This Alfa Romeo GTAm Is Patroling The Streets Of Bangkok
Photography by Tenn Xoomsai
Every week since I visited Thailand more and more members of the community have come out of the woodwork with phenomenal cars that have great stories. Our pal Tenn Xoomsai is one of the most talented photographers I’ve ever met, so when he offers to shoot a couple of these gems for Petrolicious it’s a very, very good thing for everyone involved. I caught up with Thanapat Suvansarang (Udo for short), the owner of this GTAm Restomod and took one step further down the rabbit hole of Bangkok’s classic car scene.
TG: When did you get into cars in Thailand?
Udo: A very long time ago. My father is Thai but he studied in Germany. That’s where he met my mother, who is German. He’s been into cars ever since.
When he came back, it took a while until he started his business. He was a huge fan of Porsche, thanks to his time in Germany and my mother. When I was a child he owned several Porsches and a Lotus. All of them were around when I was very young.
His tastes and my tastes are a bit different. He prefers the front engine design of the 928 and the 944. Personally, I’ve loved the 911s since I was a child.
TG: What was the first car you ever drove?
Udo: I was very young when I first drove a car. I was visiting Germany for the summer and the daughter of the family I was staying with was getting her driver’s licence. She was practising on their farm in a W123 Mercedes. Because we were on the private land of a farm it was safe for me to have a go. I was eleven. It was very exciting!
TG: Absolutely, when did you first start collecting cars?
Udo: After my bachelor’s degree I worked for four or five years before I did my master’s degree and an MBA in Thailand. I found a 930 Turbo while studying.
At that time there weren’t any good garages to rebuild the engine and carry out general repairs. It was a struggle. I was a newbie. I had very little knowledge about how to properly maintain the car or where to get the parts… it was difficult to not be fooled by mechanics.
The Turbo 930 car taught me a lot. Eventually, I took the car in, because the engine was a mess. It stayed in the garage for two, three months. When I got the car back the mechanic said that everything was done. But two days later the engine was having issues again.
TG: Is that because of the climate in Bangkok, how everything is so hot there?
Udo: No, actually I don’t think the climate in Thailand would affect it that much. It was the mechanic. He didn’t know enough about the car. He wasn’t reliable. Every time, after just a few days, it would break down again. It was like that for years.
Eventually I took the car to the official Porsche dealer in Thailand, AAS. They took the engine out and sent it back to Germany to have it rebuilt at the Porsche centre classic department. When it came back, it was like a brand new engine. I haven’t had any problems with it since.
TG: Naturally, after you have this terrible experience with Porsche, you go “Okay, I’m going to try something harder. I’m going to do Alfa.”
Udo: The Alfa came way after that, because I had 964 after the 930 that I bought from a friend. That is actually a very good car. I still have it. It’s been stripped out and done like the 964 RS lightweight. It’s actually a C2 but the modifications were done to the specifications of the 964 RS.
I really love that car. She drives really well. I take her out on trips with the guys, The RennDrive Crew, every year, which we are going in January again.
TG: I wish I was coming. They told me about the whole thing when I was there a few months ago. It sounds like the coolest journey.
Udo: We have a lot of fun with the guys. All of the people are such great company, they are very cool and good to be with.
TG: When did you acquire the Alfa?
Udo: In 2010. I knew nothing about Alfas. It was Tenn who inspired me. He has the GTAm that he used to race. The first time I saw the car, I was like, “Wow, I must have something like that.”
Without any knowledge, I found a car, which was done like the GTAm. I thought it was a GTAm, but not an original of course. It had flares and the interior was stripped out like a road racer.
It was only after I got it home that I did any research on Alfa Romeo and on this model. I discovered that the flares were all wrong. They had been made here in Thailand.
After finding out that the flares weren’t original, I didn’t drive it anymore because I felt bad.
TG: It felt tacky.
Udo: Right, it’s not original. It’s like a Thai made car in a way. I left it in the garage for two, three years until I finally got things moving with this car and I found out more about Alfa Romeo. I ordered the parts in from Alfaholics, which supply most of the parts for Alfa Romeos. I got the flares from England.
They shipped everything here. A childhood friend of mine restores vintage cars. He did all the work for me, putting on the flares and fenders. He did the paint job too, using the red of the AR501, that’s the color code of the car.
TG: Because you’ve done it yourself, do feel like it’s not the same as the original? Are you happy driving it as is and you enjoy it just as much?
Udo: Yeah, I think it’s a proper car and it drives really well. The engine is very good. The car is very light. With that engine, I put a 2000CC engine in it. It is more powerful than the original 1750. With the weight ratio, the car drives pretty good, actually. I love to drive it around town.
TG: Do you have air conditioning in the car?
Udo: Yeah, it’s essential for Thailand.
TG: There must be a company that just manufactures after market air conditioners, because those cars didn’t have air conditioners back in the day.
Udo: Yeah, it’s quite an old type of air-conditioner, which is made for older cars. The vent of the air conditioner is underneath the dashboard.
TG: Very cool. Anything else about the car we should know?
Udo: The car was fully restored at the beginning of last year and resprayed it this year, because it wasn’t done properly at the beginning. Now, it’s quite good. I’m not a collector that wants his cars to be totally original. I like to restore them. I don’t like cars that came off the factory thirty, forty years ago and haven’t been touched since. I’m the guy who likes to restore them and to have them look like new again. For instance, the original GTAm wheels are 13″ but I have fitted them with 15″ GTAm Style wheels (which fills the arches more with the larger sized wheels), which were ordered from Alfaholics as well.
TG: But drive more efficiently and have more performance.
Udo: Right. And the suspension and everything has to be upgraded. I think it’s vital.
TG: You didn’t have that much trouble buying parts for this car in Thailand?
Udo: Yeah, actually quite contrary to what I had first thought, it was difficult. At first, everybody said “Alfa Romeo? Where are you going to find all the parts?” I did struggle but then I found Alfaholics.
TG: When you ship from the UK to there, what tax do you pay on that?
Udo: You just pay the normal tariff, so around 30 percent, depending on the type of parts, but roughly it’s about 30 percent tax.
TG: Which is much better than buying a whole car from somewhere else.
Udo: Definitely. I mean, you can’t even buy vintage cars and ship them in, because there’s a law against bringing in old cars. Unless you’re a student or something and you’ve owned the car for, I think, a year and a half at least. After you finish your studies or after you work there, you can import it. The tax you have to pay anyway.
TG: Did you buy a car when you were studying?
Udo: I had a car when I was studying in America. It was a Volkwagen Golf GTI VR6. That was my car when I was a university student there.
TG: Do people who are at school try to buy classic cars? I’m thinking because classic cars have become so much more mainstream now, do you notice that in Thailand when students go abroad, they’re coming back with performance vintage cars?
Udo: I’m not sure if the younger generation are into classic cars. I think they prefer the latest models. I think it’s the influence of the parents who want to have vintage cars brought back. They’ll buy a car for their son or daughter when they’re studying abroad, who’ll then bring it back.
TG: How do you and your friends swap cars within the Thai market?
Udo: Quite often our group of friends swaps or exchanges cars within the group. We love all of our cars. Because we’re so attached to them we worry that if we sold them we’d never see them again. We’d rather sell to someone that we know so we get to see the car again. Besides that the other reason why we like to buy and sell cars within the RennDrive group is that we have a gentlemen’s agreement to buy the car back if the owner ever decides to sell it.