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It started out as a whimsical thought, voiced by Jonathan James Tan during one of our discussions months ago. “Why don’t we come up with a story where we write about our own cars? It’d be pretty interesting as an exercise and for readers to know a bit more about us as well.”

The idea continued to run and take shape, and we eventually pencilled it in as a “to-do,” marking it down as one of our year-ender stories alongside the Top Five list that has now become fixed as a perennial affair.

So here it is then, the story about the personal cars of the paultan.org crew, each fleshed out by their respective owners. Aside from hopefully making for a light-hearted, entertaining read, our musings should also help tell you a bit more about who we are. After all, you can tell a lot about a person from his ride.

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We also decided to add an extra flavour to things. Rather than just have us talk about each of our own cars and leave it at that, it was ventured that each writer would drive another’s car and offer an opinion of it. The approach in deciding who’d get what was simple – we placed each others’ names in the mix and each drew one. Bit old hat, yes, but great fun.

Eagle-eyed observers will have noticed that the reverse angle shot has an additional car (and person) in it – that’s Sherman Sim, our resident pixman, who lovingly shot all the photos you see here. Incidentally, his Alfa 155 Widebody 2.0 Twin Spark is an impeccable example of the type.

It’s a motley assortment, the assembled cast that you see before you – from hot hatch to MPV, old to new, the diversity of the editorial team is pretty evident from the cars we drive. It even went as far as tyres – not one of the seven cars shared rubbers from a same make. Guess we shouldn’t ever volunteer for jury duty together!

Gregory Sze’s 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX Version 8
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“How’s the car?” I would never tire of that question whenever I visited my late uncle. See, the ‘Rex is more than a car to me as the previous owner was pretty much responsible for igniting my interest. As a boy, I can vividly recall pouring over his DC2 Integra Type-R and waxing lyrical about it.

When the ‘Rex came along, there wasn’t a single moment that I would casually hint to him to sell me the car. As you can probably see, I did get a hold of it but part of me wish it didn’t happen. The effects of chemotherapy had taken its toll on his body, causing him to lose his vision and therefore, incapable of driving anymore.

Despite not being able to phrase his words properly, I always knew the first question he would lob at me whenever we met – and I would always offer the same, truthful reply. Unfortunately, that fateful day came when I got the call and knew that I would never be asked that question again.

The WRX was present throughout the entire process right up to the send-off at his final resting place. The owner may be physically gone, probably burbling around the big track in the sky, but every once in a while I would still look up and reassure the man. “The car is fine, uncle. The car is fine.”

Tell you what, this was the one I was hoping to pick out from the hat, and what joy when it was the case. At that point, I think I detected a momentary look of terror in the owner’s face, especially when I uttered “Ooh, now here’s the chance to stand on it!” rather gleefully.

Sadly, the chance to have a real go at what must surely be the most benignly-driven Impreza in Malaysia didn’t happen – I spent a whole hour doing no more than 50 at best, crawling through a jam. Despite the slow going, the sense of the Scooby’s magic was inescapably on show, shining through from its rorty, ever-willing-to-go nature to that throbbing, sonorous HKS exhaust.

By the way, you should know that the owner, in Fangio fashion, talks to his car, and is so sweet on it candy pales in comparison. Shame, because just before I got out, she did whisper to me that she quite likes it hard and fast. What, you mean she doesn’t tell you these things, Greg?Anthony Lim

Jonathan Lee’s 2006 Hyundai Matrix 1.6 GLA
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Of course, it had to be me to bring it all down with a hand-me-down mundane Korean MPV, built at a time when Korean cars were still trading on price rather than actual talent. The only automatic car here, too – a leisurely four-speed ‘box mated to an asthmatic 1.6 litre engine, pulling a car that weighs as much as a 2.0 litre Honda Civic.

That’s not to say that the Hyundai Matrix is not without its merits – a car barely longer than most superminis, but which provides space that would embarrass many a D-segment sedan. This is a spacious family runabout betrayed by its boxy, oddball Italian styling.

There are also lots of practical touches within, such as a variety of cupholders and cubbyholes to lose all your belongings in, a low beltline for outstanding visibility and a rear seat that slides, folds and tumbles – the latter function I only found out when I was cleaning out the car for this shoot. The Matrix, then, is a car full of great ideas – if only the execution was up to snuff.

