Collecting Alfa Romeos In Bangkok Is A Challenging Passion
Photography by Ted Gushue
A few weeks ago, I found myself in Bangkok, Thailand, with no fixed agenda and only a loose knowledge of a burgeoning car scene. I tossed up an Instagram and geotagged my location. Within 15 minutes I received a message from an account named @Tennster, a local video producer who specialized in automotive filmography. “I’ll pick you up at your hotel in an hour, we are going to meet some friends of mine.”
One of those friends happened to be a lad by the name of Naputt Assakul, Oou for short, a classic automotive enthusiast with a passion for anything Alfa. Naturally, I had to get his story.
TG: Why are you collecting classic Alfas in Bangkok?
Oou: Why Alfa Romeos? My first classic car was really that white Mini that you saw out there, classified as classic, but I like it not because it’s classic but because I think it is cute and small. My first love for classic cars is Alfa Romeo, specifically the 1750 GTV. I saw it on the street when I was young, red, and I was immediately like, “Wow, what’s that car? It looks so cool”.
Then I start doing research and everything. Back then there was no Facebook or Instagram. I started searching once I realized the make was Alfa Romeo. [It was] hard to find which car I saw. I kept going until I found it. It’s a very honest car, I think. It’s purposeful on its own. [Alfa Romeo] doesn’t care if the driver has really long arms or short legs. They don’t care. This is how it should look. It’s very honest, I think. It’s not like new cars today that you have to worry that people 5 foot high can drive or a 6 foot 8 can drive. They don’t care. If you don’t fit the car, too bad, kind of thing.
Technically it’s the first brand of classic car I ever did research on, and obviously what’s not to love about Alfa? It dies on you when it shouldn’t, but when it runs, it sounds wonderful.
TG: What was the first Alfa that you started collecting?
Oou: My first Alfa is the 1967 Giulia Sprint Step Front. I converted that to a GTA replica, dropped a 2-liter fully modified motor in it, which right now is in the garage. It’s been serving very well for 14 years I think. Engine needs a rebuild. Stupidly, I drive it in the city, and outside to all the road trips and stuff with carburetor and the trumpet but no socks, so all the gas has been collecting over the years. It actually corroded the valve itself. I need to get it rebuilt.
TG: From there you bought the Duetto?
Oou: I was restoring the Giulia, so I back then was not so busy, no family yet. I spent a lot of time at the garage every week to check up on the process. I see all the different ones they are working on. I see the Giulias. I see the Spiders. You can’t really be in the presence of Alfas for that long a period and not try to get another. It’s just impossible, right?
I told two friends who knew of some interesting cars around Bangkok. They took me to see the Duetto. That’s my second Alfa. I got that car. I restored it. It’s very special to me. I took my wife home in that car on our wedding day. It’s a 1969 Alfa Duetto. It’s the last model year that they made that car. In the last year, instead of the normal 13 to 1600-cc, the Duetto came with with a 1750-cc, and they only made 601 right hand drive cars. That car is number 600.
Alfa being Alfa, being Italian so they try to do everything artistically. The nose contour is hand-beaten, for instance. So after this the contoured model, every other Alfa Spider ever since has a flat nose. Maybe it comes together, but it’s in the more subtle line. Duetto is the only one that has what you call a more pronounced pointy nose. That they don’t sell. You can’t find it on Alfaholics, you can’t find it at Classic Alfa, you can’t find it anywhere. There’s no new part for that. You have to either make your own, or you’re working on the old one.
The one I have is very fortunate, it never had a front end accident so the body, the metal itself is still forming the shape perfectly. So many of the cars that survived that era have putty and primer to recreate the shape after a fender bender. The car has been repainted a few times before it got to my hands, so to get all that excess off and really work on the bare metal, and make sure it retains the same shape because to fit the curve. It’s not that difficult, it’s the line after that.
As you can see, it’s gradually reduced into a flat panel. That curve is extremely, extremely hard to get right. I hope I got mine right, I hope. It looks more right than many others. I look on the internet. It’s hard to see this tiny thing. Nobody really zooms in and take a picture of that.
