This restored 1990 Proton Saga Megavalve is a tribute to every Malaysian childhood
CY Foong · Jun 25, 2023 02:00 PM
The Proton Saga remains a national icon even if the brand is technically no longer called national. That was what the N stood for when Proton was first announced 40 years ago as a project to showcase Malaysia’s ability to industrialise and to allow Malaysian families a chance to get around on four wheels.
During the first Saga’s launch in 1985, Proton assembled the local automotive journalists for a nationwide tour called the Sagarama and eventually almost every Malaysian driveway has a Saga.
As such, the Saga is a ubiquitous car with many Malaysian millennials growing up either with one or at least experienced one belonging to a relative or a friend. WapCar BM’s editor, Zamil’s father had one and so did my family too though ours was an Iswara which was essentially a facelifted Saga.
Today, the original Saga is not just a Malaysian icon but it also provides the basis for one of the most affordable entries to the world of motorsports. Even if it has some pedigree in grassroots circuit races, the Saga remains mostly a reliable member of the family.
Being a popular car back in the day, seeing a clean Proton Saga is quite a sight to behold but this 1990 1.5 Megavalve model is literally like stepping back 33 years ago. Meticulously restored by Suriya and his team over at Dream Street Restoration (DSR), the story behind this Saga is something that every Malaysian, whether you’re a car person or not can relate.
The owner of this Saga has a few exotics in his care including a Porsche 911 but the national icon is one that carries the most sentimental value for him. The Gerimis Grey Saga did not even belong to him but rather to his in-laws.
Like many Sagas that dotted the road in the 1990s, it was the primary transport for his future wife’s family. Both her parents were government servants and growing up in Kulim, the Saga was mainly used around town and occasionally for outstation family trips.
Aside from being briefly used by his sister-in-law when she was working in KL, the Saga spent most of its later years in the quaint Kedah town or in nearby Penang. When the owner’s relationship with his future wife became closer, he would visit his in-laws very often and would take the Saga out whenever they were around.
Naturally, the owner fell in love with the car and treated it as another extended family member. Many memories were shared about their time together with the Saga as it has been through thick and thin. He even vowed to never sell it out of the family due to the strong sentimental value it held.
Eventually, the family moved to Kuala Lumpur but the Saga was left in Kulim. The neighbours took care of the car while they were discussing arrangements to bring their long-serving family member into the capital.
Then, a once-in-a-century pandemic hit Malaysia and all plans to bring the Saga over were scuppered. Still, the good neighbours and relatives helped to keep the car’s engine running in the meantime but as time goes on with numerous MCOs, the Saga saw little to no movement that it appeared neglected.
Once the whole movement control is lifted, the owner took the opportunity to send the car to DSR’s workshop in Subang Jaya to have it restored to immaculate condition.
Old-school outside with some newness
DSR is more known for restoring performance-inspired Protons like the Wira 1.8 EXi, Putra, Satria GTi, and the Waja MME but the team has never restored the car that kicked it all off. The Saga restoration project was DSR’s 18th project and it would eventually take around 16 months to complete.
A lot of that has got to do with sourcing the parts as well as restoring some panels. Suriya told us that all four doors had to be replaced and they were all sourced from the Proton Saga LMST, the final update given to the original Saga.
The roof panel had a bit of rust due to the type of adhesive used to build cars back then. So, DSR installed a new roof panel which is sprayed with epoxy primer for rust protection.
As the original Saga did not have a rear safety belt mounting point since rear passenger seatbelts weren’t mandatory back then, DSR installed them on the restored Saga with the parts sourced from an Iswara.
It’s the attention to detail like this that makes this Saga a sort of restomod albeit not too obvious. The inner roof lining is covered in black while soundproofing materials are placed around the car which results in one of the quietest first-gen Sagas on the road. Even the red one on display at Proton’s Centre of Excellence doesn’t even come with these features.
There is also an upgraded sound system in the Saga though the original and pristine Blaupunkt cassette stereo unit is still in place. There is a secondary Kenwood Bluetooth audio unit located in the glove box that is connected to the subwoofer for that extra bass.
But everything inside was just as what you would expect from a Saga Megavalve from 1990 as Suriya and his team wanted this restoration project to look as original as possible. Speaking of original, this Saga still came with its original service booklet, owner’s manual, and the original receipt from when it was purchased 33 years ago.
The seats were well-preserved too as the owner had placed a PVC protection cover over them all these years. The seats on the earlier models of the Saga were made from coconut husks though that local touch of innovation was no longer used when the Saga Megavalve came along.
You can’t mention a DSR restoration project without blueprinting and in the Saga, the 1.5-litre 4G15P Megavalve engine also underwent some extensive engine restoration. Unlike regular engine overhauls, blueprinting an engine refers to building it to the exact design specifications, limits, and tolerances according to OEM standards.
The Megavalve, named because it had 12 valves – 4 more than the Orion II and Magma engines from earlier Sagas – was first introduced on the Proton Saga in 1990. It offers 11 to 15 percent more power than the Magma engine and continued in one form or another in the Iswara and the earlier units of the Wira.
As this was the first time DSR had blueprinted a Megavalve engine, the team sought assistance from SS Motorsports Garage which also helped in blueprinting some of the team’s earlier projects. When the car first arrived, the engine needed a lot of work. After all, it had been used as a daily driver by the owner’s in-laws for nearly 3 decades so the team had to restore and clean the engine.
The original cylinder bore wore out and needed to be rebored while the engine itself was clogged with engine oil and water causing some components to rust. The team then ordered some parts from Japan including the original piston from the Saga’s donor car, the Mitsubishi Lancer Fiore as well as overhaul gaskets.
The result is a clean powertrain that really feels like a step back in time except for both Zamil and me, our experience driving the Saga is filled with emotion. To some people, the Saga is a companion for road trips or that loyal friend you need when you need to get somewhere for an emergency but to both of us, this Malaysian icon helps to ignite our love of cars.
You might think that something quick like a Ferrari or a Skyline GT-R are cars that pump adrenaline into our petrol-minded heads and indeed they do. Then again, it’s humbling that this Saga is the one that we really get excited for.
For me, my memories in a Saga/Iswara lay in the back seat as Light and Easy is tuned on the radio, soaking in the views passing Gunung Ledang as we head off to Melaka during the school holidays. It’s just the pure bliss of childhood.
Many years later, I’m here in the driver’s seat of a Saga and all those memories came flashing back. The restored Gerimis Grey Saga came with power steering, something that was never offered in the original so it’s easier to manoeuvre.
Around the corners near where we shot the Saga, the car floats and the manual transmission feels vague when changing gears but the air-cond is cold just like how a Proton should. It didn’t really matter that the Saga lacks power and handling finesse but then again, why would it?
For 13 years, the original Proton Saga including the Iswara and the LMST versions has been serving Malaysian families and plays a role in many 80s and 90s babies growing up. For us, the Saga brings out a sense of patriotism that would eventually fall into our love of cars too.
It’s not the most powerful, the best-handling, or even the best car ever but the Proton Saga is the only car that touches the hearts of every Malaysian.