I’ll be handing the keys to someone who would make better use of all this space soon, as I’m looking to switch to something much smaller (and less painful on the wallet). I’m sure I’ll enjoy my next ride, but I’m really gonna miss the ol’ girl.

Don’t be fooled by the pictures here. Jonathan Lee’s Matrix has never looked this clean. Well actually, it never is. The last time I was in his car, he had a pile of dirty laundry next to my seat, topped off with used underwear to boot. I just hoped they were all his.

As for the car itself, it was penned by the famed Italian design house Pininfarina, as we all know. Now this was clear for all to see, what with the intricate, extremely well detailed and sharp lines… of the “disegno pininfarina” badges.

Why a young boy would be interested in an MPV, well, I can only think of one reason. Yeah, really, I hope those were his undies.Hafriz Shah

Jonathan James Tan’s 1972 Volkswagen 1600
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They say lots of things about mid-life crises, but the fact is, had it not been for my old man going through one, I wouldn’t have this car at all.

You see, nine years ago, Dad decided to take play-by-ear piano lessons (as you do at that age), and while he never learnt to tell the black keys from the white, something that belonged to the teacher captured his heart and sent memories flooding back. Why wouldn’t it, when he had one himself as a student and his father owned three in his lifetime?

So it came to be that this little thing taught me to drive and saw me through college to this day, via countless acquaintances, joys, triumphs, heartaches and failed alternators – a true People’s Car, if I ever saw one. Really, when you’ve been stranded on the hard shoulder for as often as I have and you still don’t want to get rid of it, you know it’s a keeper.

I can’t even crack 50 mph without the wing mirrors folding in from the wind (Volkswagen pioneered the auto-folding wing mirror in 1972, didn’t you know?), and I have to keep winding the windows down and pushing them back into position. Not defects, just character.

No radiator, no demister, no reversing lamps, no power steering, no rev counter and no DSG – but it’s got 50 hp, so be afraid. Be very afraid.

For someone who still isn’t quite used to driving a manual car, the first few minutes of suddenly being thrust into an ancient jalopy with a row-your-own transmission, no power steering and brakes – which I was warned would lock at the slightest provocation – was terrifying, to say the least.

Added to that, the left door mirror folded in onto itself as soon as I set off, and the driver’s side wiper fell off immediately afterwards – which in the torrential downpour meant next to no visibility.

And yet, driving the Beetle was a revelation. The tractability provided by the impressive low-end torque belied the mere fifty horses, the gear lever engages with a lovely click-clack and the slim pillars and large windows afforded superb visibility, making the closed-in mirror a non-issue.

Just fix that wiper next time, okay, Jon?Jonathan Lee

Hafriz Shah’s 2008 Fiat Bravo GT 1.4 T-Jet
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“You drive a what? Why??” By now, entering my sixth year of ownership, I’ve gotten used to people reacting as such when the subject of my own car is brought up. The answer is simple enough. I was an idiot.

Back then, I was a naïve kid who just wanted the most unique car I could afford. And it had to have a manual gearbox, of course, because I fancied myself a driving enthusiast. The well-specced Fiat Bravo (downsized-turbo, 150 hp, 0-100 km/h in 8.2 seconds) came up tops on my shortlist.

This was way before an obnoxious bloke called Sam Loo started spreading his RV doctrine, but the issue did come up. “To hell with resale value. I’ll keep it forever,” I thought to myself. Well, five years on, I don’t have a choice in this matter, as selling this four-wheeled vagrant is damn near impossible.

And so is finding parts for it. The official Fiat distributor in Malaysia is no more, making parts sourcing a futile ordeal. And what else? The ride is brittle, the silly 18-inch wheels appear to be made of jelly, and certain interior plastic bits have turned into jelly.

But I’ll tell you what. Bring me back in time, and I’d make this same mistake again. Repeatedly.

I totally get Hafriz Shah’s choice of ride. In my eyes (and quite a few others’, I’m sure), it’s the best-looking vehicle of our lot, which goes hand-in-hand with the famous Friz fashion sense. It’s also the one that would look most at home in the immediate vicinity of a hotel, which again fits the bill.

