If you’ve strolled the streets of Macao, you’ve probably stumbled upon a newlywed photo shoot: princess dress, handsome groom, and maybe a tiny, coffee-coloured Mini Sprite (circa 1992). Or perhaps a white 1985 Mercedes-Benz sporting a red bow? If so, there’s a high chance the happy couple was posing with a car owned by Eddie Lam, founder of both the Macau Vintage Vehicle Culture Association (MVV) and Iconic, a company that rents out such cars.
While classic car clubs are found around the world – Hong Kong’s is very active – Macao’s faces something of a challenge: the city’s residents are barred from importing second-hand vehicles. This rule was introduced by the Macao government during the mid-90s, as officials deemed there were too many vehicles in the city. It means Lam and others at the MVV play a role rather like zookeepers – protecting, curating, and celebrating their endangered inventory.
Lam, who was born in Macao in 1978, didn’t get interested in cars until later in life. He played with Hot Wheels toys as a kid, but was perfectly content driving his dad’s cast-offs as an adult. He studied graphic design in Canada, where he, his dad, and his sister lived together between 1995 and 2000. Then, Lam worked for an advertising company in Macao until the SARS outbreak closed the company down in 2002.
“When SARS occurred, I pondered my future,” Lam says. “I loved graphic design, so do I keep working in this field or switch to another one? Or go back to Vancouver and find something new there?”
In the end, Lam stuck with Macao. He set up his own design company, Burgundy Workshop, and landed Lord Stow’s Bakery as his first client. Its cheery yellow egg tart boxes are his work. In 2013, Burgundy Workshop became Deja Vu Graphic Design House. And in 2014, Lam’s love of classic cars was ignited.
It started with the Chevrolet
That was the year he stumbled upon an underground car dealership (now closed), near Jardim da Montanha Russa, and laid eyes on a bright yellow muscle car parked in a dark corner. Lam can’t explain what it was about the 1978 Chevrolet Camaro that sparked his interest, but suspects a combination of the fact they were born in the same year and the Camaro’s propensity for popping up in films – from Charlie’s Angels (2000) to Transformers (2007).
“I asked the shop owner, ‘Why has nobody [already] bought this iconic car?’” Lam remembers. “He explained [to me] that nobody was willing to fix it, and said, ‘Don’t you talk to me about the air conditioning … that will never work again.’”
Lam brushed off the car seller’s lack of enthusiasm. He went straight to a mechanic friend and asked for advice. The mechanic gave Lam two options: buy the car and drive it for a year or two, then resell it or scrap it, or spend a lot of money fixing it.
Lam chose the latter and christened ‘her’ Bumblebee after the car’s doppelganger in Transformers (the two cars are the same model and colour). This Bumblebee was drivable, but only just. It took Lam five years of work to get her up to scratch – though the salesman was right when he said Bumblebee’s air conditioning was beyond repair. Finding the right replacement parts was tough in Macao, so Lam ordered a new battery, transmission and tyres from an online shop in the US.
He says he loved the Camaro’s timeless “sexiness”, and grew to appreciate older cars in general. “Why? Because the designs and engines are iconic,” Lam says. “Nowadays, every modern vehicle you see has almost the same face.” Since buying Bumblebee, he’s built up a collection of distinctive, older models: the aforementioned 1985 Mercedes-Benz 380SEC and 1992 Mini Sprite, a 1981 Cadillac Seville, a 1998 Toyota Celica, a 1994 Peugeot 306 Cabriolet, and a 1997 Subaru Domingo van.
Some he buys for the novelty, others as an investment. Lam reckons that Bumblebee, for instance, has rocketed in value since he bought her for HKD 60,000 eight years ago. Are there any cars he still dreams of buying? A 1970 Lincoln Continental. “It’s beautiful, a car you see in many Hollywood films,” Lam enthuses. “The car’s speedometer is made by Cartier – crazy, right?”
In 2020, Lam started a new company called Iconic – a side-hustle to monetise his collection of groovy cars. More specifically, Iconic lets people rent his vehicles to use as props for wedding photos.
Macau Vintage Vehicle Culture Association is born
After Lam purchased Bumblebee but before he started Iconic, Lam launched the Macau Vintage Vehicle Culture Association (MVV). The name is a little awkward. To be classified as ‘vintage’, a car must have been made prior to 1930 – which none of Lam’s vehicles actually are. They are technically ‘classic’ cars, defined as more than 25 years old. However, ‘the Macau Classic Car Association’ had already been registered by the time Lam entered the scene. He decided to settle for the MVV.
The MVV has about 140 members, each with two classic cars on average. These vehicles include Lam’s own sizable stable, as well as a 1980 Datsun Fairlady 280zx, a 1973 Super Beetle 1303s, a 1984 Mitsubishi Pajero, and a 1992 Mitsubishi 3000 GT. Lam rents a big space on MVV’s behalf in Hac Sá, where the members meet up with their cars. The MVV’s leadership committee works to organise classic car events in the city, like the 2021 Macau Vintage Car Show held at Lisboeta. MVV also has an active Facebook group where members post photos of classic cars spied around Macao. Lam says the group has identified about 1,200 different classic vehicles to date.
“We try to share the story of our cars and their past owners,” says Lam. “How did they get it? How did the new owner find it? And how do they repair her? It’s really interesting.”
Bumblebee, for example, was once owned by the family that brought the American fast-food chain McDonald’s to Macao. Another car in the club, a 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle, was found – like Bumblebee – in an underground auto shop in Macao. The Beetle was in terrible shape, so its new owner sent the car to Hong Kong to be restored by a famous ‘Beetle master’ who rebuilt the car. Lam says parts were sourced from a ‘sister’ Beetle in Wales, and “just like that, a beautiful car is back.”
Today, electric or hybrid vehicles are taking over the city. Lam, who actually drives a modern Mazda CX-5 in his day-to-day life (you need good air conditioning in Macao), is even considering buying a Tesla. But that won’t stop him from collecting iconic, older vehicles. “They make me feel whole,” he says. “If we take good care of them, and keep them running, they bring us a lot more memories.”