In the year 1979, the Malaysian Prime Minister at the time Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad wanted to enhance the Malaysian industry in order to milk as much money as possible from it. Being the usual forward thinking guy himself he then went on to the automotive industry. Back then, us Malaysians have little to no knowledge about cars and such. So, to compensate for the lack of knowledge in the industry, he looked east and went on to make an alliance with Mitsubishi Motors in Tokyo. And lo! The Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional is born.
The first product rolled out from Shah Alam and it is called Proton Saga. The name Saga is taken from a type of seed scientifically called Adenanthera pavonina and has ever since became a national icon. However, this is essentially a rebadged Lancer Fiore at best, but still us Malaysians loved this car. Even today, you can still see the C20 Proton Saga driving around nationwide and a lot of these things are still alive, proving that they are really reliable and taken care of. This car is powered by a 4G13 Mitsubishi engine making 73 horsepower at the crank. The engine is still in production today although in 2015, it was re-purposed to be in the Geely Emgrand EC7. Later on, more engines are being offered to the public ranging from the lowly 4G13 to the more powerful but still underpowered 4G15P making 92 horsepower. Only two transmissions are offered for this car, the 3 speed automatic and the 5 speed manual. The first known Proton Saga to be produced is kept inside the National Museum In Kuala Lumpur because why not. We Malaysians are so proud of everything and ended up claiming everything that the Indonesians have and vice versa. Hell, even Batik has become a taboo topic for both Malaysians and Indonesians in an everyday conversation.
The top-of-the-line 4G15P offered by PROTON. Sure it has 92 horse powers but most Malaysians don’t care...
This car is essentially for the normal Malaysian. It is mechanically simple, therefore making maintenance and labor costs cheap and popular for people that just wanted a normal car and cheap maintenance. Are you that kind of Malaysian that does not care about cars and assume that cars are nothing else beside as just another form of transportation from point A to point B? Boom, the Proton Saga is your best bet. You see, back when it was first launched, PROTON only made 700 of these just to play it safe. But then all of these people went on to the showroom and it was gone like that. No, not like when Thanos snapped his finger and then half the universe wass gone in an instant, but you get the idea. As a result, they couldn’t keep up with public demand. However, by the year 1986 it had captured a 64% domestic market share in the Below 1600cc segment. Then, PROTON went ballistic, exporting the Saga first to Bangladesh. Followed by New Zealand, Brunei, Malta and Sri Lanka in 1987.
Alright, now most people think, including myself, that the Proton Saga made its European debut in the United Kingdom. Nope. This car made its debut in The Land Of The Failed Potatoes back in March 1988. Reason being that the requirements and regulations were a bit lenient in Ireland and so PROTON decided to sell their cars in Ireland first and other Commonwealth countries. In October of ‘88 at the British International Motorshow, the Saga won three Prestigious Awards for quality work and ergonomics. The same car was also voted as the Top 10 best cars on the show. Sales for the UK market skyrocketed as soon as it was launched, beating its 12 months sales target by half of the time allocated and later set the record for ‘Fastest selling new car ever to enter the UK’ at the time.
Of course, now we indulge into the modding culture, especially in Malaysia. This has been the favourable car for the common Malaysian tuner or ricer because we have plenty of these, parts for this car are really cheap and it is accessible to pretty much everyone. Now, I would say that these cars are not great, but truth be told they are a popular track weapon here. In Sepang, there are tons of these things during trackdays albeit with some mods (obviously) to enhance its performance. Sometimes, they can also go full bonkers and make a AWD Proton Saga with the 4G63T swap and this was way back in 2007. God knows what happened to the car since it was stopped by the police and drivetrain swaps is a big no-no in Malaysia. However we can also look at another example of Malaysian creativity where this chap proceeds to swap in a Nissan V8 engine into a Proton Saga, complete with a Solex 4-Barrel carburetor sticking out from the engine bay.
Production ended on 1992 with over 300,000 units built over the course of 8 long years. Since then, this car has became an icon for many Malaysians across the nation and gained a cult status among its fans. This piece of automotive history will be always remembered as the one that sparked the local automotive industry into overdrive and thus paving the way for many projects to come.
That is all from me. This is my first time doing this (although I should’ve started earlier). Any form of criticism is needed for me to improve my writing quality, therefore supplying this site with good content about the Malaysian car culture.