Just as you’ve made that crucial decision to leave your home and visit a new place, the first thing you’ll often do is to step out and purchase a guide book. Inside you’ll find practical tips, maps and recommendations as well as those ever popular lists of the famous sights you must tick off. Lonely Planet shows ‘Hong Kong’s Top 16’, and includes tourist traps like Victoria Peak, Temple Street Night Market, Victoria Harbour and the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade.
I’m not going to argue that the view of the city from Victoria Peak isn’t special, far from it. But I’ve long thought that to properly experience a place, you need to take the guide books with a grain of salt. Use their advice to get the most out of your visit, but don’t forget to leave room for real discovery, too. Whatever your passion is, pursue that in your chosen destination.
You end up in some of the most random places, and meet the most interesting people and it’s all waiting as soon as you deviate from the guidebook a little bit. A passion for cars is a great place to start, and with a few days free in Hong Kong before attending the Macau Grand Prix I decided to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes while traveling – car hunting.
Within minutes of setting out on foot in Kowloon it became obvious that a passion for cars runs strong here, and I couldn’t believe it when I saw this guy wearing a genuine Nismo Clarion GTR-LM jacket.
People in Hong Kong, and Asia in general, seem to be less afraid of modifying their cars than we are in the West. It’s a form of expression to them and body kits and legit branded wheels are commonplace.
From what I could tell, modifications here seem to be largely cosmetic changes to newer vehicles. Legislation makes it very costly to own an older car and you’ve got to put a lot of effort in to properly drive cars the way we want to, anyway. It’s kind of a case of why bother.
Hong Kong wasn’t what I was expecting in terms of the cars you’d see on the streets. I thought it would be a bit like Singapore or London where the place is littered with exotics, but it was really just limited to luxury cars mostly.
It seems nobody told this guy that Maybach’s just make you look like a fool. The Mercedes S Class based, Veblen-esque Maybach is the automotive equivalent to that iPhone app called ‘I am rich’ that did absolutely nothing other than cost $1000 to prove you could afford to buy it. I’ve never actually seen a Maybach on the streets before, so there you go.
Other than a quick drive-by from this BMW i8 (which even in person still looks like it’s squeezing a 991 out of its behind), it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to see anything really interesting on the roads.
Putting cars aside for a moment, I decided to head down to Central for a walk around the pro-democracy protest site. One of the key conditions of the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule was the continuation of democracy. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China and has a democratically elected government, but the candidates must first be approved by Beijing. In reality a candidate has to be pro Beijing to even get on the ballot paper, which questions just how democratic their version of democracy really is.
It was surreal to be in the middle of a tent city built on the highway through one of the biggest cities in the world. It was a strangely calming and positive environment, too. Everyone was relaxed and people sat about reading books and playing guitars. The tents all had addresses for mail delivery, there was a cleaning roster to keep the area tidy and people had planted communal vegetable gardens on the median strips. There were libraries, desks and study areas set up and there was a podium for evening lectures on a variety of topics.
It was a fascinating standoff. In the past I’m sure the Chinese would have forcibly evicted the protestors in a Tienanmen style manner after a day or two, but with the world watching and everyone on their smartphones the government had to be careful to avoid the condemnation of the international community. Every road into the protest zone was staged with riot Police, but they were all friendly to me as I walked through, and the government’s game plan of outlasting the protestors and not giving in seemed to work. There was violence at the start of the protest, but after more than a month it had lost momentum and in the end the government managed to clear the site by going through and arresting whoever was left.
Before you can think about owning a car in Hong Kong, you need somewhere to park it. Walking the streets around some of the nicer districts I could see the entry to a few up-market parking garages, like this one in Soho with art on the walls and a Ferrari Mondial waiting to go in. I realised that unless you can get into these garages you won’t see anything special, so why not head to where the mechanics are that work on these fine machines?
I’m not sure why it took me so long to have this idea, but after a half-hour trip on the MTR underground and a flying ride in the cavernous back seat of a Toyota Crown taxi I arrived at the Chai Wan district, right on the eastern tip of Hong Kong island. Chai Wan is described as ‘a mosaic of industrial and residential areas’ and not normally somewhere a tourist would venture, but for an automotive tourist it was heaven.
Asia is full of hangovers from the old days, one of which is that similar businesses are often located in the same district of a given town or city. The result is an entire suburb of workshops that are filled with interesting and exotic machinery.
The entry opened up and inside was one of the most eclectic collections of cars. The mechanic at the back was rebuilding a Porsche flat six engine, surrounded by an Evo X, an AE86 and a drift spec S15. He didn’t speak a word of English but was very friendly and quite happy to let me look around and take some photos.
… as did this Ferrari 412. The 412 is certainly not the most popular Ferrari, but this example in such wonderful condition caused me to reconsider them anew. At the end of the day the 412 is still a big, front engined V12 Ferrari and what’s not to like about that?
As I got to the GT3, the high-speed roller door of the workshop across the road was rapidly closing. The building was obviously high security and wore no signage other than a crested B mounted up high and the word ‘Blackbird’ on the door. No address, no phone number, no nothing.
As I peered inside in complete shock, a petite lady smiled at me and said ‘sorry’, allowing just a glimpse at the Narnia inside before the door shut me out. I got no photos, so I will describe in words. The workshop was immaculately clean, with white epoxy floors and bright lighting. The large workshop, with multiple four-post hoists, was filled with cars of a caliber and quality that barely seems plausible now I recount it. On the closest hoist a technician was attending to the rear brakes on a 246 Dino. There was a Ferrari 458 road car with the wheels and body kit of a 458 GT3 but without the oversize real spoiler, and there was a viper green Porsche 911 2.7 Carrera RS to match the GT3 behind me. I think I caught the wing of an F40 in the distance, and there was a 288 GTO right there in front of me. The workshop was full of what must have been another 10 cars but I didn’t have time to look at them all.
