Once upon a SAGA

The launch of the second gen SAGA last Friday brought back memories of our gleaming red Proton Saga 1.5s in 1988. It seemed like not so long ago. When Proton was first launched in 1985, it also inadvertently launched our love affair (more about that later). Protwas a national rave at the time, the demand was so great that, it was the only car that I know so far where the second hand price is more expensive than the new one. Confused? Yes, thats what happened in the late eighties until early nineties (the pressure eased up with the presence of Kancil). Since the waiting list can ran up to six to eight months, if not a year, those who are willing to kowtow the salesmen with connection can have the car within two weeks, but you have to pay a few thousands more than the market price and the car has been registered to someone else and you’re the second owner. So a second hand car is more expensive than a new one. In those days, Proton salesmen were kings, customers have to cater for their whims and fancies to get their hands on the coveted SAGA. Thanks to Mahathir’s protectionism and nationalistic fervour, the car was an instant hit. Not that car buyers are not interested in buying other cars, but they were priced beyond the reach of average Malaysian wage earners. Unlike post Afta car prices, Proton Saga at that time would cost around 20K whereas other similar capacity car would cost around RM40K. So for average civil servants like us, the choices that we have were 1.3s or 1.5s (the auto variant came later) with red, white, or blue with various hues of the metallic ones. Probably, the motto of the authorities at the time could well be “you can have any car you want as long as it is a Proton Saga”.
To whip up public support over this new car, nationwide road tours were held, the car came to Kuching in July 1985, and I was mentioning the event to this tall maths teacher with stunning thick black hair who was sitting in font of me in the staffroom. In those days (and remained so in many schools today), the staff room comprised long tables connected from end to end and some shelves at both ends. Teachers share the tables with other teachers. No carrel or cubicle or private table. The space was shared. As I was saying, this maths teacher asked whether I am interested to go and see the car and I said why not. So we went that afternoon- practically our first date. So that was the beginning of our so far 22 – year courtship. We were married a year later. Probably if I tell this story to Proton it may get posted in their website, probably they would give me a prize for the most romantic story about Proton.
On the other if they continue reading, they may decide otherwise. You see in 1988 we are ready to change our Nissan Langley for a Nissan Sentra, a gleaming red first gen Sentra at that time cost around 40K. Of course we could not afford it. So we opted for the gleaming red Proton Saga, after all, the salesman promised instant delivery since a new stock just arrived. We got the car a week later after trading in the Langley. As far as owning a car is concerned, that was the beginning of our nightmare. The experience was bad enough my wife swear off Proton till today. Within a week of owning the car, the central locking started to give problem. It seemed to possessed a life of its own. Sometime it worked, sometime it did not. After it was fixed, it worked for a month or so and it was possessed again. I resigned to fact that I had to use the manual lock. Then came the famous power window problem. Then the radio stopped functioning. Not to mention the various rattling sound that came from various places. The cacophony became the music since the radio had stopped functioning. Two years later the car was transported to KL when I was transfered to capital. A few months later I had to replace the clutch. Was it my driving? Maybe, maybe not. Well, we had the Langley for a good five years without a snitch and we travelled 45km per day passing through no less than 14 set of traffic lights. One day I was descending the Frasers Hill and suddenly the Not-so-Gleaming-anymore- Red Proton Saga lost power on the fourth gear, I had to use second gear, fortunately i was going downhill and rightly I should be using second gear, but by the time I reach KKB I still could not get power from the fourth and fifth gear. A moonlighting Proton mechanic had a look at the car and suggested that I send the car to Proton for checking. He suspected cracked piston rings. It was indeed cracked rings and top overhaul had to be done. The mechanic was mumbling something about the Orion engine and Megavalve engine, which I hardly understood. The car was four years old. You must have thought that I was not keeping with the maintenance schedule. You can check the service records, never missed a single one. The only thing was that I cannot afford the time and the money to do it at the Saga Service Centre (which you had to book well in advance), the Saga was serviced by my local Ah Fook at the Ampang Jaya Servitekar. The cream of the suffering must be the day when it was raining heavily, my wife had the window open, and the power windows refused to work. The whole interior of the car was drenched. When she got home, the rain had stopped and the windows suddenly slides up on its own. It slided non stop until the metal frame holding the window pane shot out. I was so incensed, I asked the Proton service centre to change the power windows to a manual one and it cost me 60 bucks! Those days sixty bucks could buy you a week’s supply. As of then my wife developed this phobia for Proton. But it was not until 1994 that we let the Gleaming Red Saga go. I had many more horror stories about that Gleaming Red Saga but all in all it has served the family for a good six years. So when I recently hinted to the still stunning-maths-teacher-principal whether she was interested in checking the all new Proton Saga, she said, “what?!!!”

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