Johor Sultan drove Mahathir to the airport in his first-gen Proton Saga: Here are 5 things to know about the classic Malaysian car

Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar drove Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to the airport in his Proton Saga on Jan 11.
Facebook / Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad

What a ride it has been.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was driven to the airport by the Sultan of Johor in his blue, 34-year-old Proton Saga on Friday (Jan 11).

The premier was offered the ride in Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar’s first generation Proton Saga after their meeting at the Istana Bukit Serene on Thursday, The Star reported.

Mahathir -who in 1979 mooted the National Car project that led to the founding of Proton- was quoted by Bernama as saying: “I think it is a good endorsement of a Proton car. 34 years and still functioning.

Read also: Mahathir confirms meeting with Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim, says ‘I just want to see him’: The Star

Their retro ride was a gift from Mahathir to Sultan Ibrahim’s late father – Sultan Iskandar – in 1985, and the first of its kind with a registration plate that simply says “Proton 1”, Bernama reported.

The Prime Minister was quoted as saying: “Very good. This 34-year old car that was given by me to his father in Kuala Lumpur… a manual (transmission)… the clock still works properly… no breakdown.”

“It has done 22,000km. At that time, the price tag was only 17,000 (ringgit). That’s why I was able to afford to give a free gift (sic) to the Agong,” he added.

A Malaysian classic, the Proton Saga is the first in a series of cars produced by Malaysian automobile manufacturer Proton. Here are five interesting things about the sedan.

1. Based on Mitsubishi’s Lancer

Mahathir conceptualised Proton to show that Malaysia can be a nation with a competitive industrial capabilities.

Launched in July, 1985, the Saga was based on the 1983 Mitsubishi Lancer.

It was born as part of a joint venture between Proton and Mitsubishi Motors in the early 1980s which was a direct result of Mahathir wanting to create an established automotive and manufacturing industry in Malaysia.

The National Car project was granted approval by the Cabinet in 1982, and a manufacturing plant was established to create the Proton Saga – Malaysia’s first national car.

2. Name derived from a seed

The name “Saga” is derived from Adenanthera pavonina.
National Parks Board

The name “Saga” is derived from Adenanthera pavonina – a type of seed commonly found in Malaysia.

The name was given by a retired military soldier Ismail Jaafar during a nationwide contest to name it, Proton’s website says.

3. 50,000 in exports by 1987


Not only was the Saga the best-selling car in Malaysia, by 1987, over 50,000 units of the Saga and been produced and sold in Bangladesh, Brunei, New Zealand, Malta and Sri Lanka.

A Straits Times article published on Aug 18, 1989, said the 250 of 365 units of the Proton Saga brought in to Singapore were booked up in less than a month.

According to Proton’s website, Proton cars were also distributed in the UK.

4. Internationally recognised


Proton Saga made its public debut at the British International Motorshow in Oct 1988, where it also won two gold awards and one silver for quality coachwork and ergonomics, Proton’s website says.

In 1991, the Saga won two gold awards again at the 1991 edition of the same motorshow.

5. Three generations

Proton launched the second generation of the Proton Saga in 2008, the first model to use the new black and chrome logo.

There are so far three generations of the Proton Saga.

The first generation of the Proton Saga lasted 23 years – making it the longest running production model. It was available in both four-door saloon and five-door hatchback styles.

The second generation of the Proton Saga – a subcompact sedan with four doors – was launched in 2008 in conjunction with a new black and chrome logo. By then, Proton had sold around 3 million cars, according to the Proton website.

The third generation of the Proton Saga – an A-segment saloon codenamed P2-13A – was rolled out in 2016, and marketed as the “most affordable Sedan in Malaysia” at the time.