Bangkok, Thailand - Let’s start off by throwing out a couple of facts to build the big picture. The first, a very local fact, nine out of ten new cars sold in Thailand carry the badge of a Japanese volume brand. The second, and one that’s ingrained in the knowledge banks of every car enthusiast worldwide, is that during the 1990s the Japanese car industry, as one, grabbed global automotive technology and styling by the scruff of the neck and stamped the nation’s name on it, in the process creating a golden decade of advancement that resulted in dozens and dozens of cars that were untouchable and would later become icons.
Fuse those two facts together and within the Thai car community you have a real deep-rooted love, passion, understanding and respect for many of the offerings churned out by Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Subaru, Suzuki and others during that 20th century book-ending decade.
That paints the picture. So then let’s fast forward to today. The passion of Thai car enthusiasts for iconic models of that period simply hasn’t diminished one iota. The 90s scene is thriving here, cars from that decade such as Nissan’s Skyline GT-R, Silvia and 300ZX, Toyota’s AE86, Celica, Supra and MR2, Honda’s Civic, S2000 and NSX, Mitsubishi’s Evo, Subaru’s Impreza – but to name a few – are all revered by the fans.
Into this vibrant mix steps “90s Lover” a group which aims to bring the likeminded together. It was the brainchild of Viruch Kunatarakul, better known by his nickname Lek’ on the car scene here, and the club can trace its roots back five years.
“Actually, first we started with a group called 90s Racing Car in 2015,” he explains. “Then many things changed in the racing group so I decided to create another group called 90s Lover in 2019.”
So best to ask what’s his hook into the period that drives his passion today? “Because I was teenager at that time and it was a good memory,” says Lek. “I like everything about cars [but] especially in the 90s. I used to have many 90s Japanese sport cars such as the Skyline, Supra and RX-7 but now I drive the Mercedes-Benz A124 and S124.”
That brings us up to last weekend when the 90s Lover group hosted an open event at ‘The Walk Kaset-Nawamin’, a shopping mall located in the densely populated Lat Phrao district which is around 20 km north east of Bangkok’s city centre. “This was the second open event,” he says. “The first time we held it in 2016 [and] we had around 500 cars join at that time. Also, we had many closed events at the race track before.”
Bangkok is now emerging from a shutdown in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic and the city is busy getting back on its feet and returning to normal. Overnight ahead of the event heavy rain left the mall’s carparks scattered with huge pools of water and it was still spitting away as the event swung into gear.
So, would that all put anyone off? Would owners of cherished pristine 90s cars prefer to keep them clean and dry at home? Hell no, the carpark started to fill out from first light and the cars soon overflowed into the service roads and then then onto the neatly paved thoroughfares around the outlets, drifting off to the other side and even into a restaurant next door. Every space was soon occupied and a stunning array of cars that typified the final decade of the last century was on show.
It would be impossible to go through every car that turned up, there were all shapes and styles from the 90s, customised, race prepared, tuned, stanced, kitted and wrapped.
Some standouts though included a gorgeous black Honda NSX, an unusual grey first-generation Toyota Paseo coupé, a menacing gunmetal-coloured body-kitted Honda S2000, several strikingly modified Toyota MR2s, a highly tuned racing VW Beetle lurid in a shocking hue of pink, a cluster of red Mitsubishi GTOs, plenty of stanced Honda Civics, a bronze-coloured modified Nissan 300 ZX (Z32) and a wildly kitted fourth-generation Toyota Supra.
One can never forget the titanic ‘Group A’ slugfest between Mitsubishi and Subaru that dominated and defined that decade on the rally tracks and those glory days are always recollected at any 90s car event. Last Saturday was no different with one ‘Evo’ wrapped in the original factory red-and-white colours turning up while there were Subaru WRXs in a variety of colours as well as in signature rally ‘Mica Blue’ of course.
Another to note was a deep green Nissan Sunny RZ-1 which blended into the backdrop as it was parked – most probably intentionally – outside an outlet from the ‘The Pizza Company’.
But while the main focus of the morning was firmly on JDM cars there were a good few ‘Euro’ machines dotted around and what they lacked in quantity they certainly made up for in quality. There were a pair of standout BMW Alpina B10 estates, and sticking with the Bavarian brand there was beautiful version of the AC Schnitzer-developed CLS II, an upgrade that was developed for the BMW E36 M3 Coupé, the CLS II standing for ‘Coupé Lightweight Silhouette II’. In green of course. There were plenty of other E36s and well as lots of the obligatory E30 sedans and several ‘compact’ E36/5 3-series models with their signature chopped off rear end.
A car that simply couldn’t be missed was a superb racing replica of the Volvo 850 Estate that was campaigned by TWR on behalf of the Swedish factory in the 1994 British Touring Car Championship in the hands of tin top ace Rickard Rydell, and former F1 driver Jan Lammers. The ‘flying brick’ instantly entered automotive legend and is still as recognisable today here as it is anywhere in the world.
Sticking with Volvos and there was a very similar estate version but this time thoroughly made over with a ‘rocket bunny’ style body kit, presented in a moody dark matte finish. It hugged the ground too, thanks to its air suspension. Certainly, at the opposite end of the spectrum to its classic racing sister but equally as attention grabbing. Australia, meanwhile, was also represented thanks to a kitted Opel Calibra.
The event was buzzing and, despite the new norm of ‘social distancing’, clearly the morning’s activities resonated with the owners that rocked up. “We got very good feedback from Thai car lovers and yes it was more than what I expected and even though it was raining people still come and join our event,” explains Lek.
“People are having a good time when they drive their cars to our event, it brings back good old days and also [they can] exchange info and make new friends,” he added. “I'm very happy with the event, good publicity and people had a good time.”
Publicity was certainly guaranteed from a car meet starved nation over these past few months. Expect the ‘90s Lover’ group’s next big meet to be not as far away as the last one – and expect it to be even busier. For sure, here at least, the 90s is still on a roll.