A Retro Spin

26 July 2016

Naim turns a passion for all things old school into a platform for like-minded fellows with Backwheels Bitches

When you give a group of misfits a space to find common ground, be prepared for unexpected consequences. Then a teenager, Naim hung around with acquaintances who spent hours discussing all things old school, ranging from music and clothing, to bicycles and cars.

“I was a retro car fan since I was a child - my grandmother was a vintage car collector and she was the first woman in Malaysia to become a JPJ license tester in Bentong, Pahang, in the ‘70s,” Naim says. “I couldn’t afford to be too serious about retro cars back then but when I started working in KL and earning my own keep, I decided to continue a family tradition. We have a penchant for Toyota Celicas - it has such sexy curves - and so I bought a TA35.”

Naim now heads a community of like-minded retro enthusiasts known as Backwheels Bitches (BWB) along with partners Billy Wongka and Kean Yap. The group today has garnered a 23,000-strong international fan base with followers as widespread as the US, Japan, Canada, Germany and Australia. These largely comprise of fans of the retro car and Japanese domestic market (JDM) scene who enjoy the brand’s boldness in experimenting with new industry trends. One such example is Japanese shakotan or bosozoku styling modifications - BWB emulates these, but also looks beyond the Orient to movements such as Euro customs, hot rods and turning a C70 into a street cub or ruckus.

Follower pickup has been steadily increasing in the five years since its formation and the community acts as a platform for fans of retro fashion, music and rides to gather. “We move as a wolf pack,” muses Naim. “From year to year, we raise our game in all aspects, from our showcase events and concept cars, to our brand merchandise (street fashion, caps and stickers included) and photos and videos.”

The homegrown custom car show Art of Speed is one of his favourite events and Naim himself once brought home the Best of Show trophy in 2011 for the car he displayed. “We don’t do this for profit or trophies or recognition; very simply, we love what we do and we want to show interested parties that the custom scene in Malaysia is thriving. Malaysia boleh!” he says.

“You know, we sometimes receive flak for modifications that might contradict local laws but the modification scene here is far behind those in Indonesia and Thailand. We can only grow by pushing the envelope and we hope people could look at the positives more than they do the negatives. Car showcases go a long way in giving the public a greater perspective on our interests.”

Collaborations are part of stirring the creative process and Naim is a big believer in expanding his repertoire in such a manner. A recent interesting collaborative work was an experimental video project with local street label Koya Clothing. “They have very good ideas and I enjoyed the synergy between both brands,” he says.

It has been a long, winding road with ample ups and downs to this destination, but Naim is enjoying the ride, particularly in being able to meet retro fans from all walks of life, long-time enthusiasts and neophytes alike.

“We are who we are and where we are because of them,” shares Naim, who is currently working on completing his latest project: a Nissan Laurel SGX C130 coupe and sedan. “It’s not always easy but the local retro scene is colourful and fairly active with regular events like swap meets, drives, gatherings and shows. We’re a tight family, interdependent to a certain extent, and we all do it purely out of passion. It would be great if we could get more support from the government or the motoring industry; people of all ages respond to the cars and the community. It’s a fun, family-friendly pursuit.”

By Rowena Jo Fernandez
Photos courtesy of Backwheels Bitches


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