Category Archives: vehicles

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.

The Original Italian Job

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.

Moke and Mini

It was a Moke and it was a Mini, in outdoor fun garb.  And one that could go topless as well. Oh, “nanoo nanoo”, it also reminded me of Mork and Mindy (theirs was a Jeep).

When it first caught my attention — in the late 70s — I thought I saw a big-eye bug on wheels.  It was very popular as a beach buggy in places like Australia.   I wanted to get hold of one, but alas, poor me, even by the time it went out of production, I could not amass enough dollars to afford it.

BTW, the word Moke means Donkey in an old English dialect.

A-B-C, Itu Semua Lori :)

Has anyone noticed that lorries, and other goods vehicles in Peninsular Malaysia are marked with white letters A, B, or C on a black circular patch ?  And does anyone know the significance or differences among them ?   Perhaps few have noticed.

Long time ago, there were no such markings.  Per my memory, some time in the late 1960s,  the goods transportation industry was up for grabs and a ‘war’ was looming. So the JPJ came up with a system of ABCs.

  • A = for goods vehicles owned by professional haulage companies
  • C = for goods vehicles owned by private business, and allowed to carry only their own goods
  • B = for goods vehicles that may do both

I hardly see any ‘B’ markings these days.  Has this class been obsoleted ?

Silence Is Olden

Up until about the early 1960s,  George Town, Penang, had electric buses or trams serving many routes in the city.   The photo above shows one example, at the junction of Hill Railway Road and Ayer Itam Road.   Penang Lang called them “Dian Chia” (kereta eletrik).

The most salient feature of these buses was Silence – very little noise was heard except for the soft purring of the motors when moving off.

Each bus was powered by electricity drawn from a network of overhead cables, via a pair of “trolley” contact arms.  These can be clearly seen from the photo.

One big problem was the contact arms often tripped and fell off, especially at junctions.  When that happened, the bus conductor had to get down and use a specially made pole to restore the trolley arms back into position.

And the buses could not overtake one another, except at specially constructed “bypass” areas.

Good Tin Came on Three’s

Throw back to the  heyday of Tin as one of the two major exports of Malaya/Malaysia.   Along Dato Keramat Road, Penang stood the Eastern Smelting Company, where tin ore was smelted and cast into ingots, for export.

And running in and out of the gates of this smelting factory were quaint, yellow trailer trucks with 3-wheel prime movers.  Loaded with perhaps a hundred refined Tin ingots, these trucks made their way to the docks alongside Weld Quay.   I cannot remember clearly now the actual routes they used, but these Scammel Scarab three-wheelers left quite an impression on my young mind then.

Eastern Smelting has melted into history now, and all the Scarabs scrapped, save one pitiful specimen at the Penang Museum.