When you think of notable car cultures worldwide, Malaysia is probably not the first cab off the rank in your mind.  America, yes.  Japan, yes.  England, France, Germany and Italy – all yes.  Malaysia?  Not so much.

Speed City drift night - Perodua show and shine line-up 2

To be honest, there is a good reason for this.  Sepang circuit, Petronas and Proton’s former ownership of Lotus aside, Malaysia has done little to stand out on the world car stage.  Its two national brands – Perodua and Proton, have not turned out a single sports car between them.  If you’re generous, you could count the Proton Satria GTi hot hatch of the 90’s as a sports car, but that’s about it.

Speed City drift night - car show - Japanese classic 1 - front-on shot 12

Despite this, and many monetary hurdles in the way (more on that later), I found that in my two days there, Malaysia has a thriving car culture.  It may lack in some areas, which I’ll eventually touch on, but equals any I’ve ever seen for passion and flair.

MSS - Sepang - Back grandstands - Honda DC5 Integra Type R - profile shot 2

My journey began at Sepang Circuit.  Literally across the road from the airport, it was an easy choice.  My friend (and Formula Drift Asia GT Radials team manager) Kazuto Soon, picked me up and while unsure if anything was even on, got us in to see what turned out to be a round of the Malaysian Super Sport (MSS) series.  Being a Friday, it was only practice, and not having planned for it, we couldn’t get media access, but Kazuto showed me around and got us into the pits, so I could fire off a few shots there, too.

MSS - Sepang - White and grey Wald BMW 320i WTCC - Start-finish straight - high-angle rear three-quarter shot 1

Sepang really is amazing.  On TV, it looks very much like any other anodyne, modern F1 layout.  But once there, you realise it is a spectacular place to see a race.  The twin-faced grandstands covering the main and back straights, give you almost total vision over the circuit, and according to Kazuto, even for F1 races, you can just move around between any free seats on either side.  This means once you’re in the stands, you can happily watch the entire race without moving more than a few metres at a time.  The fact there is some elevation change, too, is just icing on the cake.

MSS - Sepang - Repsol Honda DC5 Integra Type R - Final turn entry - high-angle front three-quarter pan - brakes locked 1

The funny thing is, Kazuto described the MSS as a ‘small local series’, but this was a little inaccurate at best.  Half the cars there were from big Asian teams usually that compete in events like the famous Macau Grand Prix, like this Repsol Honda outfit…

MSS - Sepang - blue and yellow Selenia Honda DC5 Integra Type R - Turn 15 exit - side-on profile high-angle pan 7

The Selenia Honda team…

MSS - Sepang - Pits - Chevrolet Cruze WTCC car - rear shot 5

And the China Dragon Racing team, running this WTCC-spec Chevy Cruze.

MSS - Sepang - Pits - Proton Gen II - Driver waiting 2

The rest of the entrants consisted of local race teams running various machines. Some, like this fine gentleman above, were using domestic metal, while others had chosen from a range of traditional and not so traditional, Japanese weaponry.

MSS - Sepang - Pits - R34 Nissan Skyline GT-T - Rear silhouette shot 2

One of the standouts for me was this R34 GT-T with GT-R fenders.  A rare base for a race car at the best of times, some serious work had gone into this one, and it showed.

MSS - Sepang - Pits - Toyota MR2 - side-on profile shot 2

Another favourite, again for its rarity as a race car, was this MR2.  Like the GT-T, engine and poor cooling issues have typically restricted this Toyota’s tuning potential, so it was nice to see this one dressed up and ready for battle.

MSS - Sepang - Pits - Red and White Mitsubishi Starion SR20 engine - front three-quarter shot 4

Speaking of engines, out the back and away from the more moneyed teams, Kazuto and I spotted this lovely little Starion with an SR20 swap.  It wasn’t just the engine that had been converted to S-chassis spec, though.

MSS - Sepang - Back garage - Mitsubishi Starion with SR20 engine and S13 rear-end - suspension close-up shot 1

Kazuto spotted the entire rear-end, including diff, had been converted to use S13 parts, too. This was an increasingly common idea in Malaysia, Kazuto said, as Starions are rare cars there as it is, with parts equally thin on the ground.  This conversion solves the parts issue and gives a useful boost in handling and tunability, too.

