Not safe on N-S Highway, even in convoy

A Ferrari 430 Spyder car spun out of control and crashed while being chased by thugs on the North-South Highway.
A Ferrari 430 Spyder car spun out of control and crashed while being chased by thugs on the North-South Highway. PHOTO: WANBAO

THIS is the car that was wrecked in a daring robbery along the North-South highway in Malaysia on Friday.

The Ferrari 430 Spyder was bought only 10 months ago and cost the owner about $900,000.

It was on its way to meet a convoy of about 20 Ferraris and Maseratis, which had set out earlier that morning for Genting Highlands.

But the lone Ferrari found itself pursued by a Malaysia-registered Mercededes-Benz just before Sungei Besi, the exit for Kuala Lumpur.

The Ferrari driver, a businessman who was accompanied by his wife, tried to shake off the pair in the C-Class Merc – unaware that the same duo had made three attempts to rob members of the convoy earlier.

In the end, he was undone by the weather. His metallic-grey car spun out of control and crashed into a railing and another car.

The thugs used a crowbar to smash the vehicle, before dragging the owner out to rain punches on him.

While his wife fled to get help, four other thugs joined in the attack, before running off with the man’s two watches.

Blood on his face, the victim flagged down oncoming vehicles for help.

As luck would have it, a Maserati, which had been part of the convoy he was trying to join, drove by. The driver, lawyer Krishna Ramachandra, had himself managed to shake off that same Mercedes twice earlier.

Members of the convoy, from the Singapore Ferrari Club, returned to Singapore yesterday evening. So too the Ferrari driver and his wife via another car driven by their chauffeur. The damaged Ferrari is being repaired at a workshop here.

The robbery stunned motoring enthusiasts in car and motorbike clubs for whom convoy trips to Malaysia and beyond are becoming an increasingly common weekend past-time.

BMW Motorcycle Club’s committee member Matthew Chua said he was surprised that a convoy was targeted. “In a group, it is highly unlikely they will attack you,” he said.

Most representatives of motoring clubs said they were left well enough alone on the highway, especially if they maintained “convoy discipline”.

In most cases, there is always a designated leader as well as a “sweeper” – usually the car that brings up the rear of the convoy. Vehicles are also equipped with long-range walkie-talkies to ensure that the members are able to maintain contact with each other throughout the drive.

This is when they warn each other about slow or fast-moving vehicles and when a vehicle needs to make an unscheduled stop.

In the case of the Ferrari, it was not hooked up to the communication system that the other cars in the convoy were on.

Private fund equity manager Mok Weng Sun, 41, member and leader of the Porsche Club Singapore’s racing team, said his club has formal rules on being part of a convoy. No car, for example, is allowed to overtake another and position has to always be maintained.

When the club makes long trips in convoys of 30 to 40 Porsches, there are experienced drivers in the middle to hold the group together.

While there have been no incidents of robbery or other crimes that he can recall, the club still makes sure it does not invite trouble.

They try not to make too many stops or go into small towns off the highway. For toilet or meal breaks, they will keep to the bigger and more popular rest areas.

Mr Mok said that while cars may occasionally try to get into a race with his Porsche, he ignores their challenges. “The key is to not attract unneccesary attention and to stay out of trouble.”

Mr Tony Goldman, 65, safety officer of the Harley Owners Group in Singapore, said: “For motorcycles, we have to maintain a strict formation when we ride, and we also don’t encourage overtaking.”

Motorcyclists also either use blue-tooth walkie talkies attached to their helmets or stay in contact through mobile phones.

All these safeguards are to ensure no member of the convoy gets left behind.

Economic Development Board senior officer Justin Choo, 26, and his party of six found themselves lagging behind – and out of walkie-talkie range of – a convoy of seven cars heading up to Kuala Lumpur last December.

They were in a rented Silver Toyota Wish cruising along the North-South Highway when they realised a black BMW tailgating and honking at them. “I assumed that he was honking at us to get us to give way to him, but he didn’t give us any time to react before he tried to cut in front of us,” he recalled.

Several kilometres of zig-zagging later, the BMW cut in front of the Toyota and forced it to the side of the road. The driver got out and started hurling insults, claiming he had a parang in his car.

Mr Choo said: “He clearly had a chip on his shoulder because he kept insulting Singaporeans. We had to pacify him. We didn’t even dare get out of the car. If not, things might have got out of hand.”

The man got back into his car on the approach of a highway patrol vehicle.

The fact that the Friday’s convoy consisted of Ferraris and Maseratis – both flashy and expensive sports cars – might well have attracted attention.

But the motor clubs say that it could happen to any car – luxury or not.

Mr Melvin Goh, 52, managing director of Lamborghini Singapore, disagrees.

“It doesn’t matter what car you’re driving,” he said. “The sheer fact that you’re driving a Singapore car on a foreign road should make you more alert. And Singaporeans should drive more courteously. After all, it’s the Malaysians’ road – you have to give them leeway.”

He alternates between driving his Alfa Romeo and Lamborghini to Malaysia once a week.

As for Maserati owner Mr Krishna, Friday’s scare is not going to stop him driving to Malaysia: “This is certainly not going to deter me.”