The Citroën DS was unlike any other 4-wheel beast that roamed the highways and byways. A paradigm of French chic, it was at once beautifully aerodynamic, romantically elegant and technologically ahead of its time.
My first encounter with a DS (I think it was a DS23) was sometime in 1980 – a rich colleague of mine owned one. Its ride was superb, thanks to the hydro-pneumatic suspension. The inner pair of headlamps would turn in sync with the single-spoke (more like a fat bar) steering wheel.
However, there were a couple of quirky features, like a rear-view mirror that was mounted on top of the dashboard, and a spare wheel that was housed under the bonnet.
It is a pity that auto manufacturers do not make distinctively beautiful cars like the DS anymore. Contemporary offerings all look alike, with character sorely lacking.
It was in the mid-1960s and one of my first experiential encounters of the 4-wheel kind was with a small family saloon called Ford Prefect.
It belonged to a family friend and, on several occasions, my dad borrowed it to take us on trips from Butterworth to a small town in Kedah state. Along the way, we would pull up by the roadside to watch the aircraft at the RAAF airbase.
I clearly remember that it had a manual gearshift with only 3 forward speeds, when a “4-on-the-floor” was standard at that time.
With hindsight, I now think this 3-speeder Prefect was the perfect solution to Penang drivers’ notorious tendency to drive at crawl speeds, regardless of traffic conditions. (When I got a 5-speeder to drive later in life, I seldom got past no.4)
Towards the end of the ’70s, Nissan Motors introduced two models into the Malaysian market, which I clearly remember — the Datsun 120Y, and the bigger brother Datsun 160J.
The 120Y gained fame as a miserly sipper of precious gasoline, and found widespread adoption by taxi drivers all over KL (especially). On one occasion, I borrowed my cousin’s prized possession for a drive from Butterworth to Sungei Petani — guess what, the fuel indicator hardly moved from the “Full” position for the entire two-way journey.
On the other hand, on a second run of the same drive using a friend’s Datsun 160J, it gulped down half a tankful before arrival at SP, requiring a top-up for the return leg (just to be safe). Of course, the 160J had a 1600cc twin-carb engine versus the 120Y’s 1170cc single-carb one.
Sipper or Guzzler? One had to decide.