Today we plough a different furrow.
Gardening and plucky optimism; British affairs if ever there were. From hoping the weather will turn to running a cheaper, underdog of a motor, this sceptred isle revels in such hopes, however forlorn.
Starting life as the Proton Wira, which is Malay for Hero by the way, the Mitsubishi Lancer-derived platform gave life to an unpretentious pick-up that caused your author to gasp out loud as not one but three examples were viewed in extremely quick succession recently.
In the UK, Australian and Taiwanese markets, it wore the Jumbuck badge, elsewhere known as the Arena. On sale from 2002-07, the Shah Alam-manufactured pick-up had a market pretty much to itself. As other manufacturers’ furrows lay with larger platforms, diesel engines and distinctly un-British characteristics bordering the violent, Proton appeared quite happy to sow a modicum of seed and watch the slow germination.
Resolutely sticking to front-wheel-drive alongside a solitary petrol engine of 1.5 litres, the auspices resembled a Brit heading out umbrella-less under pewter skies. Measuring 4,455mm long, 1,690mm wide and with a height of 1,420mm and wheelbase of 2,600mm, the Jumbuck weighed forty-five kilograms over the tonne and had a maximum payload of 645Kg. Its twelve valve, 86bhp mill revved happily and heartily enough, shrugging off vitriolic smears regarding skins and rice puddings that were hurled its way from those of a loftier persuasion. Unhearing, Proton talked to their plants.
A ladder chassis was perched upon coil springs to the front with a rigid leaf sprung rear. From its Wira perspective, the Jumbuck’s road clearance had grown some 20mm, Proton realising tarmac was the mainstay of such vehicles. Accordingly, some Hethel input flowed from the Wira’s car roots to the pick-up result. Not that the Jumbuck would become an Elise progenitor, but at least with simple underpinnings and a basic set up, it handled, although test drivers found it better when loaded. A manual five-speed gearbox was your only option. Empty-headed acceleration figures and top speeds were never the Jumbuck’s forte; this small truck would start every morning and return 40mpg however driven.
The Malaysian choice to avoid the extra costs involved with adding four-wheel-drive was astute. Proton offered the Jumbuck as a lifestyle carrier. That style had to be suited to handling bagged compost during the week with maybe a motorcycle or collapsible dinghy for weekend play. Comparative in carrying capacity to small, hi-cube vans sold by its eastern competitors, the Jumbuck’s poise was handsome enough. Admittedly, the weekly supermarket shop would be at risk come the first set of lights as cabin stowage was strictly for driver and passenger only. The load bay measured 1,630mm long and 1,349mm wide. For those wary of their lumbar regions, the load height was just 650mm from the ground. And should your loads be more precious, a Truckman cover was available.
British versions encompassed four trim levels; GL, GS, GLS and range topping GSX. The base (Gardening Leave?) model was equipped with power steering, central locking and a protective grille for that coupé window. You also had height adjustment for the driver’s seat, steering column and headlights, but winding the windows required manual labour. Seat material was vinyl; conducive to gardening dungarees, adhering once the mercury rises. Wheels were steel and but 14” in diameter.
The GS came replete with fabric seats, along with electric windows and mirror operation and a Clarion radio/CD player. Outside, the wheels were now alloy. For a few shekels more, the GLS added a garnish of side mouldings, wheel arch extensions and a two-tone paint job. Whether liked or not, the head gardener GSX sported 15” alloys, those trellis aping stainless steel sill rails and styling bars. The roof had grown lights, handy for those nocturnal aspidistra tending sessions. Bodysides now sported the tiger decals in silver or black.
A wholehearted, workmanlike aspect proffered, both inside and out. Trim fell under the enduring category. A Jumbuck stayed dent-free just as nettles lose their summer sting.
Now, we must turn away from the gardening analogies and unfurl the Jumbuck’s safety characteristics – or lack of them. Keeping costs low meant several features the typical European car buyer would expect were missing, anti-lock brakes and airbags being two such omissions. Seat belt pre-tensioners? ESC? Child seats? The home market neither expected nor reported on such technical matters. When the Australians, an important market for Proton, took up the safety mantle, the results were far from impressive – a solitary star. Not mincing words as would a rotavator, the 2008 ANCAP test found the Jumbuck wanting in all areas.
In Australia, the name Jumbuck lends itself to a male sheep. This ram may appear a little unkempt but tough, undemanding and enduring. The pick-up may share the name, but little else. Out of a possible 37 marks, the Jumbuck somehow scored 7.39/16 for side impact protection and just 1/16 for frontal impact. Five bonus points were not troubled. A typically forthright Antipodean perspective showing both sides can be viewed here.
Considering the Jumbuck was available and sold reasonably well for over five years before the test can be read many ways. Safety lobbying forced Proton Cars Australia to swiftly remove the vehicle from sale soon afterwards. The only Proton undergoing the European NCAP test was the Impian, faring a hint better than its pick-up stablemate. Foolhardy the gardener thinking safety no longer sells. The mainly Japanese rivals consistently scoring at least 4/5, if not blossoming fully.
Even thrifty Brits bought just 1,700 over the car’s full growth period, the Proton Jumbuck possessing nothing of the cachet of those larger rivals. Yet around 700 remain, a dozen and more years since production ended upon the compost heap. Seeing three almost at once must be worth recording, surely? At the time of writing, Autotrader had none for sale. A comparable 2002 Wira will relieve you of around £600. Other wheeled horticultural delights are available. Such as a wheelbarrow.
Placed now on permanent gardening leave, the Jumbuck is the dandelion of the industry; liked by few, loathed by many, yet somehow managing to stick around.
Data Sources: ancap.co.au/ howmanyleft.co.uk/ and the street a mile from home.