It’s not the world’s first wooden car, but it is the first of its kind in Vietnam. Featuring a body made exclusively from high-quality wood and decorated with intricate carvings, the Achilles has been turning heads on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.
The one-of-a-kind vehicle was created by Le Nguyen Khang, owner of Binh Duong-based wood processing firm Le Lumber. He told reporters the idea of building a wooden car started off as a joke, while he was talking to an English friend who works in the travel business. One day, he jokingly asked Khang, “Working in the wood processing industry, can you make me a wooden car?”. Little did he know the silly question would plant a seed in Le Nguyen’s brain, who started thinking seriously about making a car from wood. After all, he had all the materials he needed, and could count on the help of several professional woodworkers from his company. The sketch for his unusual automobile was completed in April of 2011, and with the help of 11 of his best employees, he worked on it for 16 months. The Achilles was finally completed last month, and as soon as he started driving it around the city, people assaulted him with all kinds of questions and requests to have their pictures taken with it.
“I named the car after Achilles, one of the greatest warriors in Greek mythology, whose entire body, except for his heel, is invulnerable. I know that my vehicle is not perfect,” Khang explained the name of his car. The entire body of the 4.6m-long and 1.8m-wide vehicle is made from imported wood like xylia xylocarpa, ash, and walnut, and features beautiful carvings. His company logo is carved on the front of the car, on the background of a dragon, while the two front sides are covered with the patterns of a dragon, unicorn, turtle, and phoenix, the four traditional sacred animals which represent power, beauty, and nobility. Le Nguyen Khang says his drivable masterpiece has one serious drawback – its weight. The wooden body weighs nearly 1.5 tons, and he says that “only the BMW engine is able to withstand the heavy wooden body of the car.” So he imported essential parts of the car, like the engine, gearbox, chassis and transmission system from the German automaker, and tried to replace everything else with wood. Despite it’s strange look, the Achilles actually works like a normal car and reaches a top speed of 60 km/h
In the month since it’s been spotted in Ho Chi Minh City, photos of the Achilles have gone viral on various Vietnamese websites and got mixed reactions. “There are positive as well as negative responses, but I respect all of them,” Khang says, adding that many people don’t understand the idea behind his wooden car, as they criticize that the car lacks high-tech equipment such as a speedometer and even electric and lighting systems. “It’s simple to install such systems into the car, but what’s important is I don’t want to have those ‘modern’ things in my traditional car,” he explained. “My purpose while making this car was to prove the talent of wood processing workers in Vietnam in general, and Binh Duong in particular. So except for the essential engine, I don’t want to have any other materials but wood on the Achilles.”
The Vietnamese businessman said so far four customers, including foreigners, have expressed interest in his wooden can, and offers average at around $24,000. He wants to sit down with all of them and find out if they want to buy it for “adequate reasons”. The proceeds from this deal will go to charity. But he’s only parting with the Achilles because he has bigger plans to focus on. He’s negotiating with local authorities to allow him to build electrical wooden cars to carry international tourists around the city’s downtown.
If you’re curious about that weird numbered licence plate, it’s actually Le Nguyen Khang’s phone number. “It’s to help those who want to contact me easily,” he said. So if you want to have a conversation with him, you know what number to dial.
Thanks for the tip, Son Luong!