S'pore's man of Mystery (Machine)

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16 Sep 2020 | PEOPLE

S'pore's man of Mystery (Machine)

// Story Teo Jing Ting

// Photos by Kenneth Lin & courtesy of Clarence Tan

English 华文

If you were watching the National Day Parade (NDP) mobile column at Upper Changi Road, you may have caught a glimpse of the iconic Mr Bean car on the opposite side of the road.

The lime green Austin Mini, which carried a Singapore flag, belongs to vintage car collector Clarence Tan.

A moment that went viral: Mr Tan captured a snapshot of his Mr Bean car against the NDP mobile column.

"I was driving with my kids to chase the mobile column, and it happened that I found myself on the opposite side of the road from the tanks," recalled Mr Tan.

"There was a road block, so I got out of the car and took a picture of my car against the tanks."

This was a cheeky reference to a classic scene from the Mr Bean comedy series, where the car was crushed by a tank at a school's open day.

After Mr Tan posted the photo on his Facebook page, it was picked up by local news and media site Mothership.sg and went viral.

Mr Tan owns both the Mr Bean car and the Mystery Machine van.

Bringing iconic cars to life

It all started in December 2018 when the prefix SLW came up for registration. Since the original Mr Bean car bore SLW287 plates, Mr Tan placed a bid for the three-digit number.

Registration secured, he then spray-painted the red Mini Cooper green - just like the car Rowan Atkinson drove as Mr Bean. That cost about $4,500.

The rest of the work he did himself - installing new brakes, fitting the steering rack, upgrading the suspension and re-wiring the car's electricals. After 14 months of work, the car was finally ready in November 2019.

Mr Tan bought the van, a blue 1991 Daihatsu Hijet, as its shape was similar to the Mystery Machine toy. Today, the Mystery Machine even has its own Instagram page, @mysteryvan1991.

The Mr Bean car is not the only headline-grabbing vehicle that Mr Tan has. The 38-year-old is also the owner of the Mystery Machine from the Scooby-Doo cartoon series.

The base vehicle for the project, a Daihatsu van, was purchased in February 2019. "I decided to buy it just after seeing two photos 'cos the shape of the van is very similar to the Mystery Machine toy!"

After spending $2,500 to get the van wrapped to resemble the original Scooby-Doo mobile, Mr Tan rectified some of the mechanical parts and his version of the Mystery Machine hit the roads in April 2019.

It started in the Army

The father of three - with one more on the way! - shared that his passion for vehicles started during his National Service (NS). After Basic Military Training, he was posted to the Ordnance and Engineering Training Institute where he was trained to repair the Land Rover Defender and three-tonner truck.

He was then trained as a recovery mechanic in 9th Direct Support Maintenance Battalion (now known as 9th Army Maintenance Base) and drove the MB2636 recovery vehicle.

"I learnt to identify most of the vehicle parts and understand which part of the vehicle does what and how to replace them," explained Mr Tan, who held the rank of 3rd Sergeant.

"This (knowledge) helped me when I fixed up the Mr Bean car and Mystery Machine."

Mr Tan (foreground, left) and his buddy, Terry Tan (to his left), during their In-Camp Training in 2013.

Staying disciplined

He may have MR-ed (entered the MINDEF Reserve) in 2018, but discipline is something he has also carried over from his NS days.

When repairing military vehicles, he had to document the various steps that were done. Mr Tan followed the same process while working on the Mr Bean car, noting down what he removed or put in for easy reference.

He also keeps meticulous records of the mileage and maintenance work on his cars.

What's the difference between fixing up a military vehicle and a vintage car? A vintage car is more problematic, said Mr Tan.

This is because in the Army, "the parts that you order come directly from the factory and are very likely the right parts", he explained.

"Fixing your own car involves a lot of research and planning. There's a lot of trial-and-error when purchasing parts to see if they fit."

In July, the Mystery Machine was engaged by Warner Brothers Singapore to publicise the latest Scooby-Doo movie.

The road ahead

Today, Mr Tan drives the Mr Bean car twice a month and the Mystery Machine thrice a week on weekdays.

Apart from making an appearance at a couple of friends' wedding shoots, the Mystery Machine was also recently engaged by Warner Brothers Singapore as a prop to publicise Scoob!, the latest Scooby-Doo movie.

He's not stopping anytime soon; he's now working on his third project - to transform his 1969 Volkswagen Beetle into Herbie, the racing car with a mind of its own from the titular film series.

Fixing up vehicles may be tedious at times, but Mr Tan finds satisfaction in seeing it all come together and bringing joy to people.

"While automobile makers strive for Miles per Gallon, transforming cars that are familiar to people, I strive for Smiles per Gallon."

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