and he is quick to defend the honour of his prized automobile: a 1996 Fiat Coupe.

"It is a special car. I believe it is one of only two left in Singapore," the 22-year-old materials science undergraduate says.

"It is an iconic Chris Bangle design - very 'in your face'," he adds, referring to the Coupe's mercurial American designer, who later moved to BMW and led an aesthetic revolution in the early 2000s.

Launched in 1993, the Coupe was the first sporty model to emerge from Fiat in a decade, and one of its seminal products.

It was one of the coolest European sportscars in the 1990s, and broke the mould by featuring an angular exterior of sharp lines and bold creases, such as the dramatic slashes above the wheel arch.

These features defined an abrupt style of panel treatment called "flame surfacing", which Bangle carried to BMW and applied to a generation of odd but futuristic-looking bimmers.

Some commentators have suggested that Bangle had cut his teeth on designing the Fiat Coupe, as these features were the early prototypes of a style of "flame surfacing".

  • What's in the boot?


    • A warning triangle

    • An umbrella

    • A reflective windscreen cover

    • Portable safari chairs

"It is like Marmite; you love it or hate it. I think it looks fantastic," Mr Aw adds. "Fiat even turned down Pininfarina to go with Bangle's design." This was no mean feat. Pininfarina is a legendary Italian design house credited with some of history's most beautiful cars, including numerous Ferraris.

Mr Aw feels his Fiat is much more than eye candy (or Marmite). "Often people tell me I could have done better with a more modern, rear-wheel-drive car," he says. "I just toss them the keys and challenge them not to be charmed. They always come back and say 'wow - it's really good'."

He tosses me the keys and I get to put his pride and joy through its paces. Indeed it is every bit as robust and vivacious as he says it is. "Go on, push it past 3,000rpm. That's when the turbo kicks in and then it really goes," he says.

The venerable Fiat is on its third certificate of entitlement (COE). Mr Aw renewed it last year for $50,932. "COE expiration, not mechanical failure," he says. "This is how old cars die in Singapore."

His father, a 52-year-old managing director in an agriculture and investment business, bought him the car in 2013 and paid for the renewal of the COE.

He uses the Coupe as his daily drive and its odometer reads in excess of 234,000km.

"I had some misgivings about buying an old Italian car at first, given their reputation for unreliability. It was love at first sight," he says. "I was so smitten I bought it at the first meeting with the seller.

"It is my first car, but I hope never to have to sell it."

He has done quite a lot of work on it, including rebuilding the engine last year. "A misfire destroyed an entire piston and left me stranded by the road," he says.

Parts are also hard to come by.He even had to commission a metalworker in Malaysia to fabricate a cooling pipe from scratch, but all inconveniences are minor for this car lover. Regrets? He has "none at all".

•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 July 15, 2017, with the headline 'An Italian love affair'. Print Edition | Subscribe