MSS - Sepang - White Ford Sierra Saphire Cosworth - Pits - rear shot 1

Returning to the main pits, I managed to catch this completely left-field car just as it pulled in.  I haven’t seen a Sierra Sapphire Cosworth since I lived in the Isle of Man 18 years ago, so it was quite the shock to see one in the metal again, and in Malaysia of all places.  Later, I realised it was probably brought over by an expat Brit, given Malaysia’s colonial past.

MSS - Sepang - Pits - Blue Lamborghini Gallardo Super Trofeo - rear three-quarter shot 2

The rest of the pit garages were taken up by a local chapter of the Lamborghini Super Trofeo series.  Entries within this group ranged from the subtle…

MSS - Sepang - Pits - Gold Lamborghini Super Trofeo - suspension check 2

To the not so subtle.  Either way, there’s just something about Lamborghinis, don’t you think?

MSS - Sepang - Pits - White Lamborghini Gallardo Super Trofeo - Front-on low-key shot 9

Finally, I found this little beauty hidden away in a corner of the pits.  Just stunning, no?

MSS - Sepang - Red Ferrari 308 GTB - Pits - rear three-quarter shot 3

Heading out of the pits, Kazuto decided to stop off at a little garage complex, located just before the circuit exit to chat to someone.  I’m glad he did, as we stumbled upon yet more amazing and rare machinery.  For example, I knew Malaysia’s colonial past meant the existence of interesting British vehicles, but seriously, who expects to see a TVR Chimaera at Sepang?

MSS - Sepang - Back garage - TVR Chimaera rear shot 4

While not in pristine condition, it was still great to see, and was running the original Rover-derived V8, too.  Gotta say, despite the cars themselves being beautiful designs, these engines sure could use some work in the looks department!

MSS - Sepang - Back garage - TVR Cerbera engine bay 9

Not two spaces away sat this red Tuscan V8, too, looking glorious in its full race trim.

MSS - Sepang - Back garage - TVR Tuscan V8 front three-quarter panel close-up 7

In between the two TVR’s sat another example of British engineering, with this Radical showing off its shiny internals for all to see.  Given the rest of the competition, I had no idea what class this could have been in.  Maybe it had one all to itself!

MSS - Sepang - Back garage - Radical 2

Wondering around, I also came across this future racer, playing around in his daddy’s machine.

MSS - Sepang - Back garage - Blonde kid in car 3

At the end of the garages sat one rather larger roller door, and it was here my jaw truly dropped.  You can’t see the 458 racer off to the right, but the rest of the cars should give you an idea why my jaw hit the ground.  This space seemed to be where the rest of the Super Trofeo/GT3 field slept while waiting for track time, but I couldn’t be sure.  Either way, a magnificent sight.

MSS - Sepang - Back garage - Lamborghini Trofeo Garage 3

Next day, after a night of sightseeing, it was time to visit Car Heaven.  Literally.  That’s what it was called.

Car Heaven - Street scene - Honda Civic Type R Mugen RR 2

You wouldn’t think it, given its appearance, but in most respects it’s an accurate description.  A rag tag collection of tuning and parts shops that extends for many blocks, it is possibly one of the biggest tuning complexes in the world.  From dress-up to full-blown horsepower factories, if you wanted it done, you could get it done here.

Car Heaven - Backstreet scene 2

The first shop we happened to drop in at was a little place called MSD (the dark space to the right of the shot).  From the outside, like most of Car Heaven, it didn’t look like much.  A couple of S-chassis in various states of tune didn’t really hold a great deal of promise.

Car Heaven - MSD - Nissan S13 180SX - S15 200SX - Garage shot 5

That was until you peered past the white Silvia.  Because while MSD may walk quietly, it carries a big stick, in the form of Robbie Nishida’s Formula Drift Asia machine (below).  As I later found out, MSD is one of Malaysia’s foremost drift tuning shops, and a look at their trophy shelf (on the back wall in the shot above) is proof of that.

Car Heaven - MSD - Robbie Nishida S13 Nissan Silvia - Rear three-quarter close-up shot 7

Having seen Nishida’s car at full noise at FD Asia’s Melbourne round, it was a lovely surprise to see it again, even if it was stationary and without its famous driver.

