Chiang Mai, Thailand – The sixth edition of ‘Cars & Coffee Chiang Mai’ took place at yet another new location, this time the early Sunday morning venue was the towering ‘Promenada’ mall situated in the city's south eastern suburbs. And, just like the first five editions, there was an eclectic mix of cars that braved the crisp cold morning air to join the event.
Indeed, it was cold. The traditional chilly northern winter had just rolled in and temperatures were hovering around the 10 degrees centigrade mark as the cars started to assemble in the mall’s carpark. That meant the consuming coffee half of the tried and tested ‘Cars & Coffee’ blueprint was in almost equal demand to admiring the machinery on show. Preferably coffee of the hot variety.
This most northerly ‘Cars & Coffee’ follows very closely the global template of this new fashionable event, which is essentially pretty simple. Find a huge carpark, usually at a mall or supermarket, invite everyone who loves cars regardless of the genre that comprises their individual taste, and start lining the cars up early on a Sunday morning along with a cluster of mobile fast food and drink trucks. It's all about checking out other people's rides, meeting old friends or making new ones.
Cars & Coffee is all things to all people, there’s something in the mix for everyone. And it's usually all done and dusted by around 1100, a requirement in this country as for most of the year the ever-fiercer morning sun quickly turns asphalted parking lots into furnaces.
In the northern city, 700 kms from Bangkok, Cars & Coffee is being held on the first Sunday of the month. It’s a growing phenomenon that’s kicked at an open door.
Cars & Coffee Chiang Mai only started off this July with its inaugural running before quickly moving onto the CHOC mall in the south east suburb of Haiya. Then it was a little further out of town, this time a trip city’s south west to the Premium Outlet in Hang Dong for number three in September. For the fourth edition, in October, there was a short hop east to the Goodview Restaurant on the edge of the River Ping in the Wat Ket district before last month’s venue saw another quick drive to CentralPlaza in the shadow of the city's airport.
That brings the story up to the sixth edition, the six-month anniversary of Cars & Coffee Chiang Mai and a sixth location, this time the Promenada mall, a vast shopping center on the Chiang Mai-San Kamphaeng Road and just a 15-minute drive from downtown.
With more than 300 shops and set on vast 250,000 sq m site Promenda is just six years old and as generic mega malls go, it's pretty stylish, but it's not been a hit with shoppers and is a relatively quiet complex as malls go. That though is all beside the point as the action we are focused on was taking place on a vast overflow carpark in the shadow of the towering structure – and it was anything but quiet. The car park was built big – and that meant there was room for everyone.
As with any Cars & Coffee style event there’s a broad mix of cars with all shapes and sizes welcome and little in the way of zoning meaning that perusing the rows of ‘exhibits’ is something of an adventure as to what will come next. Chiang Mai has a long running and deep-rooted car culture and for a city in the mountains with a different climate to the Thai mainstream it's always gone its own way and is probably the country’s most bohemian urban area. That means its car culture is more offbeat.
There was a pretty special mix at edition #6 and although it was mostly comprised of Japanese cars there was an interesting smattering of European, Australian and American brands.
To pick out a few. It's pretty easy to start with Nissan’s GT-R in its ‘R35’ generation as few sportscars stand out much more than this big, mean and aggressive ‘Godzilla’. There were several in attendance and the GT-R roster included one beautifully equipped with a Rocket Bunny kit that grabbed a whole lot of attention as well as a brand new ‘50th Anniversary’ edition model with racing inspired decals, a special series created to honour the landmark of this iconic Japanese sportscar.
To the delight of Nissan enthusiasts worldwide, ‘Bayside Blue’, a colour that was synonymous with the ‘R34’ Skyline, has returned to the line-up for the new special edition. It’s one of three colours available on the ‘50th Anniversary’ model, the other two being namely hues of white and silver, although with the availably again of this iconic shade of blue it’s highly unlikely the other options will get much of a look in with buyers. It’s a standout colour and it sure stood out in the carpark.
The car comes complete with broad white bonnet and roof stripes and a large ‘50th Anniversary’ decal splayed across the rear. Under the bonnet there are a few technical tweaks too although at Cars & Coffee it’s only ever going to be presented as a visual treat.
