Me And My Car

Michael Cai's Volkswagen Type 3 is too precious to drive too far

Mr Michael Cai does not drive his Volkswagen Type 3 too far because it is too precious to him.
Mr Michael Cai does not drive his Volkswagen Type 3 too far because it is too precious to him.PHOTOS: LIONEL SEAH

Michael Cai's 1964 Volkswagen Type 3 may be slow, but it attracts plenty of attention on the road

Retro Volkswagens make for popular collectibles. Topping the list is the iconic Beetle (Type 1), followed by the Kombi (Type 2) van.

A far less common but equally desirable model is the VW Type 3. Produced in the 1960s, it was hailed then as a modern replacement for the classic Beetle.

The Type 3 was roomier, more comfortable and easier to drive, even though it retained the Beetle's basic mechanicals and two-door format. It was available as a notchback, fastback or squareback (station wagon).

When Mr Michael Cai chanced upon a Type 3 notchback on motoring retail portal sgCarMart, he knew he had to have it.

"Its uniqueness, design and even the colour - it all clicked," he recalls.

Mr Cai, 41, was lucky in that the previous owner, another collector, ran out of garage space and had to part with the Type 3.

  • What's in the boot?

    • The engine. Like the Beetle, the Type 3 is rear-engined and rear-wheel-driven. The stowage is in front, where there is nothing but a spare wheel.

The car had been lovingly restored and imported from Australia under the Classic Vehicle Scheme in 2011. It has a "birth certificate" from the Volkswagen Auto Museum to certify its authenticity.

Although the Type 3 is Mr Cai's first classic car buy, he says he has always been partial to retro products from the 1950s and 1960s - be they watches, cameras or furniture.

"As a child, I wanted to be a car design engineer," he says.

He is now with a telecommunications giant selling software to global clients and travels extensively for work. So much so that he does not have time to use up the 28 free days a year that classic cars are allowed on the road. Most times, the Type 3 sits in a covered carpark under wraps.

But Mr Cai makes it a point to drive the car at least once a month, even if it is just around the neighbourhood.

He says "the car had been driven to Malacca by the previous owner", but he himself has "never driven it farther than Bukit Batok" - which is barely 20km from his home in Spottiswoode Park.

And that was for a Vicom vehicle inspection. "Too precious," he says with a chuckle.

That said, he points out that the more than half-a-century-old car is "very hardy" and has never acted up during the two years he has owned it. But like all cars from the era, the Type 3 is rust prone. So he tries not to take it out when it rains.

He has three children aged from five to 12. None of them share his retro-ride passion. Their typical remarks about the car include "so old" and "why no air-con?". And his wife Jia Yu, 41, who is an actuary, grumbles: "Why do you keep the car and don't drive it?"

They prefer their everyday family car, a Toyota Estima MPV.

But unlike the Estima, classic cars do not depreciate in value. In fact, they may appreciate with time.

Mr Cai says the Type 3 is also "cheap to maintain". Owners pay 10 per cent of the prevailing COE premium (renewable every 10 years), road tax of $280 a year and third-party insurance of "a few hundred dollars".

That is a small price to pay for a "Sunday car" that transports Mr Cai back to a time when things were slower and simpler.

He says: "Exotic supercar drivers even pull alongside to admire it."

To many, that must be priceless.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2016, with the headline 'Classic ride'. Print Edition | Subscribe