Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Please Judge a Book by Its Cover

I was sorting through my folders and found this story I wrote 50 weeks ago.

I have been, and will continue being in the near future, busy with assignments, essays, reports, presentations and the like. As a consequence, updates will be sparse. Hopefully not as sparse as the moon's evergreen forests.

And on to the 50-week old story.


Please Judge a Book by Its Cover
Tan Yee Wei

I had been promoted to the position of human resources director for the firm. With that came a healthy increase of my purchasing power. Since I could afford it, I decided to upgrade from my Honda Accord.

While the Honda had been reliable, economical and generally fuss free, it did not have the aura of magnificence I felt I deserve. What I wanted was a Mercedes Benz S class… S500 if I had the money, but an S350 would suffice nicely. I called a dealer for a price quote on a new S350L. “That would be upwards of 760 thousand Ringgit, depending on your options,” a cheery voice told me. I gasped a bit, and asked, “760 thousand?” “Well, it depends. You might want to add on a sun roof, metallic paint, air suspension, run-flat tyres, full leather trim, 7 speed automatic gearbox… and that would come to,” there was a pause as I heard a calculator being punched rapidly. Either there were many digits, or he was giving me a lot of discounts. I decided that it was more likely the first option, and hung up before I had a chance to hear the figure. “Shit.”

But I need an S class!

Then I suddenly remembered part time consultant that did odd little miscellaneous jobs. Perhaps he might have a solution to this. I went to my store of business cards, and searched through them, slowly. To my amusement, I found lots of other people I had forgotten about. Assassins, drug dealers, pimps, gardeners, debt collectors… I proceeded through the stack, with lots of other ‘services’ available, but not what I wanted. Finally the last one looked like it. It was facing down. I took it, and slowly turned it around…

Mr. Tan Yee Wei


“Yes!” I called and arranged an appointment through his secretary.

On the pre-arranged date, I turned up at his office. It was well lit by sunlight through a window, its intensity diffused by an array of shutter blinds. A few articles of beautifully polished large metal parts were displayed on a side desk. He later told me these were “a clutch diaphragm spring from my mother’s Toyota Prado, a front disc brake rotor from my father’s Mercedes E280 and what I presume to be a cam timing gear from a Honda.”

I told him my problem. It took 3 minutes. He asked question. And more questions. It took 3 hours.

Finally, he declared, “I see the problem. I think I know what to do. Would be 300 thousand for a car be fine? Good. I’ll start seeing what I can do.”

After 2 weeks, he called me. “I found a car for sale. Used S280 going for 260k, excellently cared for. Just the right colour too…black! The seller is holding on to see if you are interested.” He outlined his plan:

Black is just right. It’s a 280, but we can easily replace its tag with a S350 tag. This car is from 2000 or 2001, so its little details would be different from that of a newer model. What changed the most would be the front and rear lights, side skirts, front and rear bumpers. For the lights and bumpers, we would get original Mercedes Benz replacement parts. We’re almost done making it look brand new, except for the bottom trimmings.

The side skirt it a bit of abnormality. There’s a strip of dull black paint all along the bottom edges of the side skirts and bumpers. This makes the car look higher up in the air than it actually is. I think the black strip acts as a barrier to accidental scratches, in case anyone manages to scratch the black strip with a bad parking job or anything, no one will notice it. We’ll remove that barrier. You just make sure your driver takes good care. We’ll use fully coloured and better styled skirts all round the car. They will be a tad bit lower, but look a lot lower because there’s no more of that black strip business.

Rims. We’ll need aftermarket rims. 21 inches are huge. They’ll fit in just about ok, but there will be too little clearance to do any suspension tweaks. Besides, they cost a fortune, the ultra low profile tyres cost a fortune, and the combined result is 2 fortunes and an uncomfortable ride. I would recommend 18 inches. Then, you’ll have some clearance left to lower the suspension. Just a little bit lower. We don’t want to be scraping the road. What we want is to hint that the car is sleeker than the other S without being overly obvious how. Also, before lowering, your wheel fits in the wheel arch evenly. Lower it a bit and it starts to disappear behind the metal at the top. That makes the wheel look nice and big, while not being obnoxiously huge. Since the car is a black one, plain silver rims would do nicely.

Next, we go to the last bit- the exhaust pipe. Get a polished chrome AMG pair to complement the black paint. You might consider adding an AMG logo on the boot lid just to show off.

Now, it will look like a million Ringgit- 3 times what you paid for!

Here’s your shopping list- Mercedes Benz S280 (RM 260000); skirting, rims, OEM lights, exhaust pipe, suspension tuning kit, S350 tag, labour to install.

I got the car as advised, and made the modifications. It started off a worn car from the turn of the century. After a week of work, it became a gleaming new work of art. When I drove it to my son’s school for the first time, students pointed and chattered. I basked in the reflected beauty of my million Ringgit car, the image of my success, and the genius of my consultant Yee Wei.

I feel good.