Growing Up with Proton

Automologist ATHERTON remembers the first time he ever saw a Proton, and is as proud of the national car brand now as he was then. 

We’ve all spewed verbal lashings onto Proton, from the quality of its cars to allowing itself to be taken over by the Chinese. But I’m here to talk about it being the pride of Malaysians. You see, prior to the mid-eighties, we were buying Japanese and Continental makes. There was nothing wrong with that. But our government and a collaboration of astute individuals helped put Malaysia on the automotive map and the Proton Saga was born.

Our very own “ Volkswagen”.

Image Credit: Nazz Abdullah/

It was a car for the masses and it was built to propel Malaysia’s economic growth, as well as serve as a symbol of post-independence industrialization. Just like how Henry Ford was keen on getting everyone on the planet to buy a Ford (in 1926, half of the world’s cars were a Ford!), Proton was keen to make and distribute a car for the masses. With technology know-how from Mitsubishi, it launched the Proton Saga.

I can remember vaguely my dad taking me and my siblings to see the new car and the late great Malaysian singer and icon, Sudirman, was part of the launch, which I think was in Shah Alam. I can’t really remember how the car looked, but I sure remember the buzz it created. It was a great occasion for all Malaysians.

Coincidentally, the first car I ever bought was a Proton—a Proton Wira, to be specific. And a few of my siblings and relatives and friends started off with a Proton. I liked the shape because I could customize it to look like an Evo III, and secondly, the price was most affordable, compared to other makes of the same displacement (with government assistance, of course).

The built quality was not up to par with other marques, but hey, I got a brand new car. A car of my own. Malaysian-made, brah! And I relished the prospect of dressing it up like Tommi Makinen’s championship-winning rally car. Although I didn’t go full on with an engine swap and what not, but it was nevertheless a car I was proud to have had. And it served me well for almost a decade.

From this:

To this:

Image credits:;

Nowadays, the mamak chatter will definitely shift to Proton and its current state of affairs. Proton has been a beacon for ASEAN countries, whereby Malaysia is today still the only country to manufacture its own vehicles and, not only that, market to other countries as well.

Proton is taking measured steps to make itself a force again, with new designs, better quality, good pricing, and add-ons that you can only find in high-end cars but for a much steeper price. So, instead of bashing Proton for every mistake, let’s look on the bright side of things as they gave us a rakyat’s car. Something we Malaysians should be proud of.

There’s a saying I hear often in the office: “Don’t find fault, find the solution.” And I believe Proton is finding a solution, or rather have found one in Geely, to make things better for its future.

Proton and Geely, a match made in heaven? I hope so.

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