That Time Proton Won The Production WRC With A Mitsubishi Evo

How Malaysia’s national car company took unlikely rally glory with the help of a bizarre rebadge
Proton PERT rally car
Proton PERT rally car

Remember Proton? The Malaysian car company was around in the UK for longer than you might think, selling cars here between 1989 and 2016. It’s probably best known for the fact that it owned Lotus between 1996 and 2017, a tie-up that led to an underrated hot hatch in the shape of the Satria GTI.

Mostly, though, Proton sold cars that were small, affordable, reliable and almost unendingly bland. There’s an interesting chapter in the brand’s history, however, that isn’t so well known outside Asia.

The Proton brand came into being in 1985, and it was decided pretty early on that it should go rallying. It had an ace up its sleeve in that the majority of its early models were rebadged, locally-assembled Mitsubishis, and the joint venture meant that the Japanese firm’s motorsport division, Ralliart, could work on Proton’s competition cars.

A factory team, PERT (Petronas EON Racing Team), was established in 1987, and Ralliart set about turning the humble Saga saloon into a succession of rally cars that saw plenty of success at a national level in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Come the turn of the new millennium, however, PERT had its sights set on bigger things. From 2002, it entered the Production World Rally Championship (PWRC), a sub-series of the main WRC for Group N cars. Group N was a class for cars that were effectively showroom stock - they had all the requisite safety gear and were toughened up a little for rallying, but that was the extent of the modifications allowed. Unsurprisingly, the class was dominated for years by Subaru Imprezas and Mitsubishi Evos.

Proton didn’t sell a car that would have had a chance of competing, but it did have that Mitsubishi connection. In one of history’s strangest rebadges, it licensed the use of a Group N Mitsubishi Evo VI, stuck some Proton badges on and entered it as the confusingly named Proton PERT.

In 2002, the inaugural year of the PWRC Manufacturers’ Championship, PERT the team won the title, with PERT the car racking up three rally wins in the hands of Malaysian duo Karamjit Singh and co-driver Allen Oh. It was an odd footnote in rally history and, technically, the only time the Manufacturers’ PWRC wasn’t won by a Mitsubishi or Subaru - although the PERT did very little to hide its Mitsubishi roots.

The PERT would continue rallying until 2005, switching to an Evo VII base from 2004. It racked up several more rally wins, but never troubled the championship podium again. The 2002 title-winning car now lives in the UK, where father and son duo John and Gareth Lay run it at various historic events.

This story does have an interesting pre- and post-script, though. In the late ’90s, before its PWRC glory, Proton was considering an entry in the WRC’s very top flight, using the Putra coupe as a base. Despite the Mitsubishi connection (the Putra was a rebadged Mirage Asti), Proton turned to UK firm Prodrive, which at the time was running arch-rival Subaru’s rally team.

The project ultimately came to nothing, but one prototype was built which, especially from the rear three-quarter, bears an uncanny resemblance to a two-door Impreza.

The PERT wouldn’t be Proton’s final dalliance with the Evo, either - in 2010, around the same time it showed off a rebadged Lotus Europa, it debuted a concept car called the Jebat, which was changed very little from the Evo X it was based on. Neither made production, denying us two more bizarre rebadges. Proton has kept rallying since then, though, just not quite on such a global level.

Main image: TILMAN KLUGE, CC BY-SA 3.0


No comments found.


Sponsored Posts