Me And My Car: Beetle nut

Video game developer Cash Ong spends his days creating mobile entertainment for others.

But in his own time, he finds joy in something a lot more tangible – a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle which he has owned since 1999.

It is the 47-year-old’s second Beetle. He had a 1961 Baja Beetle – a version made for offroad use – when he was studying in Australia in the mid-1990s. That car was “a rust-bucket” which he and his then-girlfriend (now wife) spent more time restoring than driving.

Still, Mr Ong loved the way the Beetle could be customised – something which appealed to him as a design student. Since then, he has been bitten by the Bug.

After returning to Singapore and starting work as a website developer in 1998, he went about looking for another Beetle. Most of the cars listed by dealers were out of his budget, but he eventually landed one from an owner for $4,000.

The car was, Mr Ong describes, a “girly shade of Xiao Ding Dang blue”, referring to Doraemon, the blue cat in the Japanese cartoon. He paid about $40,000 to renew the certificate of entitlement (COE) that was due to expire in two months.

He has had this Beetle restored twice. The first time was about three years after he bought it – the work included respraying the car purple, a colour Mr Ong deemed cooler than the Doraemon blue.

As some things were not quite done to his liking, he embarked on a more comprehensive restoration 12 years later – this time armed with a bigger budget.

He spent over a year sourcing and buying parts online and found a specialist workshop in Johor Baru to do the job.


Mr Cash Ong has restored his Beetle twice – almost all the electrical, mechanical and wear-and-tear parts have been changed, so the car is now practically new. PHOTO: COURTESY OF CASH ONG

The five-month restoration included full rewiring, replacement of rusted bodywork, an interior re-trim as well as a bare-metal respray to a brooding shade of matt dark grey with a hint of gold and green.

Mr Ong describes his car as a “Frankenstein of sorts” – it is a 1970s Beetle with some 1950s touches such as old-style headlamps and tail-lamps, as he prefers the classic looks of the earlier models.

What’s in the boot?

• Nothing

In addition, the lid over the rear-mounted engine has custom metalwork for a smoother look and the fuel filler flap at the front wing has been welded shut and replaced by a filler located under the front bootlid. The car has also been de-chromed for a 1950s hotrod look.

Inside, the minimalist theme continues with a dashboard which is entirely bare but for a single round speedometer with its original, slightly cracked glass deliberately retained for a touch of nostalgia.

Mr Ong and his homemaker wife have two children – an 11-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl.

The family car is a Honda Vezel, but Mr Ong has sole custody of the Beetle, which he uses for his daily work commute.

He says: “My wife knows the Beetle is my first kid and my man-cave. She doesn’t drive it as she can’t imagine what I’d do to her if she scraped it.”

He has now renewed its COE thrice and selling the car has never crossed his mind – not even during the last financial crisis when money was tight.

He takes it easy behind the wheel of the Beetle, partly because with its ancient air-cooled 1.2-litre engine, the car refuses to be rushed.

Also, he enjoys the frequent thumbs-up signs and nods of appreciation his unique-looking ride gets from other motorists.

Over the years, almost all the electrical, mechanical and wear-and-tear parts have been changed and the car is now practically new.

“It’s like the Six Million Dollar Man – he had his original parts replaced and became better than ever,” Mr Ong quips, referring to the 1970s television series about a bionic man.

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