Businessman Karsono Kwee has 25-30 cars and half a dozen motorbikes

Mr Karsono Kwee’s collection includes a few Porsches, a 1964 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, a 1967 Saab 9-2 and three bikes. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Mr Karsono Kwee’s collection includes a few Porsches, a 1964 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, a 1967 Saab 9-2 and three bikes. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Mr Chia Quee Khee’s 1949 MG Y-T was the wedding car when he got married in 1976. -- PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Mr Chia Quee Khee’s 1949 MG Y-T was the wedding car when he got married in 1976. -- PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

His passion with wheels started in 1971 when he fell in love with a Porsche

Businessman Karsono Kwee owns and runs one of the most successful motor businesses in the region.

The 66-year-old's Trans Eurokars group, with multi-franchise dealerships in Singapore and Indonesia, rakes in an annual turnover of nearly $500 million. Brands in his stable include Rolls-Royce, Porsche, Mini and Mazda in Singapore, and Porsche, BMW and Mazda in Indonesia.

Observers often attribute his three-decade track record in an infamously competitive industry to his business acumen and hands-on approach to running his business.

But close associates will know that his success has as much to do with his love of cars.

Mr Kwee remembers his first set of wheels - a Vespa scooter which he rode in his teens in Surabaya, Indonesia, where he grew up.

His first car was a used Opel Rekord, which he bought when he was 20; and his first brand new car was a Volkswagen Beetle he acquired when he was 22.

But it was not until he came to Singapore a year later that "my car fever started".

 

He saw a green Porsche 911 Targa cruising by the old Paya Lebar Airport, and fell in love with it. The year was 1971.

In 1977, he bought his first Porsche, a 924, followed swiftly by a 911 and then a 928, which was then the flagship model.

In 1982, he bought his first Rolls-Royce, a Silver Spirit.

Then, in 1985, when the previous Porsche agent in Singapore went into financial difficulties, Mr Kwee, who was then in the electronics import-and- export business, made a pitch for the franchise, along with big players such as Cycle & Carriage.

The German manufacturer must have sensed his passion, and the rest is pretty much history.

Today, Mr Kwee's "car fever" is seen in an impressive collection of 25 to 30 cars and half a dozen motorcycles.

The number of cars in his collection varies because he periodically sells off a few and acquires a few more. For instance, his most recent addition is the Porsche Macan compact SUV.

While he buys and sells the modern machines in his collection, there are a few oldies he hangs on to.

These include a 1967 Saab 9-2 which he bought for $13,000 16 years ago and spent $100,000 restoring; and a 1964 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud which he acquired from the Khoo Teck Puat family.

There is also a 1958 Porsche 356 - the world's first production Porsche - which still looks pretty fast today.

Among his bikes, he has a 1991 BMW K1, a 1994 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy and a 2006 Vespa GTV125 - a remake that reminds Mr Kwee of the first set of wheels he had.

He says: "I was bike-crazy when I was growing up."

Maintaining such an expansive stable of machines is hard work. So he employs two full-time staff (excluding his chauffeur) to keep his collection in tip-top condition.

Some cars are kept at his home in Dempsey while others are parked on Trans-Eurokars' Sungei Kadut premises.

The workers can sometimes be seen using soft toothbrushes to clean hard-to-reach surfaces without leaving any scratches.

Mr Kwee admits that it is hard to divide his attention equally among the vehicles in his collection.

He is chauffeured in a Rolls-Royce Phantom or a Ghost Art Deco for official or gala events as well as trips to and from the airport, but for family outings, he often calls upon two Toyota Alphard MPVs, known for their unrivalled space and comfort.

Married with a son who helps run his Indonesian dealerships and a university- going daughter, Mr Kwee also finds time to get behind the wheel himself.

When he does, he gravitates towards a few cars.

Currently, he says his favourites are the Rolls-Royce Wraith (a two-door "fastback" grand tourer), the Porsche 911 Turbo S (0-100kmh in 3.1 seconds, top speed of 318kmh) and, of course, the latest Porsche 911 Targa, the styling of which reminds him of the Targa he first set eyes on 43 years ago.

christan@sph.com.sg

This story was part of a package on car collectors that first appeared in the September 2014 issue of The Life e-magazine in The Straits Times Star E-books app, under the headline "Car crazy".