Protons to me have always been a bit of a love/hate relationship even years before I got my driving license. It’s not that I don’t like them but I’ve always been rather critical about their products and what they are supposed to represent. For example, the Proton Savvy was ‘different’ to say the least and then there were also cars like the Saga LMST which had a carbureted engine. Well, not there’s anything wrong with that but a carbureted engine in 2008? Really? But before you think that I’m an ‘anti-Proton’ kinda guy, my dad had a Proton Satria back in the 90s and even today I love going through websites like Mudah and the Facebook marketplace for the oddball Proton Arena (because I weirdly adore them). See, I do like them, And to be fair, Proton is really stepping their game as even their current crop of cars give you bang for buck like the Saga and their SUVs like the X50 and X70. However, the mid-2000s Proton were rather abysmal. Everything was just ‘plastic fantastic’.
And us being us, we tagged along for the drive with a car that rather suits the occasion. While it isn’t another unit of the Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing, it does in fact have some of that Lotus DNA in its blood a.k.a the MODS101 NEGTI. This was a cherry-popping moment for us as the GTI has never been up Genting Highlands, well at least since we took ownership. And what better way to test out the new and improved Brembo brakes and the new Titan coilovers (new episode coming soon, by the way!).
Anyways, a total of four cars showed up at the Dataran before we headed out of town towards the Karak highway. As usual, a Sunday morning on Karak highway is a joyous occasion for car spotters with supercars gathering at the BHP petrol station just before heading up the mountain but seeing five of these cars casually driving up was a sight to behold. As we reached the roundabout just before the Genting road, a couple more of the Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing cars joined us at the next RV location near the decommissioned cable car station up Ulu Yam - Batang Kali.
In total, there were six cars present that day. From the showroom quality to the track junkie, every car was just different in their own way. We also met Mr. Suriya (who was actually a prominent figure in Proton R3 back in the days and was involved in the production of these cars) and his son Dharveen from Dream Street Restoration or ‘DSR’. A name rather familiar in the Proton community known for their restoration works. It was a pleasant surprise to see an actual Neo R3 Lotus that was visually different from the rest as the car owned by 'DSR' actually came with a different R3 bumper from factory. While some may think that it might look like a replica of the original, I see it more like a talking piece due to the history of the car.
Then we come to the track junkie among the six cars, still the same on the outside but supercharged on the inside. You may have seen this car before as it was featured by Ron Celestine of Speedhunters a couple of years ago. Not only did this car get a Sprintex supercharger mounted to the engine, the car is thoroughly spruced up for driving pleasure. While those Recaro SR6s look rather at home, the steering wheel on this car is definitely something I was drooling over. This was also the only unit that day that has been a single-owner since new and has even clocked up more than 100,000km in mileage. Pretty neat for a car like this.
I was rather amazed by the information shared by Devan, he even managed to track down each and every unit of the car except for two units. It somewhat reminded me of the online GT-R registry that tracks down the Nismo Z-Tune all over the world. While the Satria may not be a Z-Tune but it’s interesting to see someone spearheading such a feat. Another brilliant addition to the drive was the special tailormade Lotus Racing shirt worn by all the owners. It was made as an exact replica of the ones worn by the Formula One drivers and Proton’s management team during the launch of the Neo R3 Lotus.
The Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing was special when it was released because not only because the Neo didn’t not have an R3 variant prior to the Lotus Racing car but it was also a special collaboration project between the Lotus Racing F1 Team or Team Lotus which then was owned by none other than Tony Fernandes with the Lotus brand licensed by Proton. Not to be confused with the black and gold Lotus-Renault team from the same year (yes, there were two Lotus teams on the grid that year).
So, what is so special about the Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing? Supposedly, not all 25 units were sold/produced. From the information gathered, 22 were produced in total with 3 of them being pre-production units. However, only two cars are yet to be identified. But it’s no surprise as the identities of the owners remain a secret because these cars were RM115,000 when it was initially launched in 2010. A price that more than doubled that of a regular bog standard Satria Neo. That being said, there are some VIPs that have owned these cars since new while some have traded hands over the years.
While these cars remain a unicorn to most of us, it’s nice that the owners drive them around for their own enjoyment as well as ours. And the owners were a lovely bunch of people as well, with one of them even opening some door trim to help out a fellow owner. Fixer-uppers are one thing but to do it at Genting Highlands is one another level. Now that’s comradery at it’s finest.
While I was critical about the car prior to the drive, my opinion changed after meeting the owners. It's more than just the car itself but a passion-fueled community that cares for the same thing. Thanks to Devan and his community for letting us join this drive (and paying for our breakfast). Hopefully we see more of these drives and even see more cars out the next time!
Written by | Danial Malek
Photos by | Chua Chung Zhi
First-Ever Neo R3 Lotus Racing Gathering! 11 minutes