TG: After the Duetto, you bought…
Oou: I bought a Giulia, a 4-door, just to complete the collection. The model designation number is AR105. They had a 3-body style system. The coupe, a 4-door, and a convertible. Unlike today where you just get a different size of the same car, like a BMW 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 series, each model in the line that Alfa offered was radically different-looking. If you strip the body part outs, everything else is the same, gearbox, engine, brakes, all the parts interchangeable.
Identical are the chassis, just with different bodies. I tried to collect all three. The Giulia is the last one I got. It’s the very last one because it is my second Giulia. I have first one, and then this car, but the history, older, nicer body, more complete in terms of all the trim made it special to me. I sold that one and keep this one instead. It also my only Alfa that has a crossover intake system. It’s a very old Alfa, it’s like the Holy Grail of the Alfa engines.
TG: How do they fit into your collection on the whole, because you have some cars that are radically different. You have two RWB Porsches, for instance. When you meet other collectors, how do they view your Alfas within your collection?
Oou: I like beautiful cars and it only matters to me in a way. My friends and I have a belief that we only inherit these national treasures for a period of time. Soon when I die, or when I can’t drive, I have to pass it on to my son or somebody else. Then they own that piece of history. Thailand is a developing country. All of these cars have lived their whole lives in Thailand. That’s part of my country’s heritage and it’s very important to me.
My last Alfa is the white 1750. It belongs to the garage owner who restored my cars, who is the same age as my father. When he retired, he had this car, which he said he was going to keep for his son but he already had two others. He didn’t have a place to keep it and can’t look after it. I’m like another son to him, so he let me look after it. It’s original 1969 1750 Mk 1. The signal light is on the bumper, not on the chassis itself. Got all this cool, smaller tail lights and all that. That’s the car.
I just like beautiful things, like I said. Even the original 1750, as what I told you, I widened the rims to make it fuller. It’s basically my expression of the classic car. I like it slightly lower, the wheels slightly feeling the body more than the original.
I’m not, by any expression of the imagination, what you call a purist. I like my cars a certain way, but usually returnable to original state. I like a great many cars for that reason. My childhood hero car and still today is the BMW E30 M3. I have that. That’s the rarest car. You can see, I have it as a road car. I like cars, my general philosophy in modifying my cars is that I want it low, I want it wide, and I want it long.
It’s difficult to describe. Once you lower the car, automatically the car line looks longer. It’s basically the ’70s–’90’s car era where it’s low, it’s wide. That’s what I grew up with. I love Porsche, and I even love modifying Porsches. It would be to just answer that urge for me. I like the wide rear end, the curve of the rear fender that you can actually extend it out forever. Such sculptural cars.
I thought that RWBs were just body kits at first. The more I learn about it, the more my group of friends brought it into Thailand, I’ve seen them work on the first few cars. It’s not just a body kit. It’s a man’s passion. It’s a piece of art. It’s somewhat going along the lines of classic car waves. It’s very honest. It’s very forward. They are modified, rough-looking, the meanest machines on the street.
That’s what it is to me. It doesn’t care if it doesn’t fit most parking lots. It doesn’t really care if some of the speed bumps doesn’t tend to agree with the ground effects. That’s what it is. It’s very manly car, in my opinion. We don’t really care how people perceive us in certain way for liking these cars, we’re just proud that we get to drive them.
TG: What are the challenges of owning a classic car, like an Alfa in Thailand, a country that has high humidity?
Oou: Most of my cars never see the rain. That’s what we try. Rust is also one issue, but for all the classic car restorers out there, do it all the way—but do it in one go. Strip it to the bare metals, really fix everything. Don’t wait for the paint to loosen up or puff up and then you fix that. You keep going for the entire car. We also upgrade the radiators and often add air conditioning to make them drivable and sustainable in this climate.
It’s a challenge every day, but we think it is absolutely worth it.