The one Proton car which started it all some 31 years ago is the Saga. With over millions sold throughout two generations, the Saga plays a pivotal role in facilitating the growth of our national carmaker, particularly by providing an affordable car for Malaysians.
With the third generation Proton Saga’s arrival just around the corner, perhaps it’s time we take a look back at the makings of the Saga. So here are seven things you may not know about the Proton Saga.
1. The Name
Many believe Proton’s first car was named after a tiny red seed, which is actually quite close to the truth. Instead, among the thousands of entries at the time, the winning choice came from Ismail Jaafar, a retired soldier who coined the “SAGA” acronym. It’s short for “Safety, Achievement, Greatness, and Ability“.
2. The Initial Pricing
The Saga was offered in two variants back in 1985 – a 1.3S and 1.5S. The cheapest variant was priced at RM17,575 while the 1.5S costed RM19,005. Proton’s first ever customer was Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad himself (then Prime Minister; Malaysia’s fourth PM). The purchase was actually a gift to his wife, Datin Seri Dr. Siti Hasmah.
3. Battling initial perception
The first obstacle faced by Proton was not about the Saga’s production, but rather meeting Malaysians’ expectations. Many aren’t convinced that a Malaysian-made car can be as good as their Japanese or European makes, let alone survive a trip up Genting Highlands. Proton relied on the marketing genius of one Malaysian – the late Datuk Gurcharan Singh.
According to this amazing story curated by our friends at Carlist.my, this man, also known as ‘Gurch’, was instrumental in marketing the car and did so with much more efficacy than regular print advertisements. He masterminded an interstate roadshow, called the ‘Sagarama’, where two Proton Sagas traveled to towns, villages and East Malaysia to show people what this Proton was all about.
Gurch later pushed the limit of the Sagas by organising a bigger roadshow called ‘Sagathon’. Aimed at aspiring Proton owners, this event pitted them driving from Kuantan to Genting Highlands and from Ipoh to Cameron Highlands. But the 1986’s edition of the Sagathon was the most epic of all, when the Sagas were pitted to drive at the unforgiving lands of East Malaysia. Our friends at Motor Trader had that amazing account of that event here.
Just in case you’re wondering, all Proton Sagas survived the Sagathon events.
4. It appeared on Top Gear UK!
Eventually, the first-generation Proton Saga was so big a success, it even did well overseas. In the United Kingdom, the Saga’s “cheap and cheerful” nature struck a chord with the Brits, earning Proton the “fastest new marque” to enter the UK. More amazingly, it appeared on UK’s original TV show Top Gear, but this was way before the era of Jeremy Clarkson and co. Proton should be thanking its lucky stars for that!
5. Aeroback was Proton’s own invention
Remember the Saga “hatchback”, more commonly known as the “aeroback“? The word “aeroback” was truly Proton’s own creation. During the time when Knight Rider was at its peak, Proton briefly renamed the Aeroback as the Proton Knight, but this Knight spoke no word nor perform any turbo boost runs.
6. The first generation Saga lasted 23 years
A car model typically goes through a generational change after five years or so. The first-gen Saga lasted for over two decades, making it the longest running production model sold in Malaysia. It evolved at least twice (Iswara and LMST) before passing the baton onto the second-gen Saga in 2008.
7. The Saga has been demoted, twice
The first-generation Saga was based on the Mitsubishi Lancer Fiore, which was a C-segment saloon model of the 80s. Its successor, the Saga Base Line Model (BLM), was downgraded to a B-Segment saloon. Now, the third-gen Saga will be marketed as an A-Segment saloon to take the Perodua Bezza head on.
The Saga has had its vehicle classification changed throughout the years. Regardless, the Saga is still up to the task of offering Malaysians a decently practical saloon that’s bang for the buck. That objective remains hardly swayed since the model’s inception three decades ago. On that note, we can’t wait to see what’s to come.
The third-generation Proton Saga will be launched at 2pm on 28 September 2016, and our short spin around Proton’s private test drive circuit proved to be quite promising. Stay tuned!