TALES FROM THE FAR EAST – Beyond just a Spyder

A few years ago, my friend David Wong, now sadly departed, handed me a box of slides, all that he had of his father Richard Wong Wai Hong’s racing days. There weren’t many slides, and just a couple of prints in the box. Most of them were of his father on business trips, but there were a few of cars at their family home. It took me ages before I got down to scanning them…a Mini, a 911 on chassis stands, a Porsche 906 with tail on a trailer and body in the driveway, a broken 906 engine, an elderly white guy with a camera by the Singapore River. 

Wait a second! What’s a photo of a white guy by the Singapore River doing in the Richard Wong collection? And what a familiar moustache he has. Hang on! I boosted the scanner setting to maximum, made a cup of coffee and waited as the machine strained at 9,600 dpi. Totally unnecessary, but this was too important a slide to scan at 300 dpi. When the machine completed its task, I loaded the image on my Mac and waited as a sharp picture appeared. Voilà! Richard Wong was Singapore’s racing Baron and the man in the slide, I was certain, was Porsche’s then racing director, The Racing Baron himself, Huschke von Hanstein [Huschke von Hanstein – The Racing Baron by Tobias Aichele, Könemann Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 1999].

Huschke von Hanstein, German race driver, Porsche’s PR manager, Chief of Porsche’s racing department in the 1960s and an avid photographer, in Singapore in the late 1960s.

David tragically passed away but that scan has lingered in my mind. There was no way to establish why Huschke von Hanstein was in Singapore or when the photo was taken without speculation. At a Le Mans Classic race meeting I met von Hanstein’s nephew who was racing a Jaguar E-Type Coupe. It wasn’t the sort of hook that starts a futile quest to find out the answer, but it was sufficient for me to revisit my notes and try to understand what The Racing Baron was doing in Singapore.

We knew the facts. Richard Wong was both a racer and team owner. Wong Wai Hong Racing Organisation was established in 1965 and consisted of two Hong Kong drivers and himself. Better known as the man who once offered to donate a West German-made one-man submarine to Singapore, Wong had sponsored Albert Poon to victory in the 1965 Grand Prix in Singapore in a Lotus 23B, the very car that his son David tracked down and reacquired from Australia a few years ago. Albert Poon didn’t call his friend “The Wallet” without basis.

Richard Wong backs his 906 in the Paddock of the Upper Thomson Road Circuit in 1969 as Mazda’s mechanics look in awe.
The 906 in action in the 1969 Singapore Grand Prix.

Richard Wong was keen to promote the local Grand Prix by enticing established drivers from Australia to attend. He came into contact with Australia Porsche distributor Alan Hamilton in the course of his quest. Hamilton had a very successful Porsche Carrera 906 Spyder (chassis 007) lying around. A deal was struck – S$42,000 changed hands and Hamilton was engaged to race the car in Singapore in 1968, but a last minute call-up by the Porsche works team in Stuttgart meant that its new Singaporean owner was tasked with racing the 906 himself.

Young David Wong with the 906 behind him.

The local press said the Porsche would “walk away” with a win against the Brabhams, Coopers and Lotus entered in the Grand Prix. Not quite, though it made for good print. Albert Poon did some quick laps in practice, but in the race with Wong driving, the 2-litre flat-six blew up. It was stuffed into a box and off it went to Porsche for a rebuild, with directions that it ought to be back in Singapore before Christmas to make the National Championship at Batu Tiga at the end of December.

One blown 906 2-litre flat-six more.
Batu Tiga for the Sports & GT race in 1969 showing Malcolm Ramsay in the Elfin 300B with Richard Wong and his Porsche 906 Spyder sandwiching a Lotus 23B.

Shipping delays thwarted Wong’s hopes. The car’s local history has already been well documented in previous issues of Rewind. Wong raced it in 1969 in Singapore and Selangor, by which time the car was starting to look pretty tired. By  1971, the car belonged to Hong Kong tycoon Teddy Yip as Wong had other pressing matters to take care of. It made a cameo appearance in Singapore for one final time – in the hands of Yip for the Sports and GT race of the 1973 Singapore Grand Prix but by and large, has always been associated with Dr Henry Lee, Teddy Yip and the Macau Grand Prix museum.

Dr Henry Lee with the 906 in Macau.

So what was Huschke von Hanstein doing in Singapore? I think the photo was taken in 1968 after a young Ferdinand Piëch assumed control of Porsche’s racing activities. The Baron took a backseat and took on special assignments for Professor Dr. “Ferry” Porsche. The Hamilton 906 made its debut in Singapore in 1968. Not long after, Wong offered the Singapore Government the gift of a 4-metre-long West German single-seater steel submarine. Wong had business interests in Europe and was seen as an industrialist. It doesn’t answer the question of what the Baron was doing in Singapore and the local media didn’t catch on to his visit.

Dr Henry Lee with the 906 on second row for the 1971 Macau Grand Prix . The car to the left is John Macdonald’s Brabham B10 (see Costin’s Mule) and to John’s left is Australian Garrie Cooper in his Elfin 600.

There was a rumour told to me by a very reliable source a number of years ago. Did Richard Wong really have a factory 917 that was never assembled and had been hidden away in Europe?

Written by Eli Solomon

The 906 today.
Rewind Magazine’s feature on the Bonhams sale of the featured Porsche 906, Issue 008, October 2011.

This article first appeared in Rewind Magazine Issue 031, November 2016. The same car was offered at Bonhams a couple of years earlier and was also featured in Rewind Magazine – Rewind 008, October 2011. This article has been edited and additional images have been included for this online edition.

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