OF THE BODY TESTERS
One weird Friday evening,
local satirist TV SMITH (mycen.com.my/duasen)
was swept into an unexpected social event that offered lessons in the art of quick
appraisals and snappy decisions...
The sun was almost gone and the cicaks were feasting on a delectable
buffet of insects spread around the circular fluorescent tube. As I stirred my
kopi-o, something seemed amiss outside the coffee shop. Scores of people who half-survived
the Friday traffic tangle were seen popping out of cars and motorcycles parked
in the most chaotic manner. Others were showing up on foot, clad in faded sarongs
and hole-ridden Pagoda T-shirts. Through the hazy air imbued by fleeting
twilight and waking streetlights, they appeared like movie zombies hopping from
got the better of me and I quickly hopped along in synchronicity to the mysterious
and silent invaders. At the end of the increasingly crowded trail, I came face
to face with the newly crowned queen bee of national cars. The new Proton Gen.2
was being put on display at showrooms throughout the country, unveiled to the
general public for the very first time. When I arrived, hundreds of people were
already glued to two glistening cars, a scene reminiscent of the hoo-ha surrounding
debuting (car) models at motor shows. There were no leggy promoters in shrunken
outfits in that open-air showroom though, just two besieged salesmen with kretek
cigarettes and tutti-frutti 70s neckties.
no intention to tango with car re-possessors again, I kept myself busy at a non-participatory
level. However, I was to be blessed with observing one of the most peculiar Malaysian
behaviours; the static test-drive, seen in its most refined form.
having fought his way to the drivers seat, a burly potential buyer stared
at the instrument panel with unflinching concentration, similar to that of a fighter
pilot. Like a man high on the addictive odour of a new car interior, he rocked
the gear stick maniacally and floored the gas pedal repeatedly. Then, suddenly
there was movement on the steering wheel. As if by instinct, he flashed the high
beam repeatedly and sounded the horn in rapid rhythm. That did not chase away
those funny, distorted faces pressed against the windscreen but it cleared his
doubts on the performance of the much-awaited car. Within minutes it was over,
the surly-faced driver emerged from the stationary test drive flashing a tacit
smile of approval.
all were satisfied though. There were cries of disapproval and disbelief from
the highly demanding crowd, not of the car, but the manner that stranger test-drove
it. No tests were done on the handling (or flap-ability) of the sun visors or
the maximum recline of the front seats. No, that lame stranger was just skimming
through. He didnt even fasten the seat belt, adjust the rear view mirror
nor inspect all the hidden storage compartments in the car. How can a man make
a RM50,000 purchasing decision without all those mandatory tests, frustrated would-be
car buyers wondered in disgust.
wondered why the ignition key was missing in the first place. For safety reasons,
I was told later. At any one time, there were about a hundred heads stuck deep
into the engine well. A three-year-old girl was spotted crawling underneath the
vehicle, inspecting the undercarriage on behalf of her parents. Another motoring
expert was seen peering into the exhaust pipe like a learned astronomer attached
to a high power telescope. One guy sniffed the radio antenna like a stalk of rose.
a mutiny was brewing around the other display car parked a short distance away.
People were horrified and angry that the blue-coloured model was not displayed
with its hood up like the red one. Serious buyers were put off by the fact that
they were unable to ascertain the colour compatibility of the engine compartment
with that of the new Campro engine. The harassed salesman explained that there
were others who wished to view the styling and aerodynamics of the new body without
the crowd was not convinced, the hapless salesman was pushed aside and the bonnet
ripped opened in seconds. Then, as if on cue, a gruff mechanic-looking type in
mechanic-looking overalls wearing a scarred motorcycle helmet pushed his way forward.
There was an eerie hush of silence as he pulled out the dipstick and inspected
the colour of the engine oil. We all waited with abated breath as 90% of the purchasing
decision hinged on the colour coordination between the engine oil and the upholstery.
Fortunately, the results were acceptable and the sales manager cancelled his call
to the riot squad.
those not lucky enough to get into the hot seat, there were other equally important
tests to conduct on the cars exterior. The most common was the time-tested
tradition of kicking the tyres. I always thought that Malaysian drivers kicked
the rubber to gauge the air pressure but I was misinformed all along. Someone
in the know pointed out to me that the action was to assess the road-holding capabilities
of a car. One guy and his extended family of 16 were pushing and heaving both
ends of the car in an attempt to stress test the suspension system. The poor car
bucked like a bronco horse but it held its ground.
specialist was busy on the scene. Possibly, a metallurgist with exceptional hearing
skills, he knocked and tapped every square millimetre of the body. His knuckles
and ears, tuned like sensitive scientific instruments, scanned the metal for hidden
defects as he evaluated safety issues on the spot.
expert and his legions of volunteer research assistants opened and slammed close
the doors a million times, only to make one obvious pronouncement; the bumper
could be plastic...
article also appears in print and online
in today's StarMag (The Sunday Star).
2004 TV SMITH
Link to this article: http://www.tvsmith.net.my/duasen/290204_bodytesters.html