1985-1992 Proton Saga - The Malaysia's Car Owning Dream #blogpost
Before that, I’m sorry about why I can’t start this blogpost several weeks ago. That period, I have a mid-year test, some POS and more to come. But now I’m much free because the mid-year tests have finished, so, I just started writing again.
The Proton Saga is is widely known as the first Malaysian car. Since 1985, it sold millions, and it became a part of millions of Malaysians. It’s a dream that made Malaysians can drive a car and what’s more, a symbol of pride and a memory of fellow Malaysians.
In 1979, Dr Mahathir, then deputy PM of Malaysia, mooted the idea of making a Malaysian national car. He also noted that the idea could make many Malaysians have more easier access by owning a car and to enhance the Malaysian industry. That time, Malaysia isn’t like it was today. Basic infrastructure, especially roads, weren’t that common in the late ‘70s to the early ‘80s. But not too much people that time couldn’t afford a car either.
In 1982, the proposal of making the first national car has been approved and it eventually led Proton’s formation in 1983.
Later, Proton approached Mitsubishi Motors between 1983 and 1984 and brokered a joint venture between both companies for the production of the first Malaysian car.
Using the Lancer Fiore as a base, Proton launched the Saga sedan 2 years later. It’s named after a type of seed common in Malaysian soil. The name was chosen by a ex-soldier named Ismail Jaafar.
In 9 July 1985, the first production Proton Saga, bearing registration number Proton 1, was given to the-then Yang Di Pertuan Agong Sultan Iskandar of Johor. Tun Dr. Mahathir, as witnessed by the media, test drove a metallic blue Proton Saga 1.5S around Proton’s test track in Shah Alam. Full specifications and pictures of the Proton Saga made public. Prices will only be announced during its commercial launch in August.
Two Proton Sagas bearing registration number BCH 1351 and BCH 1352, started on a three week ‘Sagarama’ nationwide drive across Malaysia in August. The 4,109 km drive, including an airlift to Sabah and Sarawak ended without breaking down. It is a part of a month long pre-launch teaser campaign to demonstrate the durability of Proton cars.
Prices of the newly launched Saga came later, respectively RM17,575 for 1.3S and RM19,005 for 1.5S. It was priced lower than it’s competitors.
Dr. Mahathir later drove a prototype Proton Saga fitted with a 2.0-litre Mitsubishi Sirius 4G63 engine and a Jalur Gemilang across the Penang Bridge during its opening ceremony on 14 September 1985.
Initially, Proton only built limited units at launch. However, the original Saga sold like hotcakes and Proton can’t really meet the demand from the public. About 10000 units were sold in the next year, probably because it was made by high quality steel from Germany and it uses an ultra-reliable Mitsubishi engine.
A hatchback came in the year 1987 to supplement the original saloon. It was priced slightly higher than the sedan at RM20,013 for Proton Saga Aeroback 1.3 or RM23,905 for the 1.5.
A refresh, named Proton Saga Magma was introduced in mid-1987, offering mild mechanical and cosmetic upgrades. A automatic transmission variant was also launched at the same time.
With the success of the Saga, Proton tried to sell the cars outside Malaysia, including Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, and even the United Kingdom.
The Proton Saga made its European debut on 11 March 1988 with its launch in Ireland. It was later also sold to the UK. To comply with the stringent UK rules, Proton tested their cars in the UK, a tougher quality process is made and a 1,000 mile-trial was deployed on British roads.
In October 1988, the Proton Saga made its English debut at the 1988 British International Motorshow, where it won three Prestigious Awards (two gold medals and one silver) for quality coachwork and ergonomics.
Finally, Proton sold the Saga in the United Kingdom in the next year. Since then, United Kingdom contributes most of Proton’s export sales.
The Saga name was not used and it was simply known as the Proton 1.3 or 1.5. The UK models reverted to the dashboard used in the Mitsubishi Lancer, complete with HVAC controls not found in the domestic model. It then later went on to set the record for the Fastest Selling Make of New Car Ever to Enter the United Kingdom.
On 12 August 1990, Proton introduced the Proton Saga Megavalve for the domestic market. Besides a refreshed look, updated engines are also offered. Safety standards were also raised with the inclusion of rear seat belts and a third brake light as standard equipment.
In 1992, a updated version came and the original Saga is officially phased out. In total, 500,000 units were made.
The Proton Saga is still common in Malaysia these days. It’s a national symbol that actually changed many Malaysian lives. The Proton Saga nameplate still lives on even today.