Driving Instructors, Camels and Volkswagen Beetles


Unlike most males (adolescent or otherwise) – who got hard-ons from looking at the posters of sleek sports cars stuck to their bedroom walls – I was never very big on cars. Perhaps this was why I got my driving licence very late in life – when I was 31, in fact. Even then, the decision to go for driving lessons had been prompted by an ultimatum issued by my boss at work, “Get a driving licence or get a new job!” I guess that made sense: a salesperson without much mobility was probably pretty useless to the company.

Thus motivated, I enrolled at a driving school and started my lessons. Despite being reasonably competent at it, I had seriously unreasonable doubts about my own driving skills. That I might lose my job if I failed the bleeding driving test probably had a lot to do with this. So I hatched a scheme to stack the odds in my favour: I would give my instructor a carton of Camels (his favourite brand) every time I went for lessons.

This I duly did – before every lesson.

Pretty soon I found that my instructor, Pak Salleh, began looking forward to our lessons even more than I did. I was given first rate instruction, with Pak Salleh bending over backward to make sure my skills were honed to a knife’s edge (or at least, competent enough to pass the test).

We got on so fabulously that there was even talk among the school’s driving instructors that Pak Salleh was just about ready to marry me off to his second eldest daughter. Of course, these were just malicious rumours. No truth to it at all. Really! None whatsoever, OK? Zip! Nada! Ziltch! [A tad too emphatic, eh?]

In any case, when the day of the test finally came, Pak Salleh stationed himself right next to my examiner the entire time. The way he glared at the examiner, there could have been only be one message: if I even see the glimmer of the intention to fail this student, I’ll come down so hard on you that you’re going to be sorry you were born!

Would it come as a surprise if I said I passed the test? I should think not. The examiner was obviously fond of his testicles and was not too keen at the prospect of Pak Salleh squashing them underfoot should he have failed me. Self-preservation is such a powerful motivator, is it not?

A week later, I bought my first car: a Felda-orange, 1963 Volkswagen Beetle (that had had maybe 153,768 previous owners) for RM3,000. Though I refrained from sneezing anywhere near the car (for fear of it falling apart), I had quite a few adventures in it – like when the clutch pedal broke off during my first drive to KL, dead smack in the middle of a traffic jam at Bulatan Edinburgh.

Then there was the time when I discovered that while its turning radius for right-turns was normal, to make a 180-degree left-turn required an area as big a Negeri Sembilan. I struggled with this problem for about 2 months before a mechanic eventually pointed out that my tyres were all different sizes.

It might not have been a muscle-car, or a very plush ride. It might not have been too pretty to look at, or even mechanically sound. But it was mine; and I loved that beat-up old Beetle.

In its own quirky way, I guess it loved me, too. Right up to the point when it died.


24 thoughts on “Driving Instructors, Camels and Volkswagen Beetles

  1. LOL you had tyres of different sizes and you didn’t realise it?

    Err… how long did your beetle last before it died?


    When it comes to cars, I am an ignoramus. I saw, quite early on that the tyres were quite strange looking. But I didn’t think that it would matter. See what I mean about being an ignoramus?

    The car died after about 11 months – somewhere near Umbai when I was on my way back to Melaka from Johor Baru (using the old route, of course).

  2. ROTFLOL!!! AbgKai, you made my day! Umm, did you know at that time that the engine was in the boot of the car?


    I sort of knew it would be in the back part of the car. That was where I looked for it: at the time, I thought that all cars had their engine in the back.

    I now know better.

  3. aaah, we had a beetle that has a special place in our hearts too. It cost a mere RM2000 and even managed to stay on the right side of the road when he who should remain nameless, lost control when told the price of the hantaran.
    The beetle didnt die. It was sold off when we moved here. What a pity.

    err, did you ever find out what happened to Pak Salleh or the state of his lungs?

    Kak Teh

    I think my beetle was in far worse shape than yours. It died (broke in two, actually) when I was driving home from Johor Baru.

