Back on 9 July 1985, Malaysians were about to witness automotive history, when the iconic Proton Saga started to roll off the production lines. It was an impressive feat for the fledgling nation, and a boost for our national identity. Having our own self-produced car was a huge step forward in our journey to becoming a developed nation.

When the idea was first discussed in 1979, by then-deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysians were divided. “Could we even do it?”, “How is this achievable?” were some of the questions that were probably going through their heads then. It was a fair question; because back then, you were either ecstatic or sceptical about the idea of venturing into the automotive industry due to how costly it was.

But proceed we did, as Proton Holdings Bhd (then known as Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional) launched the car that remains iconic to this day.

Based on the 1983 Mitsubishi Lancer Fiore four-door saloon and powered by a 1.3-litre Mitsubishi Orion 4G13 engine, the five-speed manual transmission Proton Saga was a sight to behold. There were no passenger-side mirrors, and radio and air-conditioning were optional add-ons. However, due to its stature, and the fact that it was relatively affordable at only around RM18,000, the Proton Saga quickly established itself as a favourite amongst Malaysians.

But the question remained: could the Proton Saga withstand the test of time, or be just a flash in the pan? While the national sentiment was that this was Malaysia’s first national car, was the Proton Saga, or even Proton the company in general, able to hold out and compete against developed nations with their own automotive companies?

The answer is yes. Despite the various ups and downs, here we are, with the Proton Saga nameplate still going strong and staying true to its humble origins and purpose of bringing an affordable and popular car to Malaysians. In fact, the Saga has cumulatively sold over 1.8 million units since 1985, and counting.

Despite a change of ownership, Proton, now owned by Zhejiang Geely Automobile Holdings (Geely) has continued its lasting and enduring legacy.

In fact, as a fun fact, the Proton Saga most recently won a British festival that celebrates ‘unexceptional’ cars. A 1989 Proton 1.5 GL Black Knight Edition picked up the top honours to be crowned the winner at the 2021 Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional, organised by UK insurer Hagerty, which celebrates ‘unexceptional’ workhorse cars that have not been given the adoration and acknowledgement that they deserve back in the day.

The win is also a testament to the overall build quality of the Proton Saga.  Not only have the mechanical bits lasted – the integrity of the shell, rust protection, electronics, interior and overall build quality remains true after all these years.

Reliable, affordable and blessed with a ride and handling balance that punched above its price point, it has received several major upgrades that keep it sharp in an ever-competitive segment. While the price is no longer RM18,000, the most basic Saga model now is still considered the most affordable local sedan in Malaysia.

It is a remarkable achievement, seeing how much the automotive landscape in Malaysia has changed since 1985. It is a testament to its enduring popularity as the national car, despite having so many more competitors in the market. The constant success that the Proton Saga has enjoyed is definitely something that Malaysians can all be proud of.

It is our wish to see the Proton Saga constantly evolving and improving to stay relevant in the automotive world and to see it going strong in the decades to come.

We hope you enjoyed the article!

JM Automas is a name that is synonymous with reliability, vast experience and superior value-added after sales services. As an authorized dealer of Proton in Penang, sales, services, spare parts and accessories to serve all your Proton needs.

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