During the long weekend, as Malaysians were celebrating the 63rd Merdeka Day, we were greeted by a couple of YouTube videos that showed a Proton Perdana gathering dust in an underground car park in the UK. It was later revealed that this Perdana actually belonged to former PM, Tun Mahathir Mohamad.
This raised quite a bit of furore around the Malaysian interwebs but what exactly is going on and how did Tun M’s car get there? To answer that, let’s head back to 1996 to a forgotten brainchild of Tun M’s industrial ambitions, Perusahaan Otomobil Elektrik Malaysia (POEM), Malaysia’s short-lived electric car project.
POEM was founded in 1996 as a collaboration between Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) and Frazer-Nash Research Ltd (FNR). Classic car enthusiasts might have heard of the name of the latter but this is not exactly the same short-lived sports car marque that existed around the post-war period.
Who is Kamal Siddiqi?
FNR was an electric vehicle research company that was owned by Kamkorp Group which was owned by Kamal Siddiqi. He was a UK-based Indian businessman and had very close ties with Tun M.
Under POEM, the joint venture created Malaysia’s first-ever electric vehicle, the Eleksuria in 1997. It was in truth a licensed version of the FNR Solar Baby electric buggy. The Eleksuria was initially built at a temporary facility within the UNITEN campus and was produced with more than 50% local content.
The Eleksuria used conventional lead-acid batteries which claimed a range of 120 km between charges and could be fully charged in an hour. It cost RM40,000 to purchase in 1998, and just for comparison, the most expensive Perodua Kancil available then cost RM 36,166 for the 850cc EZ.
The Eleksuria was intended only for business usage, not private. But it received JPJ road legal certification on all Malaysian roads excluding highways. The electric buggies were used during the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games and the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.
Despite reportedly selling over 3,000 EVs globally by late 2000, things were looking very bleak for POEM. FNR was allegedly losing millions of pounds and was indebted which caused POEM to shut down in the early 2000s. But that wasn’t the end of Tun M and Siddiqi’s relationship.
Why is a Proton Perdana in the UK?
Remember when Proton was auctioning off its electric vehicle project? All the Saga EVs, Persona EVs, and the Exora REEVs were using electric powertrains developed by FNR. Despite the potential of Proton EVs being ready for production, nothing really went into fruition and Proton went on to partner with LG Electronics which also ended up in the air.
Tun M being the visionary though saw another opportunity with Siddiqi and FNR. As explained in this Facebook post and covered by some of the media, it was revealed that the Perdana shown in a couple of British urban explorers’ YouTube videos did belong to Tun M for the purpose of developing a hybrid powertrain. According to the post, Tun M sent his Perdana around 2017.
Both videos showed a very interesting-looking luxury car that appeared to look like a Bentley but it turned out to be a mock-up design of a future luxury car that interestingly had a unique badge with the words “Perdana” on it. It even had a distinct similarity to Proton’s badge.
It seemed like this would be some hybrid-powered luxury car with the Perdana as a base but FNR only produced simple electric vehicles at this point. Where could they have gotten the expertise to build a luxury car?
What are Bristol Cars?
Bristol Cars were formed in 1945 in the working-class town of Bristol. The town was home to one of the earliest British aviation companies of the same name and Bristol Cars were initially founded under Bristol Aeroplane Company (BAC).
After BAC joined other British aircraft companies to form what would later be called British Aerospace, Bristol Cars went under numerous owners while staying mostly independent, producing eccentrically British luxury cars with names inspired by BAC’s aeronautical heritage like the Blenheim, Britannia, and Brigand.
Sadly, even the extreme-looking Bristol Fighter which was a Dodge Viper underneath with gull-wing doors couldn’t save the company from administration in 2011. Following that, FNR bought out Bristol Cars and set development of its newest car, the Bristol Bullet.
The Bristol Bullet’s design was an homage the classic Bristol 405 Drophead Coupe and was powered by a naturally-aspirated BMW V8 engine. It was expected to cost £95,000 and limited to 70 units. Unfortunately, things weren’t meant to be for Bristol.
Where is Kamkorp now?
FNR did other projects too in the 2010s like the Ecotive Metrocab which became the first electric-powered London black cab and also showed off the Frazer-Nash Namir concept car at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show.
The Namir claimed to be the fastest hybrid supercar at the time with a top speed of 301 km/h and a mileage of 69 km/l. It was powered by 4 electric motors on each wheel with a mid-mounted 814cc rotary motor acting as a generator. That powertrain was developed by FNR while the design and engineering were developed by Italdesign Giugiaro.
Sadly, Kamkorp went into such deep financial trouble that they were forced to go into administration and to have their assets liquidated. That meant that Bristol Cars had to fold as ordered by the British High Court of Justice.
As explained by The Bearded Explorer in one of the videos, the cars and some parts were meant for auction which was to be handled by Wyles Hardy & Co. in early September. We take a quick look at the listing and find that while some prototypes and historical pieces of Bristol Cars history are up for sale, the Perdana (both the Proton and the mock-up) isn’t one of them.
While it may not be a mystery as to why the Perdana – mistakenly identified as a Holden by The Bearded Explorer, was in the UK, it is shocking to see it in such a dusty condition. It was meant to be used for research and development, yet here it is, 3 years later in a basement along with £30 million of historical sports cars that are waiting to be auctioned off.