The workshop ran the entire width of the block, and the other side gave no more clues. Further research reveals it to be the premises of Blackbird Automotive, a two part business consisting of these ‘Heritage Motorworks’ and an excellent mazgazine/journal. The workshop restores and services the finest vehicles (they also specialise in ‘personal request fulfillment’), and the journal writes about the cars and associated topics. I’ve since subscribed to the journal myself, however their website is the closest we can get to the workshop. It’s well worth a browse – blackbird-automotive.com
SPS Automotive Performance are internet-legendary as dealers of hypercars and super exotics. I had to do some fast talking to even get in the door of their Chai Wan showroom/storage facility, and sitting just inside next to a mint BNR32 GTR was this bare carbon bodied Pagani Zonda. But when is a regular Zonda not that special compared to what else is in the building? Stay tuned.
SPS are dealers for Gumpert, and I believe the owner of SPS has actually purchased the Gumpert company. I’ve long thought the Gumpert Apollo was incredibly ugly but it looks far better in person and you can’t deny the concept of building an uncompromising road car that’s as close to a racecar as possible.
Sitting on the floor, next to an original AC 289 Cobra, was one of just a handful of 2012 AC 378 GT Zagato’s in existence. First shown as a concept car in 2009, the carbon body of the 378 GTZ was built by Zagato in Italy, with the Chevrolet V8 added and the vehicle assembled in South Africa. You may see a sneaky few interesting cars in the background there, too.
The guys at SPS were incredibly generous in allowing me entry but they would not let me take photos of the cars in the main showroom as they are being stored for private customers. They did allow me to take photos of them through the main windows, however, which explains the huge reflections. This is the only Gumpert Apollo factory built to race specifications, and it has only been used once by its owner. SPS will maintain and keep it fully operational, however it is likely destined for a life of display to maintain its value.
This is one of five limited edition Pagani Zonda Cinque’s, a road going version of the bonkers Zonda R and a limited edition intended to be the Zonda’s swansong. Over the regular Zonda it has a new six-speed sequential gearbox, the body is made from a new kind of carbon-fibre that incorporates titanium into the weave, suspension components are made from unobtainum, it has more power and the the revised bodywork gives more downforce. Its original price was around AUD$2,500,000 but is now heading north from there. Interestingly, three of the five Cinque’s built are in Hong Kong (and another in Singapore), and this car was about to be shipped back to the factory in Modena for routine servicing.
Alongside the Cinque was the granddaddy of them all, the Zonda R. A purpose built track car, the Zonda R shares only 10% of components with the regular Zonda and borrows its AMG V12 from the famous CLK GTR Le Mans racer. The Zonda R is easily the most impressive car I have ever seen – it leaves you speechless. The fit, finish and build quality is unbelievable, as are the trademark Italian touches like the leather bonnet straps nestled into the carbon bodywork, and the way both dry and wet carbon is used in different areas of a panel for effect. We opened the drivers door which was featherweight, and the quality of build transferred into the cockpit. As part of the maintenance operations the guys from SPS start it every so often, and it is so loud that last time they were warming it up for a client the police were called by disgruntled neighbors.
The Zonda R is the car that set the lap record around the Nurburgring for non road legal vehicles at 6:47.
SPS operates a large storage facility above the showroom (that SL500 is sitting on the lift), and camera or no camera they wouldn’t even take me up and show me. One can only wonder about what was up there, and a quick Google search reveals a few photos that people have managed to take. We’re talking lines of multiple Zonda’s, Huayra’s, FXX’s, Veyron’s, F50’s, CLK GTR’s and anything else you can imagine.
As good as everything I had seen was, there was one business on Hong Kong island I was still desperate to visit. They don’t publish their precise location and you can only visit with an appointment, and right at the end of my trip I finally received the confirmation email I had been hoping for – come on down. After getting back to Hong Kong from Macau I had just two hours to rush across the city in a taxi for a 20min visit before a mad dash to make my flight home. But it was worth it.
Elite Detailing and Protection have been operating out of London’s exclusive Knightsbridge area for some time, and have just opened this Asian offshoot in Hong Kong. They offer only the best of the best and work on the most exclusive cars. A quick scan of their Instagram feed (@edp_hk and @elitedetailer) shows what they’ve done in the past.
The EB110 was launched on September 15 1991, on Ettore Bugatti’s 110th birthday. The specs are incredible even by todays standards – a quad turbo V12, six speeds of pure manual gearbox, four wheel drive and a top speed of 343km/h. That’s pretty awesome for 1991.
In the same bay was a 964 Turbo S, one of just 80 built and one of small handful converted to RHD by the factory post production. The Turbo S has 381bhp, and essentially combines the chassis and weight savings of the Carrera RS with a modified version of the turbo motor.
With just a couple of days in Hong Kong, I was happy to be able to squeeze some pretty cool automotive sights in around the usual sightseeing and shopping. I’m sure that Hong Kong’s automotive culture runs far deeper than what I’ve seen (the famous Sunday drivers club, anyone?) and if some of the stories I’ve heard are true, there’s some even more breathtaking machinery in this tiny strip of land.
Words and photos by Andrew Coles