Category Archives: transport

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.

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.

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?

Tunnel Visions @ Bukit Berapit

The last time I rode a KTM train on the KL-Butterworth sector was about 25 years ago.  In the early days, the journey took something like 9 gruelling hours with the train making umpteen stops along the way.

But as a kid, every trip was an adventure.  The most eagerly anticipated events were the encounters with the 4 tunnels of Bukit Berapit.   Two long and two short ones.  (The British were clever not have made it Three Long and Two Short, 三长两短).  If I remember correctly, the second tunnel south of Taiping was the longest of the four.

With the opening of the new twin-tunnel in conjunction with double tracking and electrification,  these tunnels (and tracks) would probably fade into history or else be reclaimed by the jungle. There are some proposals to preserve them…will there be new light at the ends of these tunnels ?

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.