The classic automotive dichotomy between Asian and European cars


There is a prevalent, and in my humble opinion, unfair mentality among car connoisseurs that automobiles from the East are characterless appliances. Words like heritage and provenance are thrown around to bolster the credibility of European cars, and affirm that their desirability is unmatched. Chiefly those from Germany and Italy, sometimes France. Although you will never see me in a million years buying a French car, sorry.

Cars are an extension of the enthusiast’s soul, they say. It is easier to form a connection with something similar to us, which leads me to a contention that perhaps very few will think of.

People are imperfect and we can relate to each other through this commonality. Therefore, a car that is imperfect is more human and therefore easier to form an emotional connection with. Be patient and stay with me here.

Think of an Alfa Romeo. The cooling system will fail, and spectacularly at that, possibly simultaneously with all manner of electronic maladies. It will then spend some time at the workshop and of course some (a lot) of your money, before it is then good to go. After which, foolishly, all is forgiven.

This happens repeatedly for years, sometimes decades, if you’re so far gone that you never let your Alfa go and have grand dreams of your progeny keeping up this lunacy. And throughout this time, you’re on a forum or in a public setting going on about the virtues of Alfa ownership and how absolutely fulfilling it is to the enthusiast’s soul.

Ergo this entire anecdote for your BMW, Merc or Daniel Fernandez’s VW Corrado. They give you headaches, you sort them out, and somehow you feel like a champion because something has been accomplished. It is one positive step forward.

Case study: my Honda Accord, Yuriko, whose imperfections I’ve spoken about before on #MTHRFKNWIN  (link here). There have been days when I’ve seriously considered flinging a Molotov cocktail at her and walking away in manic laughter. The problematic gearbox is one, the bloody engine mounts and suspensions arms are another and the ABS, arguably the most important passive driver aid of the 20th century, a third.

The list goes on, with a somewhat disconcerting feeling that she is trying to kill me.

You will notice that these items are largely wear and tear, and I did drive from Petaling Jaya to Shah Alam after a year and a half of dormancy, which is incredibly impressive. Each problem however, and the satisfaction of solving it, has ultimately strengthened the bond between me and my dear Yuriko.

Why is she regarded lower than her contemporaries from the continent? Good question. Some of them handle better (BMW), some of them are more solidly built (Mercedes-Benz) and some of them are from the best days of the British Empire (Jaguar). For that last one I’m sorry but you have incurable Stockholm Syndrome, plain and simple.

The very fact that she was engineered to last through generations of her nameplate somehow counts against her in the desirability stakes. The very fact that she was built to persevere — as opposed to having the mood swings of a 16-year old teenager in the thick of being woefully misunderstood by the universe at large — earns her the unfortunate reputation of being nothing more than a tool to go from A to B.

Meanwhile, an E34 5-series is lauded by the local hoonigans of Bayerische Motoren Werke despite every journey being a gamble of whether you’ll make it there with the engine overheating.

So, somehow the nature of a European car and it’s volatility tugs harder at the heartstrings than an Asian car from the same era. Problematic behaviour exacerbated by our heat and humidity leads to the proliferation of more durable aftermarket parts to sometimes pure MacGyver-inspired fixes just to keep the thing going. Meanwhile, someone with a 40-year old Toyota KE who wishes to run it stock — a rare occurrence, I will admit — returns to, unsurprisingly, stock or OEM parts.

The car will then last another three generations of his family or until the next apocalypse which will see the world fading out of existence with the engine still running.

The bullshit should be clear by now. If you like a car, do so wholeheartedly. Eschewing a car or sidelining it purely due to its Asian birthplace is akin to racism. Any car can be worth your time and effort if it means something to you and you owe it you yourself to see these things through.

If it’s recognition you seek for the work that you’ve put in, I can assure you that someone somewhere will applaud the work you’ve put in and appreciate your set of wheels. Be it a Honda or a Toyota or a Mazda. If it’s an MX-5 or an AE86 you might actually get chased all the way home.

Drive and maintain with dignity, boys and girls; the work you’ve put it will speak louder than the county of origin. We hope you enjoy our gallery below.

(Ed  – A quick shoutout of thanks to all the kind folks who have helped to contribute their cars for the photoshoot of this article: Aswan Yap / Toyota KE70, Shern Yang / Saab 900 Turbo, Subhash Nair / BMW E34 525i, Sean Eu / Toyota Supra, Kailash / Honda Accord SV4).


About Author


Kailash spoke the word "car" before he could say "mummy", and not much has changed since. More 911 Turbo S than GT3, he believes that any good garage should have a least two cars: a sensible car for the week and a ridiculous car for the weekend. He subscribes to the fact that Perodua is the best car company in the world, a belief he will defend to the death. Certified fried mantau and crab curry enthusiast.

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