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.
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.
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.
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 :-
- Lim Seng Seng : Ayer Itam, Dato Keramat
- Hin Company : Tanjung Bungah, Tanjung Tokong
- 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
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?
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.
The “Sembra Una Vespa” scooter of course !
The most striking feature was its well-endowed posterior which would make Kim Kardashian green with envy. That bulbous rear housed a superlative two-stroke engine that was mounted off-centre (biased towards right side) and directly coupled to the rear wheel.
This off-balance design meant that riders had to slightly tilt the whole scooter to the left while on the move. The engine emitted a solid thud-thud sound, as opposed to the Milo-tin whine of prevailing Japanese two-strokers like Yamaha and Suzuki. Torque was plentiful and its acceleration was pure exhilaration. And, no visible smoke emission despite having to mix in a 2T lubricating oil with the fuel ! Amazing.
Over the years, a cult-like following has grown around this cutesy Italian Job.