A Car Named Ronald

"Papa's back!", I would run to my mom as the new car stops in front of our house. How old was I? Eleven ... maybe tweenish.

Mom greeted dad with a hug after taking a look at the brand new Proton Saga and exclaiming "it's beautiful!"
I was taken aback at this sudden uncommon show of affection.

The car was a Tiara Silver top of the line first generation Saga. Automatic transmission, sixteen 'Mega Valve'  four cylinder 1.5 litre engine with power windows, power side mirrors and a central locking system. All modern features for cars in Malaysia at the time.

The Blaupunkt cassette tape player with FM radio still works today. The on-board clock never did work right from day one. Service after so-called service by the official Proton workshop never corrected the incorrect time displayed at all times, well, except maybe once in every 24 hours.

It was our first air-conditioned car replacing the reliable but non-climate controlled Datsun we had for years. The silver whirring glimmering vehicle in front of our doorstep was our family car for years to come.

It was cool.

After acquiring my driving license, I drove the Datsun infrequently but tend to prefer the Saga for obvious reasons. My sister drove it when she was in university. I drove it when I joined the work force.

The old aluminum tin can was getting rather expensive to maintain when I decided to pay for a car of my own. My current darling is a MyVI by the name of 'Sally'. While I have never given the Proton Saga a name I then thought of calling it 'Ronald'. Why Ronald? I don't know. It just felt like the name of a senior who has served its owners well.

I thought Ronald should be retired or traded-in when I return it to my dad in Ipoh. However dad kept it around even when he has another car, a Toyota. Ronald is left in the sun outdoors though, while the newer chariot is parked under roof. The Saga is rusting and the dashboard plastic cracking yet the power windows and motorized side mirrors still work flawlessly.

Dad still drives it around opting to go out for lunches, dinners and church in Ronald even though it feels more like a steam room in the afternoons what with a troublesome air-conditioner that defies proper fixing.

Which is why I was stumped when I got back to Ipoh to discover that dad sent Ronald to the workshop again for another total overhaul. He whines about how costly the repairs are and I kept telling him to give up and just drive the Toyota instead.

Old Ronald

Maybe as people get older the more their material possessions become imbued with sentiment.

Maybe he is grateful for Ronald's loyal service to the family.
My sister was driving Ronald when she was blindsided by a speeding 4-wheel drive in Serdang. She survived that without injury. It was a side impact and the 4WD is larger than Ronald.

Maybe my mom's spirit and guardian angels were protecting the Saga.

Maybe the car reminded my dad of my late mom....

My own experience with Ronald? Despite his age and bad treatment by my sister when I finally got to drive Ronald everyday to and from my workplace, the silver Saga did alright.

During Ronald's tour of duty with me, he got his butt kissed twice by younger models with nary a major repair needed. In fact the dent on its hard metal bumper was unnoticeable but the collision resulted in misshapen hood covers that flew off for the other cars.
The offending drivers apologised profusely but seeing the results made me let them off easy. I didn't have the heart to be angry.

Ronald's driver side window was smashed once by thieves grabbing the few coins and loose notes I stored in the ashtray. Glass replaced, the power window still works great.

Ronald's engine died on me when I made him wade through one of Kay Elle's infamous floods. Water got into the carburetor, spark plugs were wet and the car won't restart. I had to wait for 20 minutes in the downpour before the engine would sputter into life again but revive, it did. No need for a mechanic.

I've helped women move house with the Saga's huge cabin space and deep trunk. I was grateful all that furniture and gear could fit along with a pair of cute sisters!

Another time, my sister, brother-in-law and I were on the PLUS expressway when there was a sudden loud smack and the windshield turned to smithereens. Forward vision was immediately denied as the glass looked like the textures of a crystal crocodile. It was incredible that my brother-in-law was able to slow down from 100kph to the road shoulder safely.

Apparently something must have hit the car at high speeds. We had to remove the remaining bits and pieces of the whole windshield in order to drive to the nearest workshop. I drove because my spectacles protect me better from whatever tiny shards that could still be blowing into our faces. It was a scary and harrowing experience but we were unharmed. That's all that matters.

My last great sin towards Ronald was neglecting him when I got 'Sally' the MyVI. I drove Ronald less so I forgot to check the lifetime expiry of his timing belt.

Ronald must be feeling quite despondent when the belt broke while climbing an inclined stretch of a highway. Luckily we were going at a respectable speed so I was able to cruise to a stop at the side of the road despite being surrounded by heavy traffic.

A split timing belt is very bad for the engine indeed. All four of the cylinders exploded in their respective shafts and part of the engine cam shattered. Ronald was literally heart broken.

Repairs costed in excess of four thousand Ringgit and though we eventually got him running again his heart beats like a chugga chugga diesel instead of a purring petrol.

I wanted to retire Ronald. Return it to my dad in the hopes that the less harsh driving conditions of Ipoh will not stress Ronald anymore.

Thank you for your years of service Ronald and I hope in a few days time you will be cruising the streets of Ipoh again with my dad. Old, beaten, disrespected on the roads but fondly remembered by those who recognize you.

Now I know why so many old people drive old cars. Slowly. Gently.


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