In late January, I visited my brother in Southeast Asia. I’ve already shown you the awesome custom Jeep Wagoneer we saw in Vietnam, the sweet Nissan Pao pickup we spotted in Hong Kong, the spider-infested Pao, and the ridiculous Hong Kong parking garage filled with automotive masterpieces. Now here’s a look at the incredible machines we discovered in just a single afternoon in one of Hong Kong’s most prolific scrapping districts.
“Let’s just get on some bikes, look at some cars, and maybe film it” my brother and I decided one wide-open weekend during my visit to his place in Hong Kong. I’d already made some videos of Hong Kong’s neglected cars, and I wasn’t feeling very well, so I wasn’t so sure if it would be worth our time to film our little stroll. But then Mike, curator of the Instagram page Carsofhongkong, started finding some incredible vehicles and I knew right away that I needed to show these to you, dear readers.
The first automobile we spotted in the Yuen Long district was a bright yellow Lotus Elise, the front end of which had experienced some serious conflagration. I think the cause was an electrical fault as the damage appears concentrated around where the battery is mounted under the front clamshell. Plus, the suspension looks to be in fine shape, ruling out a major crash as the culprit. Plus, the Elis’ engine and fuel tank are both located behind the driver, so the usual suspect—gasoline—can pretty much be discounted, as well.
The damage gives us a nice look at the Elis’ front suspension setup (Also, notice what appears to be a large group of melted wiring wires with the remnants of a connector at the top of this image):
The Lotus Elise is a legendary sports car, renowned for its lightweight chassis design and excellent handling characteristics, so we may as well talk about that front suspension. It is just right there, exposed, after all.
It’s a double-wishbone setup; a capable and common design among sports cars, with upper and lower A-shaped arms connecting to a steel knuckle, which holds the brakes and wheel hub. The coilover shock/spring and sway bar mount to the lower A-arm, and the tie rod that steers the wheel around its ball joint pivots mounts to the knuckle rearward of the hub’s center. The image above, which I snagged from Lotus’ factory service manual, labels the important bits and even describes what’s going on. For those of you curious, here’s the full description:
The fully independent front suspension comprises, on each side of the car, upper and lower wishbones, a concentric coil spring/telescopic damper unit, and a tubular anti-roll bar. A forged steel hub carrier, provides a mounting for a the hub bearing unit to which the road wheel is attached via four spline socket bolts.
The upper and lower ‘A’ frame wishbones are fabricated from steel tube, the upper wishbone braced by sheet steel gussets at its apex, and the lower wishbone braced by a tubular strut at its base. The inboard ends of both wishbones use replaceable bonded rubber pivot bushes to provide maintenance free articulation, with a speciﬁcation providing accurate and responsive dynamic characteristics. The outer ends of both wishbones incorporate housings into which the upper and lower steering swivel ball joints are pressed. The upper ball pin is secured to the forged steel, rearward facing steering arm, itself ﬁxed to the hub carrier by two M10 bolts.
The ball pin of the lower swivel joint is secured directly into a tapered hole in the bottom of the forged steel hub carrier. The Bilstein spring/damper unit acts between the outer end of the lower wishbone and the chassis, and is ﬁtted with the damper rod lowermost in order to minimise unsprung weight.
A forward mounted tubular steel anti-roll bar, is supported in chassis mounted rubber or hard plastic pivot bushes and is operated via short ball jointed drop links from the lower wishbones.
Also exposed is the cooling module at the front of the Elise, which sits nice and flat underneath that front clamshell. There are a number of advantages to this, including visibility and aerodynamics, with the latter being the most important. Here’s a look at the schematic for the cooling system:
Here’s a closer look at the cooling module. Notice the AC condenser below the radiator, and the two “pusher” fans below it, mounted to the ceiling of the air inlet duct making up the “mouth” of the car.
I also found it interesting to see how the fiberglass—which, along with the all-aluminum chassis, helps the Elise weigh in at under a ton—reacted to the heat. Instead of warping and turning gray like you’d expect from a steel-bodied car, what was left over are a bunch of white glass fibers that look a lot like hair:
Here’s a look at the Elis’ body panels, and how they cover up that chassis:
While I didn’t see much of any damage to the actual aluminum monocoque, I bet that entire front composite crash structure, shown below fastened to the monocoque, is toast:
I must say, the interior looked awful:
But what I love is just how bare-bones it is. You can see much of the aluminum monocoque, as there’s no carpeting. Here’s how the whole monocoque looks, in case you’re curious:
My brother Mike (who was joined by his friends Max and David, who have their own car-themed Instagram pages), showed me some stacked-up Mitsubishi FTOs. One was on top of a Mazda, and the other was perched upon a Subaru WRX.
These are cool cars. Sure, they were front-wheel drive, and in their most powerful form, only made about 200 horsepower from a tiny 2.0-liter V6 (a 1.8-liter inline-four was also available, as was a less powerful version of that V6), but my god do they look awesome. If you want to see more beautiful front-drive Mitsubishi sheetmetal, you’ll want to check out that Mitsubishi collection I found in Germany a few years back.
In the video at the top of this article, you’ll notice that I take a quick peek at the FTO’s rear multilink suspension, since I realized there was no way I’d ever have a better vantage point. I mean, that suspension was just right there just above that Mazda’s trunk lid.
