Singapore
Page creation 04/04/2012, revision 15/11/2014
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Citroen's history in Singapore is intimately linked to the Chan family, and most particularly to
Lye Choon, the famous racer. He and his brother Lye Huat inherited the Citroen agency from
their father in 1950, and he and his brother Lye Huat became known as the "Citroen brothers"
when they started to win local races at the wheel of Tractions and DS.
   
Chan Lye Choon
standing next to the first
DS19 imported to
Singapore by his Citroen
agency, The Eastern
Auto Co., Ltd. At the
wheel, possibly Freddie
Pope, founder of the
Singapore Motor Club,
who reportedly had his
own desk at Eastern
Auto (press photo dated
11 July 1956, Singapore
Press Holdings).
But let's start with a little bit of history. The first
mention of Citroen in the local press is a July
1920 advertisement for the "10HP" model, by
"the sole agent and importer for Straits
Settlements, F.M.S. and Siam, Malcolm
Beranger". A French businessman originally
established in Siam (today's Thailand), Mr
Beranger started later that same year another
company in Singapore, called "International
Motors", for the purpose of expanding the auto
importing business, and expanded his portfolio
to other brands such as Sunbeam, Renault,
Studebaker, Berliet and several others. But the
company was sold in 1922, then liquidated in
1923, and Mr Beranger eventually returned to
Siam, in 1931.

Meanwhile, in October, 1921, another company,
named "The Eastern Auto Company", was
established by Tan Teck Yew and Chan Swee
Hong, two men who had been working for
Wearnes, the local Ford importer. By the end of
the following year they had acquired the Citroen
representation rights for the Straits Settlements
and F.M.S. (The Straits Settlements and  
Federated Malay States were British territories
and protectorates in today's Malaysia). Tan
Teck Yew later left and created his own auto
business, "Singapore Motors", for the purpose
of importing Opel vehicles, leaving Chan Swee
Hong alone at the helm of Eastern Auto.      
   
Above: the first-ever Citroen advertisement in the
Singaporean press, for the "10HP" model, "the car that
never grows old" (17 July 1920, Straits Times).

Below : a notice announcing the establishment of "The
Eastern Auto Company" by Tan Teck Yew and Chan
Swee Hong as "Motor Engineers and Importers, etc" (1st
October 1921, Singapore Free Press).
Left: Chan Swee Hong (1890-1950), co-founder of Eastern Auto (doc
Shane Lim, undated).

Below: Eastern Auto advertises for the Slough (UK)-made 12.1 HP, "best
value for money product yet put on the road". Branches are mentioned in
Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang (30 June 1927, Straits Times).
Swee Hong and his wife Maria had
four sons:

- Lye Soon, who, like his father,
was a comprador at the French
Indochina Bank. He was not to be
involved in the Eastern Auto
business, but his son Lionel was
engaged in car racing, until his
tragic death during a Grand Prix in
1972.
- Lye Huat, who was sent for
training in the UK as a mechanic at
the auto company Armstrong,
became the Workshop Manager at
Eastern Auto. He also raced cars,
but was quickly eclipsed by younger
and more flamboyant brother Lye
Choon. He left Eastern Auto in
1956 or 1957.
- Lye Choon, a.k.a. LC Chan, took
over the management of Eastern
Auto when their father passed away
in 1950. He liked to race fast cars,
and became famous when he won
the 1958 Macao Grand Prix at the
wheel of his Aston Martin DB3S.
His son Colin also worked at
Eastern Auto.
- Lye Koon, who worked as an
accountant at Eastern Auto. His son
David has a garage today and he is
also engaged in preparing cars for
racing, together with his own son
Brian.     
Left: Aston Martin and Lagonda, two exclusive British auto brands, have been
added to the portfolio of Eastern Auto. They did not sell, but Lye Choon wanted
to be able to race them (23 October 1954, Singapore Free Press).

Above: The Eastern Auto Co., Ltd on Orchard Road in 1959. There was a  
showroom, with enough space for a few cars, a shop for spare parts,  a gas
pump. The workshop was accessed from the back. In 1961 the agency had to
be moved to a smaller location, on Clemenceau Avenue just across the corner
(press photo dated 4 May 1959, Singapore Press Holdings)
Above: Swee Hong's wife Maria Chow, who came from Annam (in
today's Vietnam), in front of a Citroen (doc Shane Lim, undated)

Below: Lye Huat proudly takes the pose in front of his Traction,
presumably after winning a local race (doc Eli Solomon, undated).
Lye Huat and Lye Chan started racing
cars around 1950, and quickly became
known as the "Citroen Brothers" in the
local motoring scene, although they
were not the only ones to use Citroen's
"go-anywhere" Tractions. The popular
events were mainly economy runs
(sponsored by oil companies such as
Shell or Mobil), gymkhanas, rallies and
hill climbs. More than the car's
technical abilities, it was more the
racer's capacity to prepare cars
properly, including by using various
tricks to circumvent the lax regulations
(hidden extra gas tank for instance),
that could make the difference. But Lye
Choon liked fast cars, and in order to
race them, he quickly added the Aston
Martin and Lagonda brands to the
Eastern Auto portfolio.    
Above: a local racing event, with Lye Huat standing next to a 2CV, on
these two undated documents. The S68-registered Traction is still
reportedly in Singapore to this day. (Shane Lim).
Above right: Eastern Auto celebrates the victory of a 106,000 miles,
6-year old Citroen in the Shell Motor Rally, at the hand of A. Brazier
and P.H. Stewart, both members of the Perak Motor Club (15
January 1956, Straits Times).
Below: Lye Choon's Traction, photographed during the "Gapp Hill
Climb" organized in Singapore on October 24th, 1954. He won the
event in the "Saloon and Tourer" class. ("Citroenian" January 1955,
doc Brian Drummond).      
In 1956, less than one year after the car's
sensational introduction at the Paris Motor Show
in October 1955, Lye Choon finally managed to
import one DS19, the "car of the future for the roads
of today", as claimed by the advertisement splashed
in the local newspaper. This very first Singaporean
DS was kept by Lye Choon for his own usage; the
number "S 200", being short and starting with an
"S" as in "Singapore", is in fact quite typical of him,
as his descendants told me.    
Above left: First announcement of the
"sensational new Citroen DS19 "2 litre",
the "car of the future for the roads of
today", to be presented to the public at
Singapore's very first Motor Show
(4 July 1956, Straits Times).

