Cool classic cars

Rofino Koh at wheel of Volvo P1800
Businessman Rofino Koh, 52, who grew up in Johor Baru’s Jalan Lumba Kuda, started out with trading in electrical products and services and established a thriving import-export business.  

In 1980 Koh bought a battered up old Volkswagen Beetle and found a good mechanic who helped him restore the car.  

This marked the start of a hobby in buying and restoring classic cars and a quest for interesting car registration numbers.

In the last 30 years, the number of classic cars in his collection varied between 12 and 13 because as soon as he parted with one, he bought another and started on its restoration.  

Due to the sheer size of some of these luxurious cars, they are kept in garages at different locations in and around Johor Baru.  Several models are on display at a car grooming centre in Taman Sri Tebrau where Koh is a business partner. 

Koh’s business sense tells him that new cars will always depreciate but well maintained classic cars not only increase in value and interest, they also enjoy a lower road tax rate.  

From the first Volkswagen, he went on to buy another Volkswagen classic 1960 and other cars like Mercedes, Volvo, Jaguar and even a Mini Cooper.  All his cars are road-worthy and every day, he has his pick of which car to take out for a regular run. 

Koh's Mercedes 300SEL with
the 'royal' registration number
“But I like the Mercedes,” confessed Koh fondly referring to his comfortable 300SEL automatic with the 2.8-litre six-cylinder engine and air suspension feature.  

It’s particularly well-appointed with a burled walnut dashboard, automatic transmission, power windows and a divider between the driver and passenger sections.  

Since he bought this limited edition car in 2000 that was first registered in 1969, many have tried to persuade him to part with it. 

A lady, who had her eye on this unique divider in his 300SEL, made him a handsome S$30,000 offer with car seats in exchange for the divider that comes fitted with a power window.  

But he promptly declined.  “Maybe when the price is right,” said Koh, the shrewd businessman, with a smile.

Kod with his Mercedes 300SEL [Foreground]
with Jaguar Mark II [Background]
At a motor show held in Kuala Lumpur, Koh said his 300SEL 2.8 received a lot of attention and a Malay man in particular, showed a great deal of interest.  

It turned out that he recognized the car was bought from Singapore and had once belonged to his father.  

He recalled that his father insisted on the model with the divider feature and even at that time, this car cost twice the price of a new model!

The Volvo P1800 which he bought in Batu Pahat is another favourite in Koh’s collection.  This coupe and sportswagen model is best remembered as the car used for filming the “The Saint” television series.  

Its sleek lines and black colour is truly reminiscent of Simon Templar’s dashing, dynamic and debonair personality!

The Volvo P1800, same car model
used by "The Saint" in TV series
Other prized cars in his collection include the Volvo 123GT, recognized as one of the most economical and almost certainly, the most durable and best all-rounder car.  

Another car in his cherished collection is the Jaguar Mark II 2.4-litre, a beautiful, fast and capable saloon, renowned for its “grace, pace and space.”  

This cool car features automatic transmission and has seats upholstered in roaring red colour!

Buying old car registration numbers and tendering for unique new numbers is another hobby and business for Koh.  

With a particular fancy for the prefix “RJ” derived from cars that are registered in Perlis, Koh has cars registered with rare plates like RJ 20, RJ 4000 and RJ 4444.  To him, RJ hints of “raja” which is Malay for ‘royalty.’

As Koh bought more classic cars, he sourced for original parts both locally and from abroad, and restored the cars to original tip-top condition.  

He also joined the Malaysia and Singapore Vintage Car Register (MSVCR) where members share a hobby in classic car collecting.  Koh, a father of five children, is glad that his fourth son shares his interest in classic cars. 

When he’s not checking out opportunities to buy more classic cars, Koh is busy keeping his car collection looking spotless and shiny. He certainly knows that there’s nothing quite satisfying than driving clean cars and having his precious cars getting appreciative looks.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets in September 2010


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