    Pak Salleh and the state of his lungs? People tell me he’s now competing in marathons all over the world 🙂

    But seriously, much to my shame, I never met up again with Pak Salleh after the driving test. He’s probably living happily with his son-in-law (the other one) now 🙂

  4. You had me in stitches, bringing back romantic nostalgic moments, even the ones long forgotten, whilst reminding me that all things always come to an end – in order for new, better beginnings could start afresh.

    & I love wild horses too, bro; especially their eyes – truly, windows to their hearts. Wow, you get to fathom the inner depths of their emotions, even from afar, without any need for an exchange of words. If blatand frequencies synchronise, that is.

    & when I have to go, I wish to be teleported through a wormhole to hopefully secure a reserved space (at least for a duration of time) on a Wall known as A’raf

    dak ah bau

    Hmmm… that’s not a bad way to go.

  5. i was 32 (last year) when i took my driving licence and that was because my office was going to relocate to ulu dengkil andpublic transportation in ulu dengkil back back then (it was only last year) wasa like … err … not really quite there.

    my dad’s first car was a beetle, which was later got smashed up by a timber lorry.


    I bet you didn’t have to bribe the instructor like I did. Good thing we got our licences, eh? I know a guy who has been driving for years and has never bothered to get one.

    And I hope no one was inside the car when the timber lorry did that number on it. But beetles are tough machines. I once rammed a Tadano crane and emerged none the worse for it.

  6. My first car was a Beetle too, which I bought for RM3000 with my MARA loan. At that time, most students were on bikes and only a few drive in the campus. The minus point is that girls consider guys driving cars as romeos…so not such a good thing 🙂


    Guys with cars were considered romeos? Really? I didn’t own a car till I was 31 and they stilled called me a romeo! Can you imagine that? Innocent little me? A romeo? Dreadful!

  7. But am sure it died happy and will look down on you with a big smile from auto heaven. 🙂

    Licence only at 31 eh? Gosh I would so bully you on the road if you were driving anywhere near me.


    Not only you, ma’am. EVERYBODY bullies me when I’m driving!

  8. Salam Mat,
    It took me a while to figure out what has “camel” got to do with driving instructors & beetles… hahaha… still remember the ad.?.. I’d walk miles for a camel… those were the days… “smuggling” out of Green Lane to Pekan S’ban for a camel…

    Dhahran Sea

    Absolutely, bro! And if you recall, in those days, Camels were still unfiltered.

    Sometimes I miss the thrill of smoking with the risk of being caught by our wardens.

  9. Man, you have a gift for dusting off old memories for me. Back in the 70s, passing the driver’s licence test was just a matter of *ahem* paying for coffee. Dont know if things are any different now. Anyway, while waiting for my turn on my d-day so many years ago, I happened to notice a learner lorry driver starting his on-the-road test. What is unusual was that the examiner was not the only other guy in the truck. At the back were two other chaps, holding to the rails and grinning at each other. Later I found out that the three of them (including the learner-driver) had a group deal where all of them will pass together. They just have to travel the set route, didnt matter if they were just passengers. That was how it went those koboi days. In an unrelated incident, one of my buddies had to give up taking his bike licence when he crashed into the examiner during the emergency braking test. It’s not that he was banned or anything, just that we never let him forget his 15-mins of fame.


    This is outrageous! Imagine that! Ramming your examiner during your driving test. Reminds me of a friend of mine; the first time he got the car out after obtaining his driving licence, he rear-ended a police patrol car!

    I guess some people are just unlucky.

  10. I’ve always loved VW Beetle. Since small. Still do. Still have this heartfelt desire to own one (the antique version), to be painted metallic pink & flower power one fine day.

    My Ayah (hubby) got his Mini Cooper for RM3k about 10 years ago. Originally orange (what is it with this color?) Modifications must have cost him 10x more. The car is still standing proud in the porch now. But more as a landmark for our house (sapa nak cari rumah ibu…errr… yg ada kereta mini biru parked depan rumah… hahahaha) rather than a means of transportation. But like your VW, the Mini Cooper had its moments too. Including one involving me having to pull the wiper left & right using a rope – from inside the car while it rained cats & dogs outside!!! What a blurry vision on the road…..

