Category Archives: transport

Beyond Sound Agreement

In late 1962, the two European rivals, Britain and France, put aside their differences, and signed a treaty to jointly develop and produce a commercial passenger aeroplane that would fly beyond than the speed of sound.

The resultant aircraft — aptly named “Concorde” — was a magnificient engineering triumph and a showcase of mastery of aerodynamics.  It fired the imaginations of impressionable young techie-wannabes like me. 

But commercially, the project was an epoch failure – with the press calling it “The Fastest Flop”.  Skyrocketing oil prices especially in the years following the Arab oil embargo, made it economically unviable.  The rise of environmental concerns such as side-effects of the “sonic boom” also hastened its demise.

The crash of Air France flight 4590 on 25 July 2000 put the final nail in the coffin for this beautiful speedbird.

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Once Upon A Tiger…

This was Malaysia’s first-and-only homegrown tiger, assembled at the Capital Motors plant in Johor state.  Enter the Bedford Harimau BTV (basic transport vehicle) that was introduced in the early ‘70s.

I best remember the sales slogan in Chinese, “無所不適無所不能” meaning “Nothing Is Unsuitable, Nothing Is Un-doable” – in short, everything can lah!

Ex-factory, the vehicle came stark naked, with bare chassis and a driver’s cab without doors. The buyer then could configure his pet cat to his liking and build up the superstructure to suit his particular or peculiar needs.

Unfortunately, due to the rapidly changing economy landscape in Malaysia (not anticipated by GM), the sales did not roar like tigers but eventually tailed off into muffled mews of a dying cat.

All Routes Led To Puduraya

Of course this is an exaggeration (not all roads led to Rome, even in its heyday).  But this was the base terminal from which many express buses from all over the country operated.

During the 4 years of my studies at UM (1975-79), I called at this “mother-of-all-bus-terminals” at least 2 dozen times, as I travelled between Kuala Lumpur, and home in Penang.

Back then, it was already a hive of hyper-activity.  The upper floor which housed numerous ticketing booths and eating spots was always swarming with travellers of all shapes, sizes and colours, as well as hordes of bus touts crying aloud the names of almost every major town in Peninsula Malaysia.

The lower floor roared with high decibels of engine noise and fumed with diesel smoke from the arriving and departing buses. 

Those were the days – I have not been back there since 1980.

My Brief Civic Engagement

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.

Moving People, Enhancing Lives

Photo shows the 5 major buses in Penang in their respective liveries that I best remember (from the 1970s). Each of them covered specific regions of the island, with some overlapping areas.

Operating from the terminal “base stations” alongside the infamous smelly Prangin Canal were the venerable trio :-

  1. Lim Seng Seng : Ayer Itam, Dato Keramat
  2. Hin Company : Tanjung Bungah, Tanjung Tokong
  3. Penang Yellow Bus : Bayan Lepas, Balik Pulau

Sri Negara was a latecomer, plying routes like Western Road, Bagan Jermal, etc. Lastly, the somewhat rickety City Council buses which ran a number of routes within and, to the outskirts of the city.   

These Transporters were not the most comfortable, but they did a pretty decent job of Moving People and Enhancing Lives*, at truly affordable prices.

note :  * pun on Singapore’s SMRT slogan

Every Seat A Window Seat

Haha, this “ancient” piston-engined, propellor-driven, 9-seater Britten-Norman Islander BN-2 had something to offer that no modern airliners can!  And best of all, if odds were in your favour, you could land up next to the pilot in the cockpit…and that is full frontal view.

Years back (I think in the 70s), MAS had 4 of these rugged flying workhorses plying the rural routes in Sarawak and Sabah.  I have heard of many interesting stories as well as some hair-raising tales about flights on this plane.  Folks originating from East Malaysia should have some fond memories to share.

I was told that all passengers (apart from their baggage) had to be individually weighed and allocated seats in order to preserve balance in the air.  Sometimes live animals would be among the payload together with the passengers.

When The Going Gets Tough, Call 911

From the 60s to perhaps the early 90s, one make dominated the big-truck industry. Be it a plain 6-wheeler, an extended 10-wheeler or a prime mover of the somewhat intimidating “Treler Panjang”, the Mercedes-Benz 911 was the favorite workhorse of choice for the haulage business owners as well as the drivers.  Per my reckoning, it probably carted off more than 50% of the market share.

My dad and two of my uncles were lorry drivers before, and they were huge fans of the big Merc. Whether it was negotiating tight hairpin turns or labouring the steep gradients of Bukit Berapit, no assignment was too tough for the 911.

 As a mechanical engineer, I loved classic MB diesel engine sound which it emitted, and that of the triumphant release of excess air from the airbrakes (it sounded like “chhhh”). They were music to my ears.