Car Heaven - Tuning shop 1 - Bell housings and coilovers 1

Next up was a tiny little shop simply called Samurai.  Like many Asian shops, though, what it lacked in space, it made up for in stock.  Virtually every major Japanese tuning brand was represented, and if you wanted it, you could probably get it.

Car Heaven - Tuning shop 1 - Rays Volk Racing TE37 Super GT forged mag wheels coffee table 5

That said, you probably couldn’t buy these two genuine Super GT Volk Racing Forged Mag wheels. They were too busy being used as a coffee table!

Car heaven - Tuning shop 1 - VTEC engines 1

You could probably buy one of these VTEC engines, though!  I bet many Honda lovers would just die if they were in this room.

Car Heaven - ATS Automobile - Silver R35 Nissan GT-R - White on hoist 2

After a quick lunch, which included a dessert of peanut butter-covered waffles (seriously, they’re good!) we headed to our final stop in Car Heaven – ATS Automobile.  As you can see, GT-R’s are their main game.  In Malaysia, where the average salary is a third that of the US and cars, thanks to a near-Singaporean tax system, are stupidly expensive (the small Peordua Myvi, one of Malaysia’s most popular cars, costs $30,000 and a Nissan 370Z costs $113,000), the amount of money that must go into buying a GT-R, let alone tuning it, is staggering.

Car Heaven - ATS Automobile - R35 Nissan GT-R - back entrance parking front three-quarter shot 2

Yet tune them they do.  And at ATS, they do it right, using AMS kits from the States almost exclusively.

Car Heaven - ATS Automobile - R35 Nissan GT-R engine 1

Interestingly, again like so many Asian establishments, space restrictions meant the shop was actually spread over two locations.  The workshop from before was just for fitting and fettling.  The actual engine building work was done in a separate office, located across from a printing company.

Car heaven - ATS Automobile - R35 Nissan GT-R engine valvetrain parts 4

It was strange to walk in and see a whole range of standard GT-R parts just lying on a wooden pallet on the floor, having been replaced with higher-spec items, but that’s the nature of the work.

Car heaven - ATS Automobile - Tuned AMS 800HP kit engine shot 1

When it all comes back together, though, the result is beautiful.  This 800+ horsepower engine certainly sounded the goods, too!

Car Heaven - Pale blue R34 Nissan GT-R - Rear shot 10

However, I couldn’t leave Car Heaven without a final poke around the back streets, and it’s amazing what I found.  R34 GT-Rs are rare in most places outside of Japan, but here I saw two in almost as many minutes.  Wasn’t sure about this one’s colour, though.  Certainly stands out!

Car heaven - R34 Nissan GT-R in bayside blue - Rear three-quarter close-up shot 1

The other was this rather more conventional beast.  However, given I reckon Bayside Blue is probably one of the best paint colours of all time, conventional here is hardly a bad thing.

Car heaven - Rusty black Datsun 240Z - front three-quarter panel shot 2

Opposite the GT-R lay a rather sadder sight.  This 260Z had suffered genuine neglect, evidenced not just by the rust seen here but by the junk-filled and crumbling interior.  I felt so sad.  Times like this, you just want to give the car a big hug and promise it everything will be fine (then restore it).

D Garage - AE86 Toyota Corolla Trueno - Supra - MRS - Wide shot 11

Prior to my final car-related stop in Malaysia, Kazuto made a beeline to D Garage – a friend’s tuning shop on the other side of town.  Here lay Kazuto’s old Supra drift car, an ex-Formula D Asia machine with a very nice-sounding lump of American iron under the bonnet.  Apparently he planned to use it that night to teach a colleague’s son how to drift – it was the kid’s 18th birthday present from his mum, apparently!  That’s one generous mum!

D Garage - Kazuto Garage Supra - Red MRS front-on shot 8

Next to the Supra lay an MR-S undergoing a bit of a tune.  I’m always a sucker for engine porn, and this little 1.8 litre lump with its cam covers off fit the bill nicely!

D Garage - Red Toyota MRS - engine bay - cam covers off 4

As you might have seen from the first picture, the main project car, David the owner, was working on at the time I visited was a beautiful panda AE86.  While the body was incomplete, the engine was almost there, and looking lovely with its purple anodised trumpets.

