Category Archives: cars

Steel Unfinished Symphony

In 1981, a unique automobile from a hitherto unknown company in Northern Ireland made its stunning debut.

The DeLorean Motor Company – started by a renegade General Motors engineer – launched its first car, the DMC-12.  It had gull-wing doors that opened upwards, and a rear-mounted engine. The machine drew a lot of ‘oohs’ and ‘wahs’ from auto-fans and techies worldwide.

But the greatest sensation was the use of unpainted, wire-brushed stainless steel panels for the body. 

About 9,000 cars were made before the company went bankrupt in 1982 and production halted in 1983. An estimated 6,500 units are believed to be in existence today.

There is an ongoing effort to revive the DeLorean company and complete the unfinished dream of John DeLorean, the founder.

Saga Of A Beleaguered National Car

32 years have rolled by since Dr M’s brainchild drove off the assembly line at Shah Alam — heralding the arrival of a new chapter in Malaysia’s industrial capability. A bold move indeed.

But right from the beginning, it was dismissed by Malaysians from all roads of life.  They ridiculed it and invented names like “Potong Harga”, “Ben Dan Sha Gua” (笨蛋傻瓜), etc to mock it.  

I drove a 1991 SAGA model, and later, an ISWARA model before.  True, there were minor irritations here and there.  Most infamously, the power windows never failed to malfunction after 2 months.  There was not much by way of refinement, but on the whole they were quite reliable.

Nevertheless. after 3 decades, the saga continues, as Proton struggles to gain acceptance and trust from Malaysians.  Will national disdain one day become national pride?

Life Was A Motorcycar

This little Honda could have well been the grand-daddy of all micro-cars in Malaysia.  Produced between the year 1967 to 1970, the N360 was tiny and tinny.    Also known as “LIFE”, it was for all intents a motorcycle with 4 wheels — I called it a Motorcycar.    Its 354cc air-cooled engine came from the CB450 motorbike !

I never had an opportunity to drive one (too young and too poor at that time), but a neighbour of mine had a ‘many-times-preloved’ specimen sometime in the mid 70s.   To me, it looked pretty flimsy. Some folks said if you scratched the body panel, Milo powder would spill out.  With some imagination,  the noise from its engine as the car passed by did sound like someone stirring Milo drink in a “koleh”.  LOL.

Notwithstanding, Honda powered on from strength to strength, to be a giant today in the auto world.

Twice As Nice Or Double The Trouble ?

Remember the Mitsubishi Mirage with Super-Shift ?

Besides the regular gear stick, it had an additional stick to select “Power” or “Economy” mode, effectively providing 8 Forward & 2 Reverse speeds (gear ratios, to be precise).   The idea was to endow the driver with optimum gearing ratios for a wider range of driving mood swings, from “garang” to “jimat”.

However in practice, to savor the sweet renderings from every one of the 8 ratios would require two hands to manipulate the two sticks at the same time !  So almost every driver would just choose either one of the two modes (Power or Economy) and then just left it there.

The 70s-80s was a decade of bold innovations by automakers.  But only a few worked.   In this case, Mitsubishi realized their Mirage was a mirage.

Just Had To Add Water …

Not that Petrol was too mainstream; the radiator had an unfailing tendency to boil over.     

This cute vintage Fiat 600D was my first-ever car, acquired by my dad sometime in 1979. At the time of purchase, it was 17 years of age and having pre-loved umpteen times already.  Nonetheless, I drove it to work in my first job at Motorola (Bayan Lepas FTZ F3) and proudly parked it at a prominent spot at the car park.

It had some quirky — or endearing, depending on how one looked at them — features that took some conscious effort to live with.

CONSUMPTION :
Water @ 10 miles per quart 
Petrol @ 40 miles per gallon
Engine Oil @ 100 miles per pint 

AIR-CONDITIONING :natural

ENGINES : none in front — but there was one at the back

TOP SPEED : 70mph (ever attempted)

What Goes Around Comes Around

Indeed. And it went on for half-a-century.

The Wankel rotary engine promised to put an end to the Ups-and-Downs experienced by conventional piston engines.   In reality,  the Dream was also a Nightmare, posing tremendous, if not insurmountable problems for engineers.

In the early 1960s, Mazda took on the Wankel, and went on to develop a fully working engine which debut in the Cosmo model of 1967.  The rotary engine was powerful, smooth, and free-revving.  However, issues with rotor sealing resulting in high fuel consumption and dirty emissions continued to impose constraints on the its acceptability especially in an age of Global Warming.

The last Mazda model, RX-8, saw its final production in 2012.  But research is still ongoing on a future ‘clean’ version. Hopefully, it will go round and round more happily the next time.

Learning To Drive Was A Minor Thing

Realizing that ability to drive was a key enabler, my dad got me into one of the Driving Schools as soon as I reached 18.  To me, it was really a minor thing, because I had already observed a zillion times how people drove, eg., how the clutch-and-gear change synchronized, how gears were to be used, how reverse and parallel parking were done,etc.

Oh yes, I had also memorized all the traffic signs and hand signals too !

The venerable Morris Minor was the major workhorse of all the driving schools in those days.  Very rugged and simple to maintain, it could take all kinds of stunts from rookie drivers, including kangaroo hops, gear-teeth gnashing, asbestos-burning (moving with handbrakes ON), and an occasional bumping into another’s bum.