Category Archives: automobile

Hedged My Bets On A Hatchback

It was my first “proper” car after driving a couple of junks that were not not much younger than I – the Mazda 323 Hatchback.  The two-box design was all the rave in the late 70s/early 80s, and I thought it would put the “unexciting” me into the chic league!

It claimed to be miserly on fuel, with 40mpg, but I soon found out that Mazda had simply put a gearbox that was in overdrive. If one went around corners at below 20mph on 3rd gear, the whole car would shudder.  I had to insert pieces of sponge here and there to overcome the vibrations.

Many sweet memories though. It was the car in which I took my first girlfriend for a date, … and drove with her all over Malaysia,…until we got married. Gave it to my sister, when we migrated to Singapore.

A Thing Of Beauty Is A Joy Forever

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.

The Prefect Solution

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)

Sipper Versus Guzzler

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.