“Ehhh, what lake is he taking us to hah,” exclaims Rohanis, the New Straits Times photographer who’s seated in the passenger seat next to me, her hands wrapped tightly around her equipment like a worried new mother. Seeing her valiant efforts to steady herself as I weave my Proton around bends and whizz down the motorway in my frantic attempts to keep pace with mechanic Engku Mohammad Hadri Engku Hassan (or Hadri) make me chuckle. “Taiping Lake Gardens kot (maybe),” I retort in response and we both break into peals of laughter.
The plan, hatched in the NST’s humble canteen more than half an hour earlier, had been for the 34-year-old, who’s soon to embark on an epic drive across 24 countries in his classic Toyota Corolla Ae86 Sprinter Trueno, to lead us to the sprawling Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens (also called Tun Abdul Razak Heritage Park) for our special photoshoot.
It was agreed that we’d trail behind his car until he’d found the perfect spot somewhere in the folds of the 227-acre gardens for our session. Instead, here we are staring at a looming signboard that reads: Seremban.
‘Seremban?” shrieks Rohanis, an expression of horror etched on her agitated face. “Dia ni sesat la (he’s lost),” she mutters before watching in stunned silence as the Toyota driven by Hadri disappears into another lane. “Now where the hell is he?” I mumble, eyes trained on the snaking line in front of me.
And then… from the corner of my eye, the sight of the familiar white Toyota looms into view as it attempts to flit into the same line as mine. “Bingo!” I exclaim before reaching for my handphone and rapidly dialling Hadri’s number. “Pull up at the next turning please Hadri. We’re taking over!” I bark into the phone before ending the call and picking up speed to lead the way.
“How la he’s going to drive around the world? KL pun dah sesat (Even in KL he’s lost),” remarks Rohanis, casting a mischievous glance at me. The roar of laughter that ensued and permeated my humble Proton for the rest of our journey was testament to our relief that we weren’t going to find ourselves at the Taiping Lake Gardens after all!
ON A MISSION
“Ha ha, no la Kak, I don’t know what happened with Waze but I did type in Lake Gardens!” exclaims Hadri as we alight from our respective cars in a pleasant albeit modest park somewhere in Cheras. The winding pathways coupled with abundant greenery make this hidden gem the perfect backdrop for our photoshoot.
“Awak jangan sesat pulak nanti bila pergi expedisi tu (don’t you be getting yourself lost on that expedition),” pipes Rohanis to the sheepish-looking Hadri before motioning for him to follow her to a spot that she has selected for the shoot. “That one I’m well prepared for,” replies the motorsport enthusiast, his good-natured chuckles reverberating in the stillness of the morning.
Hadri, who developed a love for cars from the age of 9, and had his first taste of driving at the age of 10 in his father’s Peugeot 305, is a man with a mission. In less than two weeks, he, along with two friends, Abdul Rahman Khalid, 33, who will serve as the main mechanic, and Nur Sharmila Khalid, 38, the “co-pilot”, will be traversing across 24 countries in Hadri’s beloved Toyota Corolla Ae86, covering a distance of more than 25,000km, for the Retro Havoc World Motorsport Tour, which Hadri had proudly confided to me earlier, is his brainchild.
Retro Havoc – the event – founded by Rosli Mohamad Said or Alie Kuoppa, is an annual gathering of retro cars as well as the “retro future”, which brings together participants from as far afield as Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei. Hadri has been helping to run this popular Malaysian event, which is now in its seventh year.
Meanwhile, the purpose of Hadri’s own exciting expedition, which is targeted to conclude in Germany, before the onset of winter, i.e. sometime in October, is primarily to promote the Retro Havoc brand itself. Through this, he will also indirectly promote Malaysia and our automotive culture, in addition to establishing a network between the different automotive groups around the world.
In the course of his expedition, sponsored by Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, F Tuned Racing Suspension: Roaming Man, RezaAutopart and several other companies, the 34-year-old will be “burning the rubber” at a number of notable world-wide racing circuits, including Thailand’s Buriram International Circuit, Silverstone in the UK, Francorchamps Spa Circuit in Belgium, and of course, the legendary Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit, one of the longest, most tradition-steeped, and challenging race tracks in the world.
Oh, and there’s one more thing that the car-mad Hadri will be doing as the ultimate icing on the cake: He’s finally tying the knot with his 30-year-old German/Turkish girlfriend of 10 years – in style!
ROUTE TO LOVE
Photoshoot over, Hadri ambles over with the easy gait of an athlete to where I’m sat under the lush canopy of a huge tree. He’s all smiles, the morning “drama” obviously far behind him.
Enthusiastically, Hadri, the fifth of eight siblings, launches into his romantic tale the moment I probe about THAT element of his expedition.
His eyes dance as he recalls how it all started. “I was working in Abu Dhabi, where my sister was at the time. It was 2008 and I was doing something in interior fit-out. But my stint there lasted only a year and a half despite the contract being for three years. The economy was bad and I was among those retrenched by the company.”
During his time there, he connected with his now-fiancee through the social networking site, Friendster. Shares Hadri: “We communicated every day until eventually I made the decision to go and meet her.”
It was Nur Sharmila (his co-pilot for the upcoming expedition) who was responsible for taking the love-struck Hadri to Europe for his big “rendezvous”. “Sharmila had studied in the UK and was familiar with Europe. She was the design manager in the company that I worked at. After I got retrenched, we decided to make the trip. It was my first time to Europe.”
