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Classic cars: Restoring a rare Rolls-Royce

From 1975 to 1986, Rolls-Royce made 530 units of the Camargue coupe - its most advanced model at the time and its costliest project.

Mr Patrick Saurini says the 1975 Camargue coupe was a chance find while he was working in Hong Kong

Four years ago, when Mr Patrick Saurini was working in Hong Kong, he came across a rare Rolls-Royce called the Camargue.

From 1975 to 1986, Rolls-Royce made 530 units of the Camargue coupe – its most advanced model at the time and its costliest project. The car was designed by Paolo Martin of Italian design house Pininfarina.

“Here was No. 29 sitting in a garage at my friend’s place near the border of Shenzhen, China. It was love at first sight and I had to have it,” Mr Saurini, 45, recalls.

No. 29 was a 1975 car and had 73,700km on its odometer. Mr Saurini says its 250hp, 6.75-litre V8 fires up with just one turn of the key – every time.

The Bank of Singapore managing director of global families and private investment companies does not wish to say how much he paid for the car, which he imported here and registered as a classic last December.

A classic car attracts lower taxes, but can be used only 45 days a year. For other day-to-day commutes, Mr Saurini, who is Italian, says he prefers to take the MRT.

Married with no children, the private banker says he found the “best restorer of Rolls-Royces in Singapore” and that the car has “mostly been in restoration” since it arrived.

“There are still small details to complete, but it is already magnificent.”

Even though the Camargue is “the ultimate combination of British luxury and Italian styling”, Mr Saurini says “the British did not appreciate it when it was launched in 1975 – but I do”.

With its low roofline and small greenhouse, the car looks a little like the modern Rolls-Royce Wraith.

He says: “I look for driving pleasure, engine sound, bold design, history and feats of engineering. The Camargue intrigues me because it was one of the first to have climate control in 1975.”

He remembers the moment he got excited about cars: “It was in 1979 when my dad took me out in his new light-blue Lancia Beta (a premium coupe made by Fiat-owned Lancia about 40 years ago).

“My first car was a Renault 18. It didn’t matter that it was probably the ugliest car around. It meant I had the freedom to go anywhere.”

He acquired a taste for classic cars after watching old James Bond movies and a 1970s television series called The Persuaders. Screen cars such as the Aston Martin DB4, Aston Martin DBS and Ferrari Dino ignited a passion in the young boy growing up in Milan.

“Also, on the streets of central Milan on weekends, enthusiasts would drive and parade the most stunning sports cars for all to see,” he adds.

Mr Saurini says the first classic car he bought was a Porsche 964 convertible. “This is when I learnt that there isn’t a more expensive car than a cheap classic,” he says with a laugh, recounting costly-to-fix problems such as a failed retractable roof and a drenched interior.

In his spare time, he likes to play polo at the Singapore Polo Club.

But now that the Camargue is in almost mint condition, he wants to set aside time for long road trips – perhaps to Thailand.

This article was originally published in The Straits Times.