Modified Cars in Malaysia

by Audrey Lim, Mar 3, 2003 | Destinations: Malaysia / Kuala Lumpur

I am sure the average testosterone pumped male in your part of the world would have, at some point in their lives, contemplated or in fact, made some form of modification towards their car. While it might not be something totally unusual, what makes it a spotlight in Malaysia is the fact that almost everybody, whether male or female, aspires to modify their cars somewhat.

While I might not be speaking for the rest of the population, I can honestly say that 70% of Malaysians do modify or plan to modify their cars. Why is there this need to modify one's car? With so many choices of colors and manufacturers to choose from, surely it is enough for the regular public. This may be so for other countries, but for Malaysians, this is not always the case. While the popular cars on the road remained that of Honda, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Mitsubishi, and a sprinkle of others, yet all these names total up to no more than 15% of the cars on the road in the entire country. Malaysia's car industry has been monopolized by two names, Proton and Perodua. With a rough estimate of about an 85% take on the pie, it really makes up for a pretty large range of homogenous cars on the road.

The "generation twist" took place some time in the year 1985 when Malaysia came out with their first national car, the Proton Saga. While the plans of the Prime Minister were visionary and totally well-thought of, this was not the sentiment for most Malaysians. In fact, many uncalled-for remarks were made about our country's first national car. Many even laughed at the idea of this country being capable of coming out of its agricultural backdoor and embracing the industrial growth. Will the door of the car fly off at 100 km/h? Could we even drive up a highland?

Despite distrust amongst the citizens, the cars came forth at an attractive low price. It was affordable for many. Not exactly the best looking or the most luxurious car on the road, the Proton was a humble car that serves well at a low price. With the tax on imported cars hitting an all time high, many Malaysians turned to their local make, which was priced almost 50% cheaper. After the Proton Saga came other spin-off of the Protons, including the Iswara, Iswara Aeroback, Wira, Wira Aeroback, Satria, Putra, Perdana, and Waja. Not long after that, a smaller car hit the road. Perodua, the nation's second local car manufacturer, together with Daihatsu came up with the Perodua Kancil, which looks like the Daihatsu Mira. Smallest and totally underpowered by many standards, the price was even more attractive than ever. Catching the eye of a totally different crowd, the local car manufacturers also came up with 4-wheel drives, a van, a lorry, and motorbikes.

Although there are Proton Saga (now defunct), Iswara, Iswara Aeroback, Wira, Wira Aeroback, Satria, Putra, Perdana, and Waja on the road, yet the color range are quite similar across the board. With only a handful of colors to choose from, the overall look on the street is really quite boring. If that is not bad enough, wait till you see the interior. Almost every Proton car on the street, with the exception of the Waja, has the same interior design. Except for some minor differences (wood finishing, perhaps), everything else looks pretty similar. With the license plate as the only thing standing apart, it is sometimes not uncommon to see people mistakenly walking towards the wrong car thinking that it is theirs. I myself have been a victim to such embarrassments.

Because of this need to set your car apart from the rest, it has spawned a totally new culture of cars modification. However, while some may have good taste, not many share the same thought. While some might stop at just a set of sports rims, there have been cases of people swerving off the road of good taste, if you catch my drift. Nevertheless it is a phenomenon that has grip the whole nation unassumingly. It is not uncommon to see car accessory shops bustling with Malaysians haggling for accessories at any time of the day.

Let me give you an idea of what a middle-income male would do to their cars in a span of less than a year in Malaysia. First thing to have is definitely a set of sports rims, preferably 16" - 17" fitted with matching tires with a thickness of 45 - 40 mm. Next would be the loud exhaust systems. God forbid if you did not hear the car before you see it. Next would be strut bars top and bottom, for more car stability around corners. After that would come the skirting to give a more low-profile look. A recent trend would also mean changing of the tail-lights to sportier ones. Then comes the interior; sports steering, chrome gear-shift and handbrake, bucket seats, new CD-player with amplifiers and speakers, and dark tints that may not necessarily be street legal. Last would be to change the overall car color to something more metallic or decal ridden. Bear in mind, while they might modify their cars to look good, it doesn't really mean that the cars can actually go faster, as would be the case of a driver I met on a road some time back. He actually thought that his car could go way faster just because he changed the tail-lights.

For the more serious car enthusiast, nothing short of a tricked-out natural aspirated or turbo car would sate their appetite for performance. These babies are so fast that if you were to put it next to a Porsche, chances are that the modified car will beat it flat out in 0-100kph and even top end. These are the lengths such people will go to, to ensure they squeeze every drop of power from their cars. Occasionally these enthusiasts will converge for illegal races to prove their prowess as well as for monetary gains. Most of these cars have some sort of workshop backing, so chances are that if the car wins, he will be getting a lot of business from the spectators in the weeks to come.

Aside from speed demons, there are also some who just can't get enough of attention. Spraying their cars a garish shocking pink or bright purple is some owner's idea of good looks. If that is not enough, there are also those who deck the side of their doors with flashing LED lights of red, yellow, and green; so colorful that even a set of traffic lights shy in comparison. Again, if that does not grab enough attention, there are also those who add another line of LED lights at the front of the car, a.k.a. KITT 2000 of Knight Rider fame. I half expect the car to speak soon. Oh, don't be surprised! With the Viper car alarm system, a simulated talking car is just a few hours away. Because of the homogenous look, many strive to make their cars a little more outstanding than the one next door. Some believe in "the louder you are, the better the car". Being jolted from your sleep in the middle of the night by the "sound" of a car is really nothing uncommon.

What about the female enthusiast? Well, not many are as performance driven as the men, yet there are some who are speed freaks as well. As for the rest, it is mostly "interior decorating", mostly with cute stuff like dolls, cushions, curtains (yes, you read right) and something pink. There have been cars that spot a full set of "Hello Kitty" accessories like steering cover, seat cover, gear-shift cover, handbrake cover, you get the idea. It is also not uncommon to see a set of Snow White's Seven Dwarves gracing the back of a car from one end to the other, whilst another looked like a walk through animal kingdom with stuffed gorillas, monkeys, giraffes, the whole works. Then there are cars that are splattered with advertisements (car stickers) on the windows. Apparently they want to be able to spot their car with minimal modification and perhaps get spotted by one of the sponsors of the ad in order to win a box of say... tissues?

While it is rather amusing to see the changes one can make to a car, it does seem that car modifications in Malaysia are here to stay. Until the prices of imported cars are considerably lowered, it seems that we will have more fun on the road!

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