Singapore is the world's most expensive city and many wealthy individuals living there own expensive supercars. If you visit the little red dot in South East Asia, you could easily see all the horses and bulls cruising around the cities in the most fashionable way.
But there is one person who prefers to embrace the JDM lifestyle instead and not just any JDM he drives, it’s an AE86. I met Mr Benjamin Chiam the other day to learn about his first love and his crave for mini cars.
I first knew about Benjamin when he came to KL for King of Asia drift competition in May. Although he’s young (24), he has participated in international drift events at Thailand and Japan and even won numerous times with his infamous JZA80 Supra. Later on I came to realise that he owns a hachiroku too, and that's when I knew I need to find him in Singapore.
This is his AE86, his very first car and he has been driving it for 7 years. It was originally a red zenki Trueno GT-Apex but he decided to paint it white during his major restoration. The reason why he chose the 86 is simply because it was the cheapest car back then.
Today, a hachiroku costs about S$100,000 (thanks to Initial D) in Singapore but that figure isn't only the main concern if you wish to own one. You have to fork out additional fees for COE or Certificate of Entitlement which you need to bid, in order to keep your car legally for another period of 10 years.
This AE86 is over 30 years of age, and its COE has been paid a couple of times already. According to Benjamin, the most recent COE fee cost him a whopping S$76,000! That's almost 4 times of what he paid for his car initially.
For that reason, almost all of the other AE86s in Singapore were scrapped when their COE came to an end, leaving only a handful of them behind. Benjamin's car is the very last AE86 Trueno in the country!
To separate himself from the rest of the 'clean' 86s, Benjamin opts for more aggressive styling with Uras' front bumper and side skirts, J-Blood's bonnet and front over fenders, and TRD's ducktail spoiler. The car sits very low too on a set of 15"x9J Volk Racing TE37V wheels.
If you're an avid fan of Grand Theft Auto game, you'd immediately recognise the 'Karin Futo' stickers at the back. :D
The inside of the car was clean and comfy, and I really like the modern touch of reupholstered passenger seats and door panels. When I saw the bundle of Nardi steering wheel, custom long shift knob, Stack gauge cluster, and Bride carbon full bucket seat, I knew this AE86 is no ordinary street car.
I was expecting the engine bay to be a beauty queen, wires all tucked in and parts gleaming but apparently Benjamin couldn't care less about it because Toyotas are meant to be driven hard and not a show car. To extract the most out of the 16V 4A-GE, it runs on individual throttle bodies with upgraded camshafts, pistons and crankshaft. With 286hp on the wheels, there’s more than enough power for some sideways action.
What’s even more interesting is that the 4A-GE heart is mated to a TRD close ratio gearbox which you can find in Keiichi Tsuchiya’s car. It shifts in gear 1-2-3-3.5-4 pattern to keep the engine in its power band and maximise acceleration. It is a rare treasure and I know many 86 owners would die to have it. :D
Seeing every other owner’s AE86 gave me ideas to improve mine, and Benjamin suggested that I should pay attention to the handling of the car. The full linkage set from T3 (Techno Toy Tuning) with Blitz adjustable suspension system is a must-have upgrade to greatly improve the car’s traction and response.
The upgrades continued to the back of the car as well. Inside the trunk, you could find multi-point rear strut bar, a relocated battery secured in the metal casing with handy kill switch, and a bracket to hold NOS Nitrous bottle whenever Benjamin needs more juice.
Benjamin’s tofu car is a full-on drift machine hidden in diguise as a normal road car. Being the only Trueno there, it never fails to attract everyone’s attention, more so when it was driven due to the loud noise it makes. Every time the accelerator is eased and a gear is dropped, it emits a loud ‘POP!’ and flames started spitting out of his exhaust pipe, scaring the hell out of the drivers and pedestrians alike. It was really funny.
It is understandable why Benjamin would continue to drive this car for as long as he can despite the ridiculous COE fee in Singapore and whatnot, the hachiroku is forever a legend and it drives like no other.
Well, that’s about his AE86, but he still had some cool stuff that he wanted me to see before calling it a night.
I became certain that Benjamin is a true JDM guy. Seeing the mighty Nissan Skyline GT-R in the familiar Z-Tune bodykit parked alongside with the AE86 at his home, put a smile on my face.
That red zenki Trueno bumper is the one on his 86 previously and he had the coolest way to display it together with the rest of of his ex-number plates. Anyway, the cool stuff that he wanted me to see were hidden inside. :D
When Benjamin showed me his computer room, I was astounded and fascinated by the collection of miniature cars he accumulated over the years. AutoArt, Tomica, ChoroQ, Tamiya, Hotwheels, you name it he has it.
Benjamin's love for cars began since he was a kid. Like everyone else, we all started off buying and collecting toy cars and the number gradually increase until we finally achieve the real sized one, but Benjamin's toy car collection is at another level. His collection mainly consists of JDMs and they spread across 4 rooms occupying the highest floor in the house.
The second room is where the bigger diecasts were kept. Some models are taken out and displayed with diorama, but most of them are perfectly preserved inside the box.
Benjamin used to stay in Japan for a period of time where he was able to pick up many rare car models. One of them was the one-seater Toyota 2000GT which he found selling cheap in a used shop. He knew it's made specifically for kids but being a fan of the 2000GT, it was hard to resist not buying it. :D
I've never seen so many Nissan Skyline GT-R diecasts at one place before. Benjamin is crazy about GT-Rs and he would go to a every extent looking for the latest models in the market and even bid for them online. The 1/6 scale RB26DETT handmade engine was available for order at R's Meeting event in Japan and only 50 lucky winners could get them. Well, Benjamin has two by chance.
The joy of admiring the cars in his 'museum' is endless. There's always something interesting to see at every corner of the room. Check out Benjamin's trophies and achievements he got from his full-time drifting career.
That is Benjamin Chiam during his younger days. I bet you won't believe that this guy actually started drifting first before even knowing how to drive. His ultimate dream is to earn the carbon fiber trophy from the prestigious Formula D Championship, and until then, he will keep doing what he loves most.
Benjamin loves cars from ChoroQ, or anything chibi, cute and deformed. He has tons of them in various shapes and sizes but the one that got my attention (and I wished to take home) was the remote control chibi AE86. :D
He has few of the 1/18 limited edition diecasts from Liberty Walk, and few Pagani Zonda Rs from AutoArt. The little choroQ Zonda R (far right) was never produced by Japanese company Tomy. It was a custom handmade item from a modeler in Taiwan, limited to only 20 units worldwide.
More GT-R goodies could be found in the last room a floor above. I believe that he will never stop growing his hobby (just like we do) but that isn't a bad thing at all, because the value for rare collectibles appreciates from time to time. Investment, we say. :D
Benjamin has two of the greatest cars that Japan has ever made. :)
The famous Larry Chen of Speedhunters.com came to Singapore a year ago and he did feature Benjamin's cars and talked about the car culture in Singapore. In that article, he shot an awesome picture at this 5-lane tunnel. Wow!
It was a memorable night for me to be able to meet Singapore's professional drifter Benjamin Chiam, and appreciate the last Trueno AE86 in the country. It's not easy being Takumi, but Benjamin's affection for JDM cars as you can clearly see from his huge toy car collection will keep the hachiroku spirit alive for many years to come.
Thank you Benjamin, and see you soon!