Drive it and you’ll also understand why he loves the Peugeot 208 GTi so much (of all of us, he’s its biggest fan), because in many ways, the Fiat and the Pug are very alike – classy and charming in an understated and slightly quirky manner, effortless tractability controlled through a long-travel clutch pedal and a long-throw gearchange, plus an expansive view of the starry sky.

Finally, rear visibility is pretty limited because of those thick C-pillars and high shoulder line – perfect for when back seat privacy is needed. Which, if you’re Hafriz Shah in hunter mode, can be pretty often…Jonathan James Tan

Anthony Lim’s 2013 Ford Focus ST
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And now, we come to the parlour trick. Going by the “own car” premise, the vehicle that you actually see in the photos is a Honda CR-V. Oh alright, imagine it then.

Rather bizarrely, the Focus ST – and a Fiesta XTR 1.6 hatch – happens to be titled in the other half’s name, nevermind that she has always vehemently stated she’d never buy a Ford (got her good there, didn’t I?).

Convoluted ownership aspects aside (long story, that), the ST came about because of a need to scratch a three-pedal itch that never went away. All my previous rides have been stick shifters (and hatchbacks), and if the Fiesta 1.6 had come with a manual tranny, this one might never have happened.

But it did, and there were very few candidates to consider – the Renault Megane RS 250 was, for an instant, but the three-door layout and unyielding character ended that instant very quickly. Funnily enough, the ST is slowly veering a bit to RS territory through an evolving set of mods. Oh well…

One thing won’t change though, aside from being big on the Blue Oval, and that’s with how the C346’s exterior shapes up – it’ll never stir the loins the same way as the first-gen C170 of yore did for me. That still does – what I really want is a Rallye Sport Mk 1, no matter that the current ST has more ponies. Oh, and did I mention that I’m not particularly fond of red cars? Someone must really be having a laugh then.

Don’t judge a car by its owner. Anthony may be the most senior guy here, but his taste in cars is the most boyracer, by some margin. That’s why this Focus ST looks like it just drove out of “Need For Speed Underground.”

There are six “ST” logos plus 17 “Focus” badges in the cabin to remind me what I was in. Even the drive has been tweaked to be more raw and old school – among the changes, a harder cp-e engine mount introduces vibrations absent in the standard car, while the Cobb add-ons raises intake and turbo noise by a few notches.

Our most hardcore fella, we call him Sport Lim.Danny Tan

Danny Tan’s 2003 Mazda6 Hatchback 1.8 TS
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My other car is a Honda CR-Z M/T, and I’ve sung enough praises of it – the coupe has appeared twice in my Top Five list and two times as a guinea pig on this channel. Time to share the limelight.

The lads call my Mazda a unicorn, and it is. The first-gen GG3S hatchback is rare enough (only the sedan was officially sold here), but mine is a UK-spec 1.8 – the smallest MZR engine for the 6, and only for Europe – paired to a stick shift.

My car’s “TS” trim might well have been called “pensioner trim” in stock form, but I’ve since added chunkier front and rear sport bumpers from the JDM Atenza, plus matching louvred grille, side skirts and boot spoiler. The above, plus new shoes, gives the 6 a dash of Zoom-Zoom.

It won’t win any traffic light GPs with 125 hp/165 Nm, but performance is sprightly enough with the response and full control of a manual ’box. The surprising engine flexibility and good ride comfort fits in nicely with my daily commute, and the steering is very chatty compared to today’s cars. It’s 11 years old, but the chassis still feels tight.

It’s a good drive, but with a cavernous boot and rear space that’s more generous than the current 6, my Mazda is also a fantastic family car and hauler.

I’ll admit, technology scares me a little. So when Danny’s Mazda 6 came along, I was happy. That happiness was short-lived, however. Ten minutes into driving it and I was… ecstatic! There’s something brutally honest about this unassuming car that’s missing in a lot of modern day machines.

From the weight of the steering to the heft of engaging the clutch, this car is mechanical engineering redefined. Oh, and that throaty exhaust note courtesy of the Spoon exhaust is surprisingly easy to get used to.

Call me old-fashioned, but this is how I would envision my ideal everyday car – practical, reliable, fun to drive and blessed with looks that will only attract the right kind of attention. My only gripe? It’s not my everyday car.Gregory Sze