If you see a beautiful old car with red-and-yellow number plates, it is a classic car.
There are not many of them here. Currently, just a little over 800 of such cars are registered here under the Classic Vehicle Scheme (CVS), although the number is growing.
Wherever in the world, any car that has reached the age of 35 years from its first registration qualifies as a classic, and for tax breaks.
According to the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the number of classic cars registered has been rising steadily since 2015. Last year, 74 were registered, up from just 28 in 2015.
As at Dec 31 last year, 819 cars were registered under the CVS, with the highest Additional Registration Fee (ARF, or main car tax) at close to $250,000. The ARF for a typical new Japanese family sedan is less than $20,000.
Many of the classic cars are imports from right-hand-drive markets such as the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia, including rides that were rare in Singapore even 35 years ago.
To convert a car to a classic, the owner has to endorse a declaration of a non-reversible change in the car's status. The car then gets a new number plate in red and yellow, which is sealed at an inspection centre. A classic car can be driven for only up to 45 days a year.
To purchase a local classic car here, the process is just like buying any vehicle.
COLLECTORS ARE OFTEN BABY BOOMERS
The Straits Times found that most classic car collectors are car enthusiasts who were in their teens four decades ago and had deep impressions of cars from that bygone era. Now, armed with means, they wish to fulfil their childhood desires.
There is also a growing interest among younger car lovers, including those in their late 20s who are usually influenced by their fathers or uncles.
So, what is the allure of old cars?
Young and old collectors alike share a passion for the classics' unique styling and character - traits which are sometimes lacking in modern machines.
Classic Vehicle Scheme
Recognising that old vehicles are part of Singapore's heritage, the LTA launched a Classic Vehicle Scheme (CVS) in 2000.
Classic cars are permitted to be driven on public roads only 45 days a year - for free for the first 28 days and at $20 a day after that.
Owners pay only 10 per cent of the certificate of entitlement (COE) prevailing quota premium and a flat road tax of $280 a year.
To qualify for classic status, a car or motorcycle must be at least 35 years old from the date of its original registration.
The scheme is open to non-Singapore registered cars imported from anywhere in the world as long as they are right-hand-drive, comply with the age requirement and are in original specifications.
Once a vehicle comes under the CVS, it cannot be converted back to a normal car. Those who want to continue using their old cars as normal cars can do so, as long as their COEs are valid.
Mr Louis Soon Zhiwei, 38, bought a 1973 BMW 2002 from a friend, a classic car collector, last year.
The product designer says: "For me, the aesthetics are very important. I had been eyeing this particular car for about seven years now, and when my friend offered it for sale, I could not resist. It's in pretty good shape and I drive it at least twice a month."
Retired diplomat Bernard Baker, 62, has loved cars since he was a young man.
"But I began to focus on Jaguars when my dad bought an Mk 2 in 1962," he recalls.
He still has his father's Jag and has also added a 1964 3.8-litre Mk to his collection.
"I bought the Mk 2 in South Africa when I was high commissioner there, then had it fully restored in New Zealand," the youngest son of pioneer-generation diplomat Maurice Baker says. "It is a joy to drive and simply beautiful to look at."
Both Mr Soon and Mr Baker declined to reveal how much they paid for their cars.
Lawyer Christopher Yong Shu Wei, 51, is the owner of another fully restored classic - a 1967 Volvo P1800.
"When I was a schoolboy, The Saint (a 1960s spy thriller TV series) was my favourite show and I was totally mesmerised by Simon Templar's Volvo P1800," Mr Yong says, referring to the lead role played by late English actor Roger Moore. "Templar and his Volvo were the coolest team on TV in those days."
Mr Yong forked out £10,000 for the car, which he imported from Ireland. He had it restored here and finished it in the same shade of white as the Volvo in The Saint, costing him about $60,000.
The car, which looks like it just left the showroom, has appeared in several local classic car shows.
Neither Mr Yong nor Mr Baker has thought about what their cars are worth. For them, they are not investments, but objects of desire to be driven and admired.
And no, they have no intention of letting go of the dreams of their youth.
IS IT AN EXPENSIVE HOBBY?
If you are not after exotic sports cars like Aston Martins, Ferraris, E-Type Jaguars, Lamborghinis or Maseratis, classic cars are relatively inexpensive compared with the average new saloon car.
Their mechanics are not sophisticated or complicated by electronic hardware, which makes them generally easier to maintain and repair. These days, almost every spare part can be easily sourced online and at reasonable prices.
Like all collectibles, classic cars have immense visual appeal that even non-car enthusiasts can appreciate.
As the classic car pool in Singapore is not huge, some collectors may resort to importing.
The imported car must, first of all, be a right-hand-drive vehicle. While it need not be in perfect condition, its body and engine must be original - engine and chassis numbers must match those stated in the registration certificate issued in the country of origin.
This disqualifies any car that has had an engine transplant. The regulation applies to any vehicle licensed for use on Singapore roads.
And every foreign vehicle must undergo documentation as well as a physical inspection of the engine and chassis here.
Because the car is an inbound good, Singapore Customs requires the necessary papers, including the bill of sale from the owner, original registration log and deregistration certificate issued by the relevant authorities from the country of export, and photos of the car prior to shipment. These documents will allow Customs to calculate the critical open market value of the car, which then determines the excise duty, GST and ARF.
For collectors, the trouble is well worth it as it allows them to own cars that were never imported here.
CARS AS HERITAGE
Retired doctor Ivor Thevathasan, 79, feels that people "should be paid to keep some of these cars because they are part of our heritage".
A few of them are around 100 years old, including a 1926 Rolls-Royce Twenty Connaught Tourer belonging to collector Larry Lim.
Dr Ivor, who was president of the Malaysian and Singapore Vintage Car Register for three terms and stepped down late last year, owns two classic rides - a 1938 left-hand-drive Citroen "Traction Avant" and a 1983 Mercedes-Benz 280SL.
He also has two modern cars - a 2010 Suzuki SX4, for which he has just renewed the certificate of entitlement, and a 2019 Honda Vezel Hybrid.
"At one time, we had 3,000 to 4,000 classic and vintage cars here," he recalls.
LTA also has a separate but somewhat similar scheme to the CVS called the Vintage Car Scheme, for cars made before 1940.
The number of cars here aged 35 or older stood at 1,700 as at the end of last year, including the 819 registered under CVS.