Me And My Car: A British love affair

Teacher-turned-mechanic David Chan has had his 'Frogeye' for more than 50 years

You could say Mr David Chan is a man who manages to mix business with pleasure.

The 71-year-old has been hooked on British cars since he was a teen, and he also owns a workshop catering to these cars.

When he was 18, his father, who ran a car-import business, gave him his four-year-old Austin-Healey Sprite - a two-seat convertible better known by its nickname "Frogeye" because of its pop-out headlamps.

With the car, Mr Chan has taken part in and won several trophies at sporting events over the years. The most memorable ones include the Gap Hill Climb held at South Buona Vista Road in 1972, the Thomson Quarter Mile Sprint (held on the straight of the Old Thomson Road grand prix circuit) in 1972, and the Malaysia Singapore Vintage Car Register Louis Vuitton Vintage Equator Run from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur in 1993.

The car is now 57 years old and retired from racing. He bought its first COE in 2000 and has since renewed it twice.

It is now on the classic car scheme, which allows 45 days of use a year for which an owner pays 10 per cent of the COE prevailing quota premium.

"The old gal has had her odometer go round twice," he says.

  • What's in the boot:

  • • Spare tyre

Despite that, the car is in good shape and Mr Chan, a master mechanic, fixes whatever mechanical problem that crops up.

Last weekend, he drove the Austin-Healey at the Singapore Grand Prix drivers' parade, with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen as his passenger.

The rare soft-top has always been a big part of his life, but it took a back seat after his first child, Brian, was born 45 years ago. He needed something more practical, so he bought a Mini Cooper.

The Mini was a timely acquisition. Mr Chan and his wife, Veronica, had three other children after Brian - Jacqueline, and twins Carmen and Dalia. 

But when the Mini was not a family carrier, it was in motoring events. He entered it for fuel economy challenges and souped it up for carpark rallies, again winning a number of trophies.

It was during this period that he became somewhat of a Mini specialist. This was on top of mechanical skills he had learnt growing up in a family which held various motor franchises from the 1920s to 1960s.

So in 1983, Mr Chan decided to put that expertise to profitable use. He put the brakes on his 20-year career as a school teacher and started David Motor, which caters to classic and vintage British cars.

"I had to go back to my first love," he says.

His son Brian is now running the business, but Mr Chan still picks up the spanner when there are more cars in the shop than usual.

He says he must have worked on "hundreds of Minis", but reckons there are only about 120 Minis left in Singapore. Today, he has 30 faithful customers, who still have him service their Minis. His other customers own other classic British cars such as MGs, Triumphs, Austins and Morris Minors.

Mr Chan laments: "The number of classic cars has dwindled because of the high cost of renewing their COE."

But to him, the allure of old cars is unbeatable. He says he would rather drive around in his doorless and roofless Mini Moke than a modern motor.

As for the Austin-Healey, he says he will keep it for sure. "The Sprite was a real special birthday present. I will always treasure it."

• 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 September 24, 2016, with the headline 'A British love affair'. Print Edition | Subscribe