Making old wheels rock and roll again

PATIENCE and passion are key when it comes to restoration of classic cars.

Fixing up an old beauty can cost an arm and a leg as there are not many mechanics with that golden touch to transform a rusty machine into a car that is capable of turning heads.

In spite of this, owners of classic models do not mind forking out money to own restored cars because of the value they fetch.

However, searching for a classic car is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

This is because most classic car owners are not willing to part with their old favourite even if the price is right.

Arie Goh knows this well.

Mechanics (from left) Poon, Tang and Loi restoring and repairing an old Volkswagen. — THOMAS YONG/The StarMechanics (from left) Poon, Tang and Loi restoring and repairing an old Volkswagen. — THOMAS YONG/The Star

He has been in the business of restoring old Volkswagens for more than two decades.

He said he made the right decision of getting involved in the makeover of old cars after taking over his mother’s business at the age of 24.

Volkswagen owners from Malaysia and Singapore seek Goh’s expertise when they need to restore their vehicles.

The 46-year-old is probably one of the few experts in the country specialising in the restoration of the German marque.

“You have to have patience and passion when restoring old Volkswagens,” he said when interviewed by StarMetro.

The family business, Syarikat Highway Motor Trading, started off as a spare parts dealership, which Goh’s mother Helen Tang founded in 1981 in Johor Baru.

In 1999, the company moved from Jalan Skudai Lama to its present premises in the Pulai light industrial area near Taman Impian Emas in Skudai, Johor.

Goh took over the reins of business when his mother retired upon turning 64 in 2002.

“To date, we have restored more than 200 old Volkswagen cars and many are still on the waiting list,’’ he said.

Flipping through the many photo albums in his office, one could only marvel at how rusty and old Volkswagens were transformed into handsome cars.

Goh said the laborious work behind fixing up old cars was only possible because of his team of dedicated mechanics.

“They are my right-hand men and play an important role in the makeover process,” he said.

The mechanics are Loi Swee Keong, 37, Poon Jee Hin, 50, and 60-year-old Tang Yik Choy.

As a proud owner of four restored Volkswagens, Goh said he was attracted to the car’s “sexy” shape, sturdiness and solid look.

When its production began in 1938, the public referred to the stylish little car as “Volkswagen” or “people’s car”.

In the same year, the New York Times referred to the Volkswagen as the Beetle and the name still lives on.

Goh checking the interior of a Volkswagen at his workshop in the Pulai light industrial area in Johor Baru. He says getting an old Beetle is like looking for a needle in a haystack.Goh checking the interior of a Volkswagen at his workshop in the Pulai light industrial area in Johor Baru. He says getting an old Beetle is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

However, the curvy Volkswagen has earned itself nicknames in a few countries.

In France, it is fondly known as conccinelle which means ladybug while in Italy it is known as maggiolino.

In Bolivia, it is referred to as peta which means turtle and the Indonesians call it kodok which means frog.

Goh said it was more challenging to restore old Volkswagens because most of the cars sent to the workshop had already seen their good days and were beyond repair.

“Regardless of how bad the vehicles are, I will not turn away my clients as many of them have personal attachment or sentimental value to their cars.”

He said it would take, on average, up to three months or more –depending on the condition – to restore an old car, with the cost starting from RM10,000.

He explained that the long wait time was due to the unavailability of spare parts, which were imported from Mexico by a distributor in Singapore.

“But clients do not mind the long wait as long as they are assured of their cars being restored to roadworthy condition,” said Goh.

His clients, between the ages of 20 and 80, comprise professionals, businessmen, retired civil servants and owners of luxury continental cars or super bikes.

He said Volkswagen owners would usually drive their classics on special occasions or when attending events organised by the Volkswagen Club in Malaysia or Singapore.

The emergence of imported Japanese cars in the 1970s sidelined the popularity of Volkswagens which were either abandoned and left to rot or sold as scrap metal.

“Some of the abandoned cars, especially in villages, were even turned into chicken coops or dog kennels and for storing tools,’’ said Goh.

However, there has been a sudden surge of interest for the classic car among professionals and youths in Malaysia and Singapore in the last two decades.

Goh said the districts of Batu Pahat and Kluang in Johor were among the best places to go in search of Volkswagens.

He said the old Beetles were divided into three categories – those manufactured between 1957 and 1965, 1966 to 1970 and 1971 to 1976 – after which the production stopped.

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