Above right: another press photo of this
first DS19, dated July 11, 1956
(Singapore Press Holdings).

Left: a view of the 1956 Singapore Motor
Show, with "seen in the foreground, the
new Citroen, a neat perfectly streamlined
job" writes the journalist (Straits Times,
8 July 1956).
Right: Several months later, the DS19 is soon to be made
available to the Singaporean buyers, who are advised by
Eastern Auto to "book now to avoid disappointment" (25
March 1957, Straits Times).

Above and below: Motor journalist Graham Short, in an
exhaustive and very positive evaluation of the DS19,
indicates that "only 3 have trickled in Singapore so far". His
article also features these two press photos, dated May
7th, 1956 (Singapore Press Holdings)
Lye Choon wasted no time and engaged his
DS19, then an ID19, which he started to
import in 1958, in local races. For the first
one,  the Malayan Mobilgas Economy Run,
he hoped the car's unique hydraulic system
would enable him to "cruise along flooded
roads without any handicap". The race, held
in April, 1958, was ironically cancelled
because of heavy rain.  
Above left: the first participation of a DS in a race in Singapore / Malaya. Lye Choon "hopes for rain", as the car's unique
hydraulic system might give him an advantage on flooded roads (3 April 1958, Singapore Free Press).
Above right: Driving the new ID19, "unquestionably the car with a character", is "like driving on clouds" (12 October 1958,
Straits Times).

Below left: Lye Choon in his DS19 during the Mobilgas event; but curiously the car does not have the same body colour
as in the previously mentioned news article ("Citroenian" May 1958, doc Brian Drummond)
Below right: Lye Choon during the "Princess Elizabeth Estate Sprint". He came second to an Alfa Romeo (cover of
"Citroenian" September 1958, doc Rex Carkeek).
Above left: at the hands of New-Zealander Rex Carkeek (standing on the left, with the binoculars), Lye Choon's own ID19
finished 5th in the 1958 Macao Grand Prix "support" saloon race, while Lye Choon (with the garland) won instant
international fame by winning the Grand Prix itself at the wheel of his Aston Martin DB3S ("Citroenian", January 1959, doc
Brian Drummond).

Above right: "Mister Macao" Lye Choon's ID19 at the finishing line of the 1959 Malayan Mobilgas Economy Run, where he
came second in his class and overall. He sent this photo to the British Citroen Club, of which he was a member. Several
other drivers engaged a DS or an ID in local races in those years and up to around 1960 ("Citroenian" May 1959, doc Brian
Drummond).  
These press photos demonstrate
the ID's hydraulic suspension
very efficiently. The small badge
at the front indicates Lye Choon's
membership in the British Racing
Drivers' Club. He was said to be
the first non-Caucasion admitted
in this very elitist club, following
his victory in Macao (April 1960,
Singapore Press Holdings)  
The "station wagon" version of the ID was
road-tested by local journalists in September
of 1960, and made available for sales the
following year. It almost did not sell in
Singapore.
Above: an ad for the "station wagon
ID19" details the proven qualities of the
car (7 Aug 1961, Straits Times).
A first model had been shown to
journalists almost one year earlier (3
press photos on the right, September
1960, Singapore Press Holdings).
Left: On this 1961
ad, Eastern Auto
shows a new
address on
Clemenceau
Avenue, just around
the corner near
Orchard Road, in a
much smaller
space; and the
address of a
workshop on Valley
River Road (26
September 1961,
Straits Times).

Right: The newly
introduced Ami 6 is
added to the range.
Another sub-agent
is added, in
Trengganu (14
August 1962,
Straits Times).  

Below left: The
1965 model of the
ID19 is "still in the
popular shape"...
(12 May 1965,
Straits Times).

Below right:  the
new DS21 is "fast,
safe and
comfortable", in
this 1966 ad (12
January 1966,
Straits Times)
Although exact numbers are not known, it is
clear that the DS did not meet real success in
Singapore and Malaya. It is also evident that
Lye Choon was more interested in the good
life and in racing that in running a business,
and by 1967 it came close to bankruptcy.
We will see in the 2nd part of this story how
another businessman, Henry Ang, tried to
revive the brand.
See
Many thanks to Chan family members David Chan and Shane Lim, to former racer and Lye
Choon friend Rex Carkeek, to Citroen UK Club Chairman Brian Drummond and to
Singaporean vintage car magazine "Rewind" editor Eli Solomon, for kindly sharing their
valuable documents and memories. Singapore Press Holdings documents and Singapore
news archives are used with permission. All rights reserved, and they seem serious about it.  
here
In what was essentially a British market, Citroen quickly eclipsed the other brands. In 1928,
leaving behind Morris Conley, Fiat, Erskine, Chevrolet, Ford, Overland and Morris Oxford,
Citroen was the best selling automotive brand, with 54 cars sold during the first five months
of the year ! (L'Eveil Economique de l'Indochine, 2 Dec 1928).