    I can never drive the Mini Cooper. It’s manual. Full stop. Wonder HOWWWWW I got my driving license then? hahaha… didn’t involve any ‘camel’ whatsoever, that’s for sure. I was of course still muda trang tang tang then. LOL!!!


    What! You had to work the wipers using a rope-and-pulley system from inside the car! That must have taken some doing.

    You women have all the advantages: all just you have to do is bat your eyelids at the instructor and – wham! – you get a spanking new driving licence. But hey! Who said life was fair… 🙂

  11. Hi Matt,

    Everybody got ‘kopi’ license back then. Ahh the good old lovebug; I didn’t own one but I drove her big brother VW Combi van, now that’s a real love-machine (curtain & all)…hehe…..

    Off topic; intermission:

    Hey do you know that this is the ‘most played record by British broadcasting of the past 70 years’…wow.. This WAS my anthem in my younger days & is still going strong today. This one’s specially for u man; how can u have Tea & Scones without this accompanying song (1967), enjoy!

    Hope I have my commas in the right places, Sir!

    Have a lovely weekend guys. Cheers,


    P/S – I’ll walk a mile for a Camel anytime! Yeah non filter one leh….cough..cough…


    That video of Procol Harum knocked me out cold. I was floored for a good 30 minutes while I let the world go by and let the music transport me to the days when I could wear pair of jeans and not look like a clown.

    Thanks, man!

  12. NOW we finally have something in common, Mat B! I had a two-toned VW (silver & azure) way back in the mid 1990s. Bought the ramshackle thing for RM2,500, spent RM15k putting it all together (masa tu banyak duit, PR business booming..hehehe)

    We gave so much business to one workshop in Subang Jaya, fixing that junk before it became a thing of envy, that the Chinaman owner took it upon himself to tend to the car.

    My daughter Ann had the best memory of that car. At that time she was in a private boarding school near Bangi and I use to visit her weekends, bringing food and stuff. She said her friends used to tell her that they knew food was on the way when they heard the distinctive sound the VW made and they would seek out Ann to tumpang sekaki….

    Puteri Kamaliah

    Doing up a Beetle can be expensive – very, very expensive. That’s why I never bothered doing mine up 🙂

    But the sound is really distinctive! When I went to see my sons – who were living with the ex- in Setapak – they’d hear me coming from a mile a way. By the time I got to the front gate, they’d be all dressed-up and waiting to be whisked-off by their dad on god-knows-what adventures he had in store for them

  13. At 31, I still do not have a driving license.
    This entry reminds me I am not THAT late after all.. 😛


    No, ma’am. It’s still not too late to get one: never is.

  14. hehehe…Mamak,mamak,

    Off course I remember the VW,and the ori owner was no other that our Dato Sham Boe’s late mum.
    Why didnt you keep it!!You would strile a gold mine now.
    Rattling about old VW,I have my first exprience on crusing of ayah’s VW when I was Sith Form,borrow his to go to an amoi’s chunn house at Bukit Rambai.Cow-cow beb !!
    Balik drp.visiting,kereta tiba rumah,boot kereta berasap.
    Ayah,menjerit kipas motor putus !!!!Jahaman harta aku.

    Pak Tuo

    I didn’t keep it because it broke in two. Cik gu Latip of Merlimau bought it off of me for RM100. I think now the body is a reban ayam and the engine is used as a pump to irrigate his kebun sayur.

    I still go to visit the Beetle (or parts of it) once in a while

  15. Hi.. 1. so Pak Salleh was once your FIL? <- truly a kepo Q, heheh. 2. I had my ‘P’ license when I was .. tssk..tssk… at a tender age of 40+ (the + sign equals to wisdom, haha) 3. VW happens to be my daughter’s ‘nightmare’ car (nightmare for abah = RM melayang); therefore we discourage her from having one though my sister/BIL dah pun pelawa that we could take their VW FOC (quite tip-top). Imagine that? It’s kinda durian runtuh (dont u think?), but we declined anyway (merely because we try to minimise perang sabil between siblings <- 2 aje tapi mcm 12). Last but not least, may I know how ‘scones’ is pronounced? (I know the answer but coming from you, it sort of ‘lebih afdal’, heheh. Thanks in advance.


