Rear view of the Austin.
An advertisement for the 1968 Austin.
A view of the hydrolastic suspension in the Austin 1100.
The Austin is easy to look after, although the hydrolastic bits are not cheap.
A page from the Austin 1100 brochure.

BEAUTY is everywhere and it is what we make of it. When I first noticed that I liked classic cars as a teenager in the 1980s, I had to keep it to myself.

As other boys drew pictures of Lamborghini Countach, I hid my pictures of the Miura. When my friends were going on and on about how nice the new, slim and athletic Mercedes Benz W-124 was, I quietly glanced at the Ponton and wished I could caress her thin rimmed steering wheel and voluptuous wheel arches.

I had to keep it quiet because my friends wouldn’t understand my choices. As a teenager, it is never easy to stand out or to be different. I just wanted to belong, so I pretended to enjoy looking at new cars.

As I grew older into my 20s, more friends began showing interests in classic cars; they were finding something inside them that they never thought existed. And as they found pure love for cars as objects of beauty and art, the older models suddenly became far more enticing.

Unlike most sensible 24-year-old joining the workforce for the first time in the 1990s, I didn’t put down payment on a new Proton or Perodua; instead I looked around for an old car to buy.

It could be the extreme cheapskate in me kicking in, but I would like to think that it was more because I wanted a car so simple that if anything went wrong, I could fix it myself.

Volkswagen Beetles were starting to get popular again; even the cheapest were going for around RM4,500 to RM5,000. I thought that was a bit too much to pay for my first classic car, so I dug deeper for something the classic car fans would say “has a bit more character”.

Eventually, I settled for an Austin 1100, or lesser known as the ADO16, which stood for the Amalgamated Design Office Project Number 16. It was BMC-Leyland’s corporate speak for a shared platform car.

I would have preferred the Allegro, but there wasn’t one to be had for sensible money (which to me is below RM2,000).

In the end, after much haggling and hand wringing, my senior at the New Straits Times, Farush Khan, agreed to part with “KG2436” for the sum of RM1,600.

It came standard with a slight dent on the driver’s door, hydrolastic suspension with cracking rubber bits and weather worn door seals.

The first drive home to my rented bachelor pad in Bandar Utama was really something that I remembered well. I must have left the office at around 7pm and drove down to Lucky Garden for a spot of lonesome tomyam at Yusof Tomyam. I kept stealing glances at her from afar.

Then, it was a quiet drive home, back when the road to Bandar Utama wasn’t all highway and there were still a bit of twisty tarmac to enjoy. With the windows rolled down, I had the chance to enjoy the BMC A-series engine and four-speed transmission whining away in the background.

The hydrolastic suspension made easy meal of the bumpy roads, keeping the ride comfortable, if a bit bouncy. The steering was light and had decent feel, the handling was safe but a little skittish on bumpy corners.

I spent more than a year with that car and it ran without any problems, except when there was prolonged traffic congestion, which saw the temperature creeping up slightly.

I never got around to installing an additional cooling fan because it never really overheated on me.

One day, while driving home after a midnight shift, the radiator hose burst in front of the Taman Tun Dr Ismail Petronas station and steam swished from under the bonnet and clouded the front screen.

I let it drift to a gentle stop. Luckily I was heading in the opposite direction of Kuala Lumpur-bound mayhem, so there was no one to get angry at me for blocking the emergency lane.

Once the problem had been assessed and confirmed, I took out a small multitool and loosened the radiator hose clips. Put the burst hose in my backpack, crossed the road, took a Kuala Lumpur-bound bus and went to Jalan Raja Laut to look for spare parts. I found the correct rubber hose for RM6 or something like that and went back to the car.

Once the hose was installed, I filled the radiator with water, drove it to the Petronas slowly and made sure that there was no air in the system. I was home before lunch time.

The ADO16 was easy to look after, although the hydrolastic bits were not cheap, I found a set of front bottles for RM400 a piece.

Soon after, I got myself something with a bit more comfort, a Peugeot 504, which remains as one of my favourite family sedans of all time.

Soon after the Peugeot arrived, I gave the Austin to a friend who needed a car but then my memory got blurry and I could not really remember where it went.

It is also kind of odd that I do not have a single picture of that car. Maybe it was just so reliable as a daily driver that I never thought of it as something special.

If anyone spots KG2436, say hi to her for me.

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