East Vs. West At Retro Havoc


Western Foundations

Today, the Proton is the dominant automotive life form on Malaysian roads. But it hasn’t always enjoyed such an autocratic rule.

I think it’s safe to say that car enthusiasts generally swing to the East or the West side of the automotive sphere. Of course, some people swing both ways. I’d love to throw my keys in a bowl with someone with fine automotive tastes like Mark Riccioni, because you never know what you might be driving home in. German, Japanese or Italian, you’re guaranteed to be in for a good time.

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Most countries have – or at least once had – a bias towards domestically produced cars. But some places, like Australia, had a comparatively balanced availability of foreign and domestic models.

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Malaysia has had both Western and Eastern cars in two very distinct automotive eras. The first began around the 1900s under British colonial rule. Naturally, most cars sold were British, with high tariffs placed on American vehicles.

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Back then, Singapore was also part of what was known as Malaya. Ford’s first Malaysian garage opened in 1926 and the first complete assembly line in Southeast Asia had its ribbon cut in 1941. By the 1960s, the Mk1 Cortina was one of the region’s biggest-selling cars, being assembled in Malaysia using complete knockdown (CKD) kits from Ford of Britain.

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General Motors made a few attempts to set up shop in Malaysia but, ultimately, the British made life difficult for them and GM put down manufacturing roots in Indonesia. Even so, I expected to see a few more Morris Minors and Volkswagen Beetles at Retro Havoc 2024. Or even more Mk1 Ford Cortinas, considering the long history of local assembly.

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GM eventually took a share of the market, selling the Australian-made Holden Kingswood in Southeast Asia in a slightly less angry spec than the one you see above. This car is owned by an Aussie chap living in Malaysia. It’s had all the good stuff from the Australian-spec GTS, like a GM 308ci V8 and body trim, plus a Weiand supercharger, Turbo 350 transmission, and a Pajero diff with custom axles.

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When Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965, both countries began to shop for foreign automotive investors to open new plants for local assembly and production. By the decade’s end, Singapore had mostly German and British plants. Malaysian plants were predominantly Japanese.

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In 1967, the Malaysian government approved plants for Volvo, Fiat, Renault, and Opel, but a new era was dawning. I didn’t see any Amazons or Manats on display at Retro Havoc either; perhaps they’ve all been snapped up by overseas collectors?

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This Porsche Cayman with a 3.8L 997 GT3 RS engine running forged internals made up for the lack of classic Beetles.

Eastern Rule

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The first Japanese cars arrived in Malaysia in the 1950s, and by the ’70s they were well and truly eating up the Western competitors. But it wasn’t an easy takeover.

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In Malaysia, early Japanese cars were criticised for being cheap and flimsy. Of course, by the time the Land Cruiser, Civic and Lancer started to appear in Malaysian driveways, Japanese cars were much loved for their reliability, durability and low cost compared to their defeated Western equivalents.

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Over the next 10 years, Mitsubishi rose from 8th to 3rd place on Malaysia’s new car sales leaderboard, knocking Ford from 3rd to 6th. Mazda knocked Mercedes-Benz from 4th to 9th and the rest is history.

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As a result of Japan’s successful automotive dominance of Malaysia and wider Southeast Asia, cars of the Eastern persuasion easily outnumbered those from the West at the show.

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Civics from Thailand, a V12 GT-R mash-up, a rare Lancer Evolution V RS, and an R34 GT-R-facelifted Stagea were among the many unique cars on display at Retro Havoc this year.

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But none of those held my attention for as long as this trio of Nissan SR20DET-swapped Mitsubishi Lancer EX 1800GSRs.

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The funny thing is, I’ve heard there’s a whole club dedicated to these Evo predecessors in Malaysia.

Who wants to see more features from Malaysia and Southeast Asia? There’s plenty to discover.

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Check out the paint on this Nissan Cefiro and Fairlady pairing, and the Eagle-themed Mitsubishi Galant VR-4.

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There was a strong Mitsubishi presence at Retro Havoc 2024, and that leads us to the next chapter in the history of the Malaysian automotive industry: the rise of Proton. But that’s a story for next time.

Toby Thyer
Instagram _tobinsta_
tobythyer.co.uk

Cutting Room Floor

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