In Germany, Hadri finally came face to face with the lady who had hitherto just been a faceless chat companion. “I was there for seven days,” he recalls, adding: “We became acquainted and by the end of the seven days, I knew I’d fallen in love! From then on, our long distance relationship started. We’d Skype each other every day, I’d go and visit her once a year, and I grew close to the family too.”
It was in 2015 that Hadri, now back in Malaysia, finally took his parents to meet Derya Suzan, the German/Turkish lass who’d captured his heart. Talks of an engagement ensued and of course, marriage. “But we couldn’t lock down a date for a wedding due to many reasons, one of which was financial,” he confides.
The following year, the ambitious young man, together with some partners, went on to open a big auto workshop and anticipation was high that business would be good. His voice low, Hadri confides: “Unfortunately, we were beset by many issues; it wasn’t long after that we were informed that our workshop had to be demolished to make way for something else. I received no compensation and of course, I was devastated. It was really a tough period.”
Fortunately, the blanket of grey eventually lifted and Hadri got his life back on track again. “When everything was finally settled, I had a new resolve: I wanted to marry my fiancée and I wasn’t going to wait anymore.” The wedding is scheduled for Nov 2, 2019.
But there was no way that Hadri was going down the conventional route. A flight to Germany would have been the painless way. But no, a special milestone warranted a unique approach. Hadri decided that he’d DRIVE all the way to his lady love – regardless of the challenges. Beaming widely, Hadri, whose other passions include travelling and animals, declares: “I love my car, I love to drive and of course, I love my fiancée. What better way to do this than to have all the elements combined?”
Suffice to say, a monumental undertaking requires some meticulous planning. Hadri, whose first car was an old Mini which he purchased for RM300 at the age of 16 had initially wanted to travel with two cars – his Toyota Corolla Ae86 and a Toyota HiAce (van) as the back-up vehicle. But the idea had to be abandoned due to budget constraints. “That’s when I decided that there’d only be one car – the one I’m driving, and I’d have my two friends with me.”
Asked whether he’s feeling the jitters at all as the big adventure draws nearer, Hadri replies: “Perhaps 10 per cent is scared. Otherwise, I feel good. I know my car inside out, I’m an experienced driver, and at the end of the day, I’m headed for a “good” thing – I’m going to get married. I’m confident God will bless this journey!”
That said, he acknowledges that there’ll be plenty of challenges to overcome but he remains buoyed, something he credits to his “water-tight” itinerary and preparations. Sharing his plans, he elaborates: “I plan to drive between 300 and 400km a day, depending on situation and where we are. Fuel-wise, my car can last for about 500+ km at any one time. If we come to a place that doesn’t have anything much, I’ll continue on with the journey.”
Their expedition will be flagged off from the tourism office in Putrajaya on August 9 and will continue across Thailand, Laos, China, Mongolia, Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Czechia, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany, Holland, Belgium and France.
Smiling, Hadri, who admits that the furthest he’s gone in his car is to Bukit Kayu Hitam, by the Malaysia-Thailand border, shares that he’s particularly looking forward to passing through the challenging terrains of Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of northern China, with its parched forests and yurt-strewn grasslands.
Eyes shining, Hadri confides that he was inspired to undertake this particular route thanks to a friend who’d done the same thing (in 2017) albeit in a Volkswagen Combi. “He’s been giving me invaluable tips. I already know 50 per cent of what to expect; the other 50 per cent I’m looking forward to discovering myself.”
Suddenly, swivelling to face me, he asks: “Have you heard of the Gobi Desert?” I nod slowly, a hazy image of the vast arid region seen from the pages of travel books swirling in my mind. However, my perplexed expression only serves to prompt Hadri to continue: “That’s going to be a memorable crossing. There are dunes, mountains and rare animals. The terrain is very challenging – 500/600km of virtually nothing!”
Adding, Hadri, who’ll have in his car, in addition to his passengers, his tools, spare parts, camera equipment, and personal belongings, continues: “Laos and Russia will be tough too. The road surface is so bad. In China, it’s compulsory for us to engage a tour guide and we have to follow their itinerary for 16 days. As long as I arrive in Germany before winter, all will be fine as the Nurburgring track will be closed if I get there any later.”
All the advanced planning, confides Hadri, had commenced more than a year ago and was undertaken together with his father. “My dad was the one who did the bulk of the research,” says the seasoned classic car race driver, pride in his voice. Doesn’t he want to come with you, I ask. Hadri shakes his head, replying: “He’s 72 already! We know that this will be a tough expedition so I guess it’s not ideal. That said, dad is very supportive of my plans and wishes me the best.”
The journey will see Hadri behind the steering wheel all the way – unless he’s sick. And to keep them company in the car? “Music!” he exclaims before confiding that as there’s no radio in the car, he’ll just ensure that he downloads at least 10,000 songs into his MP3! “Actually, seeing the landscape, stopping to take photos, and chatting with each other will be enough to keep us entertained!”
The minutes tick and recalling that he has another appointment to rush to after our session, I ask Hadri about his fascination for classic cars. He’s swift to explain, saying: “Those who love classic cars are purists. With old cars, you can really appreciate the design and developments from era to era. The car I’m driving now is truly iconic; it’s a drifting legend!”
What’s next after this expedition, I blurt out, again eyes travelling to my watch. What’s the ultimate dream? “I want to write a book… about my life journey and passion. Now that would be another great ride!” concludes Hadri, eyes shining at the thought of a new adventure.
Follow Hadri’s journey at www.ae86tour.my