An NSX, a Nissan Skyline, an Evo, a Silvia, a Lotus, a Porsche—these cars should be cherished and meticulously maintained. But in Hong Kong, where a parking spot can cost as much as an apartment’s rent elsewhere in the world, they’re left abandoned on roadsides and shipping containers, and stacked up high in junkyards. You won’t believe what is left out to rot.
I didn’t until I saw it all myself.
My brother Michael has been photographing rare, decaying cars in Hong Kong for years, so when I visited back in December of 2016, I asked him to show me some of these JDM beauties. What we found during our two-week search—covered in layers of dust, sitting on deflated tires, littered with stacks of parking tickets, and consumed by bushes—were cars that would make any enthusiast weak at the knees.
In this first video, Michael and I spot a Toyota Starlet GT Turbo—a little hot hatch from the 1990s—sitting on the side of a dirt road between construction storage yards in Tai Tong, and overwhelmed with debris from the rapidly-encroaching foliage.
We also come across a ruined widebody Mercedes R107 seated just outside of a mechanic’s shop, as well as a mind-boggling treasure trove of amazing sports cars in a junkyard in Kam Tin that includes a Supra, multiple Mazda RX-7s, a supercharged AW11 Toyota MR2 and a Lotus Europa:
On top of that, while bicycling near Michael’s apartment in Yuen Long, we find a closed-off yard with a number of dismantled cars sitting out front. Back behind the fence, sitting high atop of a shipping container, sits a red Lotus Esprit, whose paint has faded from exposure to Hong Kong’s piercing sun and torrential rainfalls.
In the video above, we also spot, while biking in Tai Tong, an abandoned VehicCROSS surrounded by trash and covered in leaves:
But of course, as Mike and I ran around filming neglected cars from sun up to sun down for two weeks straight, there’s more. Much more.
In the second video, Mike and I stop by a big fishing lake, and visit a whole slew of cars littered nearby, which he’d spotted while riding on Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway many months prior.
The gem of the lot is what looks like a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III just sitting on top of a shipping container:
Other four-wheeled knockouts in the clip above include this apparently abandoned VehiCROSS, which we find while biking along Ping Shan Heritage Trail:
Oh, and we also discover this R34 seemingly sprouting out of the ground near a main road in Ping Shan:
Mike and I visited an amazing scrapyard in Tsat Sing Kong Tsuen filled with Skylines, Integras, Silvias and a whole bunch more. If anything, it was this trip that absolutely melted my mind.
In it, Mike and I visit an amazing scrapyard in Tsat Sing Kong Tsuen filled with Skylines, Integras, Silvias and a whole bunch more:
But there is one find in Shek Kong that leaves Mike and me speechless: a Honda NSX sitting out in the countryside on top of a shipping container, surrounded by trash and building materials, with a tiny tarp tied to it just flapping in the breeze:
To understand why so many incredible cars—cars that would be worth a pretty penny in the U.S.— were being left outside to decay, I contacted some folks familiar with the local car scene. I spoke with Victor Ma (a renowned car collector), Brian Lam (a local car enthusiast who showed me around that GT-R shop last year) and Black Cygnus Photography (a group of gearheads whose mission is to “show the world the small but vibrant car scene HK has to offer”).
They told me that, for the most part, there just isn’t much love for old, non-concours-level cars in the special administrative region of China. Part of that, Black Cygnus told me, has to do with a culture that values newness and sees cars as status symbols, and part of that has to do with the fact that, in general, people who can afford cars in Hong Kong tend to be well-off enough to get new ones every couple of years.
That’s because owning a car in Hong Kong is ridiculously expensive. Taxes are high, fuel is expensive, and—perhaps most importantly—parking is ungodly pricey, with Victor Ma telling me that “[a] car-park [spot] can buy a Ferrari in [the] U.S.” Indeed, just last year, a single spot sold for over $600,000.
“Many single parking spaces,” Black Cygnus told me over Facebook “can cost a similar figure to the monthly rental of an apartment in other cities around the world.”
Another thing working against used car ownership in Hong Kong, Black Cygnus told me, is maintenance. Older cars in Hong Kong must pass a rigorous annual inspection, and if they fail, having them fixed can be prohibitively expensive, especially if there’s a lot of work required.
“...finding a reputable and skilled mechanic in this city is a difficult proposition,” the group of gearhead photographers told me. “So, any car that needs a lot of work or restoration will often be turned away.”
“Cars that have been left for an extended period of time,” the group went on saying, “can be badly effected by corrosion and rot due to the high heat, rainfall and humidity of Hong Kong.”
“With space at a premium in Hong Kong, garages are often unwilling to work on cars that they need to keep for a long period of time as they would rather have a high turnover of customers.“
Add all this together with the fact that Hong Kong’s public transportation system is the envy of the world, and—for most people—buying or even holding onto a used car just doesn’t make a lot of sense, with Black Cygnus concluding:
Whilst Hong Kong has an abundance of petrol-heads and a thriving car scene, the system is generally car unfriendly, and for many people buying a new car before they need to do the MOT or their car is considered outmoded is the way to go.
For many...buying a new one for the above reasons is the only viable thing to do. For others, car ownership is merely a pipe dream and simply not financially viable or justifiable. These contribution factors mean that cars become abandoned and forgotten with little to no chance of being restored to their former glory.
As for why so many cars wind up abandoned instead of junked, my sources didn’t know exactly. Brian told me that the value of some cars is too low that scrap yards won’t take them. This was echoed by Black Cygnus, who guessed that owners have to pay yards to take old vehicles, and that ditching cars is just a better financial proposition, even if it is “dubious.”
Why the yards don’t want the cars isn’t clear, though the group of photographers told me that it have to do with the cheap price of steel just across the way in China making recycling rather pointless. So the only real value, then, is in parts.
“The junkyards would rather turn over cars that are popular and easy to resell parts, like Corollas etc. Not that there is a big used parts market here at all,” the group said.
Victor told me something similar, saying “The car in [a] junkyard [is] worth nothing, and if they give [to a] junkyard, junkyard also [doesn’t] want [it]. Because the same model vehicle in Hong Kong, already nobody repair[s] them...this is why local, no market.”
It’s still hard to wrap my head around all of these abandoned cars. Ultimately it sounds like old vehicles tend to go unloved in Hong Kong, because of culture and high costs associated with car ownership, especially used car ownership. On top of that recycling yards—for whom space is a premium like it is for everyone in Hong Kong—don’t have much incentive to take in these vehicles since scrap may not be worth much, and not many folks will buy the parts, the cars end up abandoned.
These are, admittedly just guesses. I’m sure many of these vehicles are just forgotten by owners who don’t have much need to drive thanks to the great public transportation system. And I’m sure a couple of the cars are indeed going to be shipped off overseas (hopefully that NSX). Each car probably has its own story to some degree, each of them fascinating and tragic and unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.