D Garage - AE86 Toyota Corolla Trueno - Engine close-up 3

Less lovely was another example of a Nissan sports car neglect out the back.  At least this time, though, I knew the reason – Kazuto purchased this 180SX to build into another Formula Drift car, but as with so many other builds, other plans took priority and now it just sits there.  Shame.  Hopefully it’ll be turned into the 800hp 2JZ monster Kazuto plans to build eventually.  The engine’s ready to go…

D Garage - Black Nissan 180SX - junk inside 1

Having sorted everything out for that night’s lesson, we headed off to the location itself – Speed City.

Speed City drift night - Green AE86 Toyota Corolla - front three-quarter drift pan - sparks 2

Speed City is Malaysia’s main drift centre, and home to Formula Drift Asia’s Malaysian round.  However, like any motorsports facility, it is also used for other things, and tonight was just a bit of grassroots fun, combined with an unusual (for that circuit) show and shine event, too, which you saw a little bit of in two of the first three images.

Speed City drift night - White KE70 Toyota Corolla - front three-quarter shot 4

The drift part of the night was pretty cool.  Clearly, as you could tell from the green AE86 running his tyres to the steel, the guys had very little money. However, they all went hard and tried to make a go of it.

Speed City drift night - Limbo competition - White Perodua Myvi - long exposure rear three-quarter wide shot 7

However, the drifting was relatively short-lived, as the show and shine boys and girls took to the track to participate in a car limbo contest that ran for well over an hour!

Speed City drift night - Limbo competition - Red Honda Civic hatch - front three-quarter shot 13

At first, the limbo bar was comically high.

Speed City drift night - Limbo competition - White Honda Civic Type R - Black and green Proton Satria - rear three-quarter shot 5

But as time went on, it got progressively lower…

Speed City drift night - Limbo competition - Beige car - sunroof limbo bar gap shot 10

And lower…

Speed City drift night - Limbo competition - White Proton Satria - guys in back - rear three-quarter shot 5

Until some guys had to resort to extreme measures to get under the bar!

Speed City drift night - Limbo competition - Black Proton Satria GTi - RWD conversion - drift limbo shot 2

One rather different approach came from this Proton Satria, which decided to limbo under it sideways.  You may wonder how it did this, given the Satria was originally a front wheel-drive hatch.  Well, this one had been converted to rear wheel-drive and was using an Evo engine to light ’em up!  Shame I didn’t have the time to shoot a feature on this.  Must be one of the few such cars in existence.

Speed City drift night - car show - Green Proton Satria - White Honda Civic - Perodua Myvi lineup 5

Afterwards, I took a quick look around the cars that had been eliminated. The majority were, unsurprisingly, locally-built Peroduas and Protons, all dumped on a variety of replica wheels and covered in Illest stickers.  Now, before anyone starts making snide remarks, remember what I said about wages and car costs – it’s all these guys can afford.  This Satria GTi stood out, though, thanks to its combination of racer-style and a unique front bumper.  An aerodynamic fuel saving measure?

Speed City drift night - Orange and black Toyota Supra - Kazuto Garage - Front three-quarter pan 11

I finished up the night (by then almost 2am) by heading back to the skidpan to see how Kazuto and his new charge, Adama, were doing.  Pretty well, it seemed, especially given it was his first time drifting.

Speed City drift night - Orange and black Toyota Supra - Kazuto Garage - Front three-quarter pan 2 (light 77)

And as the time crept towards 3am, he got better and better, managing to get some serious angle on the car and transitioning between one direction and another – the key to drifting. In fact, Adama was better in that regard than the idiots around him who tried to scare him off by driving closely around him in circles in a cowardly, immature and downright dangerous a display of driving.  The fact no officials tried to do anything was an indictment on the circuit’s management.

Speed City drift night - Orange and black Toyota Supra - Kazuto Garage - rear three-quarter pan 1 - Anna inside 5

That said, I certainly didn’t leave Speed City, and Malaysia, thinking it was all bad.  Far from it.  Yes, the scene has far to go in some respects, but in others, it’s as good as anywhere I’ve ever been.  Malaysia is a country where a petrolhead can feel at home.  And that’s always something worth celebrating.