The original Proton Saga. More than 1.2 million units were sold between 1985 and 2008.
The concept of a National Car was first conceived in 1979 by Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia with the goal of enhancing Malaysian industry. The National Car Project was approved by the Cabinet in 1982, leading to the official founding of Proton on 7 May 1983. The company was initially wholly owned by the government of Malaysia through Khazanah Nasional and was headed by its founder, Dr. Mahathir. Proton approached Mitsubishi Motors between 1983 and 1984 and brokered a joint venture between both companies for the production of the first Malaysian car.
The result of the collaboration was the Proton Saga, which launched on 9 July 1985. It was based on the second generation 1983 Mitsubishi Lancer Fiore 4-door saloon and powered by a 1.3-litre Mitsubishi Orion 4G13 engine. The first Proton Saga to roll off the production line in Shah Alam is preserved in the Muzium Negara as a symbol of the beginning of the Malaysian automotive industry. Sales of the new Saga outstripped supply and Proton struggled to meet the growing demand, but by mid-1986 it had captured a 64% majority domestic market share in the Below 1600cc segment.
 Later in October 1987, a hatchback variant called the Proton Saga Aeroback was launched and featured a more powerful 1.5L Mitsubishi 4G15 engine and a redesigned rear-end. Proton entered the United Kingdom in March 1989 with the Saga saloon and hatchback duo, where the Malaysian company set the record for the Fastest Selling Make of New Car Ever to Enter the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, Proton did experience an overall decline in sales during the late 1980s as a result of the corresponding worldwide economic recession, in addition to the lack of sufficient technical expertise in Proton’s management of that period. Consequently, Kenji Iwabuchi, a former Mitsubishi Motors executive was appointed as the Managing Director of Proton in 1988. The decade that followed subsequently witnessed significant developments and milestones in Proton’s history both domestically and globally.