I have to admit that I’m far from an expert on suspension design, but I was curious. I noticed a blue bar connecting the lower control arm mounting locations; That looks to me to be a stiffener. Also clear in the picture above is the sway bar—the black bar just above the blue one. That connects to the lower control arm on each side, and helps reduce body roll during cornering.
Two coilover shocks/dampers, which in this case, are adjustable, span between the FTO’s lower control arm and the body.
There’s one main longitudinal link that reaches from in front of the rear axle centerline rearward, and contains the brake assembly and hub unit to which the wheel mounts. That longitudinal link is called the trailing arm, and, in addition to being connected to the body ahead of the front axle, it’s attached to three main links: the aforementioned lateral lower control arm, one high-mounted camber link, and one link mounted in front of the axle called the “assist link” or toe link.
You can get a closer look at the magic here:
Here’s a little schematic of the suspension for the left side of the vehicle. The big piece is the trailing arm, the link at the top right is the camber link, the link a little bit farther towards the front of the vehicle (the left side of the image) is the toe link, and the big arm at the bottom is the lower control arm:
While I realize we’ve gone down a bit of a rabbit hole from our original “cool cars in Hong Kong” subject, I contacted a young chassis engineer with experience in vehicle dynamics and he told me a bit about what I’m looking at:
Looks like the FTO has what would be classified as a multilink rear suspension - which is kind of a catch-all for suspensions with a design that doesn’t fall under another particular suspension design. Overall it looks very similar to what you’d find under a 5th or 6th generation Civic, with the caveat that on the civic, the “toe” arm picks up on the trailing arm ahead of its pivot point and the FTO picks up rear of that point. Generally this suspension design allows for good control of toe characteristics with roll and pitch (important if your goal is to make a FWD car fun and getting it to do things like rotate off throttle). This design would also open up room on the interior of the car/trunk by allowing for a short upper control arm and moving most of the bulky suspension components outboard. Further, with the large trailing arm, you can control a lot of the longitudinal forces (in this case mostly braking because FWD) without having to have very firm bushings (the bushing on the trailing arm is being radially loaded so it can be engineered for directional stiffness and still have fairly good compliance in other directions) and a lot of structure on the body/subframe where a suspension like a double wishbone would pick up (again, helps with packaging space). One large, stamped trailing arm also likely costs less than a complex knuckle and an increased number of control arms.
If you’re curious about what he means by “with the caveat that on the civic, the “toe” arm picks up on the trailing arm ahead of its pivot point and the FTO picks up rear of that point,” the chassis engineer drew a picture:
The engineer then pointed out that this suspension design is pretty similar to that of the Ford Focus ST, which you can look at in detail on Edmunds. “Sounds like the FTO designers wanted to make a fun-to-drive FWD car if it shares a rear suspension layout with cars like the Focus ST and Integra [including Type R]!,” the engineer, who wanted to remain anonymous, told me.
Not really all that relevant, but still worth showing are those two Daihatsu Mira Gino kei car hatchbacks that were sitting near the FTOs. I really like that purple color.
Also sitting neglected on the side of the street in Yuen Long were two Tazzari EM1 Citysports. I hadn’t even seen one before, so to see a pair in those great colors with racing stripes was a real treat.
The EM1 is a little electric car built in Imola, Italy starting for the 2013 model year. It’s got a mid-mounted 20-ish HP electric motor sending power via a single-speed gear reduction to the rear wheels. The vehicle contains some aluminum construction, offers a range of up to ~120 miles thanks to lithium-ion batteries, and—based on a cursory glance online—probably cost upwards of $20,000.
That’s a lot for a tiny car like this, EV or not. But hey, at least you get rear disk brakes (but not vented, because what are you, a king?).
Here’s a look at the powertrain. There’s a crude subframe that mounts to the rear of the battery pack towards the front of the car and to (I assume) the body in the very rear of the car. Mounted to that subframe are the gearbox and and electric motor. There’s also a little heat exchanger towards that rear bumper, so that’s fun:
The car is tiny. This cabin doesn’t look any bigger than that of a Smart ForTwo:
The trunk is fairly deep, I have to give it that:
But the frunk is disappointingly shallow:
Mike, Max, David and I also ran into the most incredible pickup truck I’ve ever seen: a sawed-off Nissan Pao. I wrote an entire article on it, so check that out.
In the screengrab above, you’ll see a Toyota Altezza (which we got in the U.S. as the Lexus IS) and a beautiful blue two-door R34 Skyline. It’s an automatic, and likely has the RB20DE NEO—a dual-overhead cam, fuel injected 2.0-liter inline six making around 150 horsepower. It’s not exactly sporty from a powertrain standpoint, but the R34 is an amazing base for a race car, so that shell alone deserves better than to just sit there on the roadside and get covered in filth.
Mike took me a storage lot near a temple. In the lot were a bunch of cars that are apparently awaiting parts. There were two beautiful R34 Skylines, a Toyota Supra, A Toyota F86, a Mazda Miata, and a Nissan Stagea wagon. Check that out:
The Stagea, often called the Skyline wagon, shares a number of architectural components with the Nissan Laurel and, I’ve read, the R33 Skyline. The nose, though, is all R34, and it’s beautiful.
Mike and I found all of these cars in the span of a single afternoon, because Hong Kong car culture is just nuts.