Toyota Camrys? A dime a dozen. Lexus SUVs? Yawn. Give us power. Give us speed. The Post goes inside the garages of those who own those certain cars that turn everyone’s heads as they cruise the capital. By Bennet Murray and Julius Thiemann.
Mercedes-Benz luxury cars are relatively rare in Cambodia. Yet, local businessman Heng Samnang managed to track down this international icon of luxury.
“I love Mercedes,” says Heng Samnang, who owns a pest control company in Phnom Penh.
“Some like BMW, some like Benz, some they like Lexus. For me, I like Benz. If you compare the same year, there is more luxury.”
Last year, Samnang paid $13,000, including taxes and shipping costs, to import a 1998 Mercedes SLK230 convertible sports car from the United States. For Samnang, importing a Mercedes from the dealerships in Thailand or Vietnam would not do.
“In Thailand, they use right-hand-drive and in Vietnam they are double the price.”
Samnang says he only occasionally drives his Mercedes.
“Normally, I drive it in the evening,” says Samnang, explaining that is not much fun to drive a convertible around Phnom Penh in slow moving traffic in the daytime heat.
To service the car, he uses a trusted mechanic in Phnom Penh.
“Only my good friend, a local guy.”
Getting spare parts, however, is not easy.
“There are very little spare parts in Cambodia. Some I import from the USA, some common parts I get local second-hand.”
Samnang will not own his Mercedes for much longer, however, as he hopes to upgrade to a Mercedes SL Edition 50. However, he said that he would like to upgrade much higher in the future.
“If I could import any sports car, I would prefer a Lamborghini or Ferrari.”
If you are interested in buying Samnang’s Mercedes, contact him at (+855) 17 66 66 18.
The sleek Mercedes SLR, at $600,000 the most expensive car in the collection. Photograph: Vireak Mai/7Days
On Sothearos Boulevard, a glass building shimmers in the afternoon sun. What looks like a car showroom is actually the private garage for a luxury fleet belonging to a single man.
According to the manager, Channa Heng, they belong to Srey Chanthorn, 33, the vice chairman of real estate company 7NG.
Inside are seven cars: a cream-coloured Hummer with chrome rims, a red Ferrari, a black Mercedes with lowered chassis. In the middle lies a saucy little black Smart Roadster.
Three men pull back a thin film that protects the paint job on a white Porsche Boxster. Another man with a big glittering earring, a canary yellow hoodie, and beige Crocs gives orders while he smokes a cigarette. It’s Tomz Dalton of the Indonesian car tune-up TV show, The White Magician.
The host of the Indonesian version of Pimp My Ride has been flown into Cambodia to work on Srey’s car. He knows and appreciates his clientele: “We only work for people that don’t care about money – it’s too expensive for the rest.”
For $30,000 the Porsche gets an AQ engine that boosts the car to a 750 horsepower and a top speed of 320 kilometres per hour.
Phnom Penh’s streets are as dusty as the Sahara but Srey chose white for his Boxster nonetheless. But he doesn’t need to worry about dirt on his bodywork.
“All cars are polished every morning,” Heng, who is in charge of the showroom, says. Two car polishers are hired to keep cars shiny at all times.
According to Heng, Srey comes to pick a car for a ride once or twice a week, sometimes with friends or his girlfriend. Then he’ll go for a ride in Phnom Penh, sometimes driving to
Sihanoukville. His favourite is the red Ferrari ($380,000) – the only one of its kind in Cambodia. Maybe that is why Srey’s Ferarri doesn’t need number plates – although most cars in the showroom don’t have them either.
To avoid crashes that could mark the car’s flawless exterior, Srey only travels in the centre of an armada of four motorbikes ridden by his bodyguards. They make sure the roads stay clear. What use would all the horsepower have if the roads were blocked? A total of 800 families used to live in the place where his garage is now. They were evicted in 2009 when 7NG got hold of the land. Srey could not be reached for a comment.
Fiat coupe 16V
Against all odds, a Fiat Coupè 16V Turbo from the early 1990s has found its way to Phnom Penh.
“It is the only one of its kind in Cambodia,” says car salesman Bun Lay, who is the Fiat’s principle driver. Lay insists that the car is a 1992 model, despite the fact the car was not launched until late 1993.
“Everywhere, they always look at it and say the car looks nice,” says Lay.
“It’s a little bumpy, but very strong.”
Lay saysthat the sports car is an eye catcher around Phnom Penh.
“Everywhere, they always look at it and say the car looks nice.”
Equipped with an I4 engine, the car can reach top speeds of 225 kph. However, Lay says that he prefers not to put the engine to the test.
“I drove it at 140 kph once in the provinces,” he says.
The car’s body was initially designed by car designer Chris Bangle, who would go on to lead the BMW design team from 1992 through 2009. The interior was designed by the Italian car design firm Pininfarina.
The asking price is $6,800. Contact Lay on (+855) 12 888 727.
The Lamborghini is the quintessential high speed luxury sports car. For property developer Howric Ghotbi, it is also his ride in Phnom Penh.
“Here sometimes you have nothing to do, so you want a little bit of enjoyment,” says Ghotbi. “Otherwise, there’s nothing to do in Phnom Penh.”
Ghotbi, who owns BKE Construction, bought his second-hand 2009 Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 for $160,000 in Phnom Penh. It was imported from the United States at a cost of $5,000 for the shipping and $50,000 in taxes.
“They have a dealership in Bangkok, but Thailand has a 125 per cent tax,” he says.
Equipped with a V10 engine, it can accelerate to 100 kph in 3.7 seconds and reach top speeds of 325 kph.
“Its a work of art,” says Ghotbi.
However, Ghotbi says that he doesn’t drive a Lamborghini to show off.
“To show off, that is stupid. I like driving, the feeling of driving, the passion.”
Despite his fondness for his car, Ghotbi said that he only drives his Lamborghini at nighttime and in the early morning hours.
“If you’re stuck in traffic, it’s a clumsy car, it’s stiff. Only when you go fast can you feel the car, it works.”
Servicing the car, which must be done several times a year, requires importing parts and mechanics from Bangkok. Last month’s servicing set Ghotbi back $30,000.
“Maintenance is very difficult. It is very temperamental.”
Furthermore, Phnom Penh’s pot-holed roads require careful attention for such a high speed car.
“You have to memorise every hole on every street, so you know what roads you can go fast on,” says Ghotbi.
However, he insists that the Lamborghini adapts.
“Sometimes I go over small holes by accident, sometimes bigger holes, you just pass. It has very wide wheels, so it takes the impact quite well.”
Compared to other sports cars, Ghotbi said that the Lamborghini’s race car feel makes it more masculine.
“The Lamborghini, it’s more of a guy thing. The Porsche 911, Ferrari, they are more feminine.”
In the future, Ghotbi said he would like to import a Lamborghini Aventador equipped with a V12 engine.
“The V12 is the latest, ultimate Lamborghini. It’s the fastest car Lamborghini has made. It would be nice to bring it here.”