    No, ma’am. I never married his daughter. They are good people, you see; I, on the other hand…

    And yes, maintaining a Beetle can be a bitch: dead expensive. Vintage Beetles should be more of a hobby-horse rather than a work-horse.

    Pronunciation of scones? Despite what the Americans say (they are seldom right when it comes to the English language), I would make scone rhyme with on or don. It should not rhyme with own.

    Good to see you again.

  16. Bro Mat B

    You slayed me with the tale. I particularly liked the part about the driving instructor being fond of his testicles 😀

    My weekend has started well being buoyed by your excellent humour.

    de minimis

    Have a good weekend, my friend.

    As for me, I’ll be trying very hard to get through it with my testicles intact.

  17. Dear MB,

    OMG..I love Volkswagen Beetles..(scream..scream..)

    Despite having four years of driving experience, I am still a “P”. I am still unable to do the metre parking and drive a manual car.

    Oh, yes, don’t ask me how to open the bonnet as I do not know where to push or pull. It was only when hubby was hospitalized that I experienced how to fill up the fuel tank. I am hopeless. Or like how my hubby puts it..”manja, naik lemak!”


    Don’t worry about the parking thinggy: it’ll come to you soon enough.

    There was a time when, if I had to do side-parking and there was a big drain, or stream, or river, or whatever next to it, my friends would insist on getting out of the car first. Nowadays they don’t do that anymore; they just sit in the car and pray very, very hard.

  18. one of my earliest first experience with the vw was right after form 6 back to seremban from boarding school in 1968. a friend has just got his licence and he was showing off his father’s ‘present’ to him for getting a scholarship to do medicine in aussie land. we stopped at a petrol station when he non-chalantly told the operator to top up the water coolant when he was told off that the vw was air-cooled and that was the front boot that he just opened!

    puteri, next time you see jon at the lake club, ask him whether he remembers this !

    mat b, thanks again for opening the flood gates.


    kassim ahmad

    The Bettle is air-cooled? No wonder I never found a place to pour the water in! I just though my Beetle had a super-efficient radiator 🙂

  19. Mat

    Again no joke or humour from me – it might spoil everybody’s mood, you all being nostalgic about the beetle.

    I never own one but drove my lazy-to-drive friend’s one with him Penang-KL shortly before I started work after graduation. Rainy, wet, winding Ipoh Road, entering KL pre-PLUS days, badly negotiated the bend, not changing into lower gear, lost control, swiped half the bridge railing, turned the opposite way, landed on its side, at the bottom of the not-yet gushing river, near the Masjid Kg Batu.

    I broke one leg, my friend had only bruises, he appeared unruffled about it all. Very concerned about the repair costs, I had no money, on crutches the next few days, I rang him asking about repair funds, and the man simply kept repeating “no problem” to my rather frantically repeated questions. As if he was abig shot with big bucks – he had worked hardly a year then.

    Only months later did I learn such things as comprehensive insurance coverage and the fellows were laughing at me in his office.

    I was relieved to know I owed him nothing for the damages, though I became the subject of humour among schoolmates for a while.

    Moral of the story? Break a leg and don’t pay for damages? No, too dry. Try: Learn about insurance and u r insured against being made fun of. Or simply: Drive a beetle carefully on rainy days.


    Dry Humour

    Sorry to hear about your accident, my friend.

    Hmm… I was a branch manager for an insurance company once and knew a heck of a lot about insurance; but my friends still made fun of me. Maybe if I didn’t look so much like a clown…

  20. Mat

    I read your comment in one of the SoPo blogs. I agree with your views entirely. Despite the accusations (which are unproven), we should give DS Najib time to prove his worth as PM.

    Should you not mind a bit of political commentary in your blog, I might occasionally go a little beyond the past casual snide remark at corrupt politicians in the future. But I don’t want to spoil your format or upset your regular partricipants here.

    Just say something in your remark below and I’ll take the cue. (Melayu always polite, tak mahu lawan tokey, minta permission macam2 – orang lain main sapu saja! You writing about exclamation mark next time?)

    Cheers, old boy.

    Dry Humour

    Frankