This one-of-a-kind Proton Waja MME Edition is a teacher's homage to Proton's R3 division
CY Foong · Mar 24, 2023 04:30 PM
Race. Rally. Research. These 3 words defined Proton’s motorsports division, Proton R3. Today, the name is slapped onto merchandise, lubricants, and special edition models but when it was founded in 2003, R3 wanted to represent homegrown Malaysian automotive performance.
In a way, Proton R3 represented not just research and engineering from motorsports into road-going cars, but it also brought out a bit of national pride. After all, which Malaysian wouldn’t feel proud to see a Proton winning a rally or a touring car race on the international stage?
Prior to the formation of R3, Proton was already actively competing in rallying and touring car races. However, these didn’t make much of an impact on most of the public other than a few local fans. The establishment of R3 basically gave Proton’s motorsports division a brand and bigger exposure to build a fanbase.
One of those fans is a teacher from Penang, Cikgu Amin Yahaya who is also an avid Proton supporter. He owns many models bearing the Malaysian Thundercat badge but his most prized model is a 2006 Proton Waja 1.6 CamPro.
What exactly is special about this Waja? Well, before we jump right in, let’s see what else was happening with Proton during that time.
A matter of endurance
Before rebranding itself as the Sepang 12 Hours, the Merdeka Millennium Endurance (MME) was one of the premier endurance races in Malaysia and was held around August in conjunction with the month of Merdeka.
The first race in 2000 was won by the Proton EON Racing Team (PERT) driven by Jimmy Low, Karamjit Singh, and Tommy Lee in a Proton PERT. It would take another 5 years before Proton would win the race again, this time under the Proton R3 name.
In 2005, Proton R3 Amprex completed the MME race in a specially built Lotus Exige 300RR as overall champions having completed 279 laps in 12 hours. The #15 car was driven by Tengku Djan Ley, Genji Hashimoto, and Tony Ricciardello.
To commemorate the 2005 win and in anticipation of the 2006 MME race, Proton R3 launched special MME Editions of the Waja and Gen.2. Both cars received a unique bodykit, a unique colour in the case of the Waja MME, and performance upgrades.
The stock 1.6-litre CamPro engine produced 110 PS but with the R3 upgrades, power was boosted to 118 PS. The MME Edition models were only available with a 5-speed manual transmission. 200 units were planned but in reality, only 100 were built with each receiving a unique numbered plaque.
A teacher’s dream
When Cikgu Amin heard the announcement of the Waja MME, he felt disappointed as he had just bought his Waja CamPro two months earlier. Still, there was the possibility of conversion as the parts and accessories can be obtained.
He met with the R3 team and was especially close to Daryl Lam who was managing R3. Daryl was also the one who suggested to the teacher to collect all the parts and build his own Waja MME. Bit by bit, the teacher bought everything listed on the Proton R3 catalogue and stored them at his home in Butterworth, Penang.
Whatever was listed in the parts catalogue, he has amassed them all. From major parts like the front bumper and cat-back performance exhaust to the little things like the aluminium engine oil cover and the brake fluid reservoir sock!
Unfortunately, the teacher’s dreams went to an abrupt halt when Daryl Lam sadly passed away in 2019. But as the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens and behind that other open door was Suriya Sankaran from Dream Street Restoration (DSR).
We have featured some of DSR's other projects like the unique Tottenham Hotspurs-inspired Proton Putra and the Proton Wira 1.8 C99. He was also formerly part of the R3 team and was a close friend to Daryl which made him the ideal person to fulfil the teacher’s dream.
So, in September 2022, Cikgu Amin packed his Waja with all the R3 parts he collected over the past 15 years and drove all the way down to DSR’s workshop in Subang Jaya. He told Suriya that he had a one-way train ticket back to Penang and wanted to fulfil this Waja-sized wish in memory of their friend, Daryl.
Suriya said he has never done a restoration project for the Waja as DSR mainly specialised in restoring Proton models powered by the 4G93P engines and the Satria Neo. Still, as the fanatical teacher had many of the parts still box-fresh, it didn’t seem challenging.
So, Suriya accepted the job knowing how much this meant for both the teacher and his dearly departed friend. That meeting in September was the first time both men met up face-to-face but he had already heard of the teacher’s plan to amass everything in the Waja MME parts catalogue while he was working with Daryl back in R3.
