In the late ‘70s and through the ‘80s when the industrialization process was taking off in Malaysia, motor cars became a telling symbol of “I have arrived”.
This old fogey remembers many young-blooded hotshots would proudly roar in and out of town in saloons that had been “macho-transformed”….with sports rims, extra-wide tyres, throaty-exhausts…and invariably one or several sets of halogen fog lamps in front !
Never mind that a fog in Malaysia is as rare as a blue moon, these lamps emitted a piercing yellow beam that was quite menacing and even hazardous to oncoming traffic. I guess the idea was to tell the lesser beings in the oncoming vehicles, “look, tai kor (大哥, ‘big brother’) is here”.
I believe such lamps might have been outlawed, as in recent years I have hardly seen any vehicle with these mounted.
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.
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)
1984 was the landmark year for me. With a new family and a career brimming with great expectations, I was about to embark on my next great acquisition – a brand new car.
The 4-door saloon version of the 2nd Gen Honda Civic had just been launched, and it had all the qualities that set my heart aflutter, and an affordable sticker price of RM20,500. That Honda salesman probably closed the easiest deal of his life, as I practically sold the car to me on his behalf !
A week later, I was offered a new job in Singapore, and after much heart-rending discussions within the extended families, wifey and I decided to uproot from Penang to settle on the Little Red Dot. The RM1,500 deposit had to be forfeited.
Inexplicably though, I never owned another Honda nor Civic after this brief engagement.
She was a stunner, a head-turner wherever she went. A sleek ageless beauty with style, grace and curves in the right places, she still sends my heart going boom-bang-a-bang just by looking at her photos.
The Datsun 240Z made its appearance in Malaysia circa 1970, just at the time of my mid-teens, when flashy automobiles began to capture my attention.
Also known as “FAIRLADY” this sportscar was unlike other Japanese cars of that time. It had a low-slung body with very aderodynamic contours that made it look very fast even at standstill.
It was a dream trophy, but for a poor country boy, it remained a trophy dream, even to this day.
Over the years, the lady evolved into 260Z,…etc, and even 300ZX. Has any one of my readers out there ever owned one?
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.
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?