This ‘50th Anniversary’ edition is brand new, fresh out of the blocks and only just on the roads here too. In fact, this half-century-celebrating model made its official local market debut at the 36th Thailand International Motor Expo in Bangkok just last week so it couldn’t be any newer – or more relevant to those clutching their coffees on a chilly Sunday morning. It was an unquestionable treat.
Heading straight to the other end of the ‘JDM’ scale and to probably the most beautifully presented classic car present – a small orange 1975 Toyota Corolla TE 25.
Restored to absolute perfection by B&T Performance Retro in Mae Rim, a stone’s throw north of the city, it now features the platform’s bigger 1600cc engine option and is probably best described as being a TE 27 Levin replica. It was stunning and it was never short of admirers.
A rare sight was a Subaru ‘GFT’ coupe, the first generation of the 'Leone' model line. It's unusual to see these on the Thai roads and it sported a bronzed paint finish that suited it down to a tee. It sat next to the more angular shape of the second-generation Leone, this time in estate format.
Also sitting at the unusual end of the scale was a Mazda 626 2-door coupe from the 1980s riding on futuristic period rims. The burgundy coloured car looking in original condition and a daily driver.
Aside from the squad of standout GT-Rs, other Japanese sportscars to attend included – from the same brand – a lurid green 350Z while Honda was represented in the 2-door stakes by a red S2000 and there was a distinctly original looking first generation blue Toyota Celica as well as a trio of Mazda MX-5 convertibles. Novelty value came with a black and white finished ‘police car’ styled Honda Prelude complete with a roof mounted flashing light rack.
Australian cars were capably represented by a Holden Calais VP, a model once assembled here CKD, which had also been tuned up with a new air filter housing and induction pipes leading to the ‘Dual Ram’ 2.6-litre inline-six engine which was sourced from Opel and fitted for this market.
And while on the subject of big cars, award for biggest vehicle at the event comfortably went to a black Lincoln Town Car which attracted a lot of attention from visitors.
The smattering of Western models didn't end there and one of the absolute highlights of the day was a stunning rally replica Ford Escort Mk 1 ‘Mexico’ in Castrol livery that muscled its way out of the crowd thanks to its bulbous arches, big rally style quad headlights and those iconic red and green stripes applied to a pristine white body.
It was a specially built car, explained the owner, Steve Parfitt. “The car started life like all the others as a recovered two door saloon,” he said. “There are Escort fanatics in Pattaya who build them in their spare time into homages to the RS and Mexico, [fitting] metal arches and reworking the shell. They have dedicated their lives to these cars, they built them in the UK and now they live in Thailand and have kept it up.
“Then they fit modern components onto the original underpinnings,” Steve continued. “Mine runs a Duratec 2.3 [engine] with 50 mm throttles, Cosworth cams and four branch exhaust. This is one method, the other is to fit the Nissan SR20 turbo, but the finished products all look the same.”
And what was his inspiration for the striking Castrol livery? “When I bought my car, it was an RS look alike,” Steve explains. “I didn’t want a car that looked like anyone else’s. So, I had it stripped back to white and chose my own design. I saw there were Castrol racing cars back in the 70's and 80's [so] I took the best attributes of the cars in question and combined them to make the look I have today.
“I have always had a soft spot for Castrol racing colours, I had a racing bike done in the same many years ago,” he adds. “So, to answer your question, I just wanted to be different to the rest of the cars.”
Indeed, this was a job done perfectly. The many period mimicking details (aside from the four monstrous Cibie spotlights and lavishly beaten out arches) included a raised ride height, tough-looking alloy wheels, bonnet pins, an original style registration decal on the bonnet, riveted front stone guard, flush Perspex headlight covers, a fine mesh radiator grille and circular cut outs in the front valance.
A car with an aggressive stance, it looked every inch a ‘Mexico’, the iconic sports model that is a central part of Ford’s competition legend which claimed its name from the famous London-Mexico Rally win almost exactly half a century ago.
At that was it. The clock was ticking towards midday and the cars started rolling out. A new concept with six editions in six months and it’s now a solid fixture on the landscape here. Number 7 will be coming up in February 2020. Expect the new year to bring more new and diverse cars as this event continues to grow in popularity.