Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later

Sanjay · Sep 12, 2021 04:00 PM

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 01

It was a Friday, and with me was my colleague Zamil. Unlike him who dailies one, I cannot remember the last time I sat in a Proton Wira.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 02

And after umpteen years being away from one, rekindling the relationship with what is arguably the model’s zenith is a stunning experience, to say the least.

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But more on that later.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 01

This isn’t any ordinary Wira. In front of us in the empty parking lot was a 1996 Proton Wira C99 1.8 EXi Limited Edition. Rather a mouthful, but 'peak Wira', as some would say.

Worlds apart from your regular Wira

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 02

The average Malaysian will be hard-pressed to pick out what’s special about the C99 Wira.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 03

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 04

A sleeper in the purest sense: telltale signs are the stance, badging, and vertical-slat grille

Only the keenest eyes will spot details like the slightly lower stance and zinc-coated disc brakes hiding behind the 14-inch AAC wheels.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 05

Twin exhaust tips are another sign, if the wing didn't scream its sporting intentions enough

There’s bound to be comments about its ‘tiang gol’ ('goalpost') spoiler, but come on, that’s where the C99’s charm lies. Some might say it’s a little bit over-the-top, but it’s not just for show as it is said to be built bespoke for the C99’s homologation requirements.

Also read: Top Rank – 10 production cars with the wildest wings

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 06

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 07

You see, even though they were partners, Proton couldn't just pluck the Lancer Evo 2 / 3's spoiler.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 08

As legend has it, Proton engineers designed the spoiler from scratch, which helped the Wira stay stable at speeds beyond 150 km/h, hence acing the wind tunnel tests that were part of the FIA's Group N rallying homologation standards.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 09

The original C99 LE came with 23 mm and 13 mm thick stabiliser bars in the front and rear, respectively

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 10

Extra welds along the strut towers

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 11

Yes, just 704 km at the time of review - freshly-rebuilt engine was yet to be broken in!

Everything has a purpose in the Wira C99, from its 20 double-stitch weld chassis reinforcements, stabiliser bars, and all the way down to its Recaro seats and Momo interior bits - which were a first for any Malaysian car.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 12

The Wira C99 also heralded a first in other aspects. Try this for trivia: it's the first Proton car to come with a dual-overhead cam (DOHC) engine and an anti-lock braking system (ABS).

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 13

This very car is 1 out of 1,380 units built in 1996. In total, 2,500 C99 LEs were made; 2,450 of them in Majorca Black (like this) and 50 more in stripped-out, RS form.

Storied by those who know it best

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 14

Mr. Suriya. Photo courtesy of DSR

Credit for this build goes to Mr. Suriya Sankaran and his outfit, Dream Street Restoration (DSR). Extending also to DSR Production House Sdn. Bhd., the company was founded by Mr. Suriya's son, Mr. Dharveen Suriya, and helped by Mr. Nizar Faez who handles the company's media.

The close-knit, family business was founded in 2020, and has quickly risen to prominence as Proton restoration experts - buoyed by experience drawn from the senior Mr. Suriya's time as a former Proton R3 personnel.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 15

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 16

Commissioned by a buyer in Penang, DSR-009-C99 is the company’s ninth complete restoration. But for all the work that's gone into it, some parts have rather endearingly stayed the same.

Also read: Top Rank: Ten heroically rare Proton Wira models

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 17

We're willing to wager not many Wira owners will remember that bucket at the back too

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 18

Original!

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 19

Owner's manual cover is a little worse for wear. The other side has the first owner's name and details still

Some of these 'time-capsule' stuff include its spare tyre (which dates back to the 23rd week of 1996), emergency kit (bottles of fluids, tyre stoppers, jack), and of course the all-original powered sunblind that still works perfectly.

Also read: The best Malaysian cars of all time

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 20

A fancy feature that's welcomed in new cars too

How good is it to drive?

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 21

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 22

We can go on for miles more about how it has real wood trims and how it has its variant-specific grille, but it goes without saying that how it drives is the defining factor that sets the C99 Wira apart from the rest.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 23

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 24

The oh-so-nineties patterned Recaro Enjoy cocoons you in its soft fabric, and finding an ideal driving position isn't at all difficult.

As race-derived as it is, there's loads to adjust, and great visibility is a given.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 25

Original manifold heatshield remains

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 26

New connectors, cables, and galvanised nuts and bolts hint that this isn't just a regular overhaul

The restoration focus on the powertrain is obvious. The blueprinted 1.8-litre 4G93P mill is a smooth and silent operator, and would probably fare very well in the noise tests of our WapCar Ratings.

Also read: Ratings: Top 10 quietest cars we've tested - 6 cylinders quieter than electric?

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 27

'Blueprinting' is an oft-bandied term when it comes to DSR's projects, but don't mistake it as just a fancy word for an overhaul.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 28

'Blueprinting' is the massively time-consuming act of machining, boring, honing, squaring, and all sorts of -ings to restore an engine to tighter-than-factory tolerances.

In simple terms, rebuilding an engine to a condition better than new.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 29

The result is a car that is plainly fantastic to drive. Power delivery is buttery smooth, as the mill plays to its strengths alongside the 5-speed manual transmission, which in itself offers a light clutch and gentle shifts, pretty much on-par with cars of the era.

Granted, 140 PS and 167 Nm of torque may not sound like mind-blowing figures today, but it's just the right amount of power for the chassis.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 30

Lightweight too, tipping the scales at just over 1,100 kg

Chassis-wise, it's much more stiffer than your regular Wira. Combined with the rather stiff-sidewall new Goodyear tyres, it reacts beautifully to steering input. 

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 31

Another major plus point is the chassis set-up. As it stands, it’s astoundingly impressive, particularly in the way it soaks bumps and how the suspension manages to hold the car level through different road surfaces and corners of varying degrees.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 32

Part of its handling prowess comes from the functional liberties DSR's team has taken to the Wira's suspension. Combining Satria GTI struts with Wira SE springs, together with a lowered perch for better suspension geometry, this Wira offers a comfortable ride in addition to its great handling.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 33

It’s a supremely communicative car, it never feels clumsy and it’s comforting to know that you need to be doing absolutely dumb things to push the Wira C99 to its limits.

A Malaysian motoring marvel

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 34

It may sound like a long shot, but the Wira actually can be mentioned in the same breath as the Lancer Evo, Impreza WRX STI, and even the Toyota GR Yaris.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 35

Like those above, it's a car that's very eager to welcome your heavy-footed dispositions, but at the same time, it's just as happy ferrying you and your family around every other day.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 36

Not a hair out of place

There’s just so much to like about the Wira C99, it almost feels like a bonus to know that it’s tremendously fun to drive as well. DSR’s work does justice to the model, and we agree with Mr. Suriya that cars like these must be preserved.

Driving the 1996 Proton Wira 1.8 EXi LE (C99) - Every bit a corner-carving legend, 25 years later 37

Undeniably, for the money - which can probably net one or two more used Wiras - newer and subjectively better cars exist. But given the completely bespoke, factory-fresh nature of every C99-chassis DSR rebuilds, and the sheer enjoyment of driving the thing, it suddenly doesn’t seem like an outrageous ask at all.

Also read: The Proton Wira was launched 28 years ago, changing Malaysia's automotive landscape

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Sanjay

Writer

With humble beginnings collecting diecast models and spending hours virtually tuning dream cars on the computer, his love of cars has delightfully transformed into a career. Sanjay enjoys how the same passion for cars transcends boundaries and brings people together.

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