While the Waja CamPro looks almost entirely stock, the teacher had already fitted the Waja MME’s front bumpers along with a set of 15-inch JRD Comel wheels (Yes, the rims are called Comel). Yet, he has another front bumper and set of wheels that are still wrapped in plastic which he passed to DSR.
The whole restoration process took around 6 months to complete but Suriya said that the teacher’s Waja was in a very well-maintained condition despite being 17 years old. The odometer reading has shown that it has clocked more than 350,000 km and yet the engine is still running like it was new with no rattles or squeaks!
Rather than doing a complete overhaul of the engine or undergoing blueprinting like most of DSR’s previous projects, the team only did regular maintenance on the engine like replacing the fluids and changing the timing belt. The engine was already in immaculate condition just like every part and accessory fitted onto this Waja MME thanks to the teacher’s dedication to servicing the car every 2,000-3,000 km.
Aside from putting on fresh, out-of-the-box parts, the Waja MME homage was given a complete makeover to make it look like one of the 100 original runs. The headlights were swapped for HID Xenons just like the actual Waja MME, Mintex R3 brake pads were installed, and the original silver paintjob was given a special Deep Burgundy colour.
But it’s in the details that make this a one-of-a-kind Waja MME. The Deep Burgundy hue changes between black and dark purple depending on the lighting and the words “MME Edition” are airbrushed into the paint on the lower door area.
Another interesting detail on the outside is the laurel wreath on the front fenders. The original Waja MME was made to commemorate Proton R3’s maiden win at MME with the number 15 and a star on the wreath. The team would repeat its win in 2006 in the #12 Lotus Exige 300RR driven by Tengku Djan Ley, Faidzil Alang, and Damien French.
So, this special wreath is completely unique on this Waja MME with the number 12 and two stars. It was airbrushed into the paint like the holographic MME Edition on the lower doors.
The Waja MME that R3 deserved
While the exterior of this Waja MME homage is close to the original 100 units, it’s the interior that makes it stand apart from those 100. Suriya wanted this Waja MME to be the one that should’ve been done by R3.
Even in the original Waja MME, the interior is beige and brown which doesn’t quite shout the essence of R3. DSR’s version of the Waja MME replaced the frankly executive-looking interior with something that matched its sporty exterior.
Gone are the brown leather seats and DSR reupholstered the seats to a black and red fabric set. The seats’ design is inspired by the Recaro Tomcats and to further enhance the sportiness, the words MME Edition are stitched into the headrests.
Besides that, red seatbelts were installed along with a black headliner as opposed to the standard grey colour. The standard Waja steering wheel was also replaced by a Momo Tuner that was installed with original R3 boss kits and the 4-speed automatic gear shifter now has a specially designed R3 gearknob.
That transmission is a big giveaway as this is not one of the original Waja MMEs. Still, Proton only managed to produce 100 units out of the planned 200. The production for the remaining 100 was halted as the Waja was undergoing an extensive facelift and as such the remainder were available for the public via the parts catalogue.
Given that this Waja MME makeover looks just as good if not better than the original 100, DSR installed a unique numbered plaque on the teacher’s ride. It says, “0101” and that makes it the penultimate version of the Waja MME even if it’s not technically built in the same plant.
Reliving the glory days
The dedication from Cikgu Amin in collecting all of the parts needed over the past 15 years along with the work done by Suriya and his team at DSR is proof that the Malaysian car culture is thriving especially for our homegrown brands.
Though Proton has somewhat revived the R3 brand, it feels miles away from its glory days when it was actively pursuing motorsports and even adding some power boost to a few of its models. Proton’s motorsports division has rebranded itself to simply Proton Motorsports but its days in tearing up the circuit weren’t as massive as before.
The R3 team had a strong vision when it was formed 20 years ago and the dedicated team working to bring out the best in Malaysian performance shared those dreams. Sadly, due to Proton’s shift in trying to rebuild its image, R3 was eventually wound down and by 2017, its funds would be channelled to Proton’s core operations.
The automotive business is tough in trying to balance the fans’ excitement to boost the brand’s credibility with buyers who are the ones bringing money to the company. While Proton continues to exhibit growth in sales annually, many of its fans like Cikgu Amin are definitely hoping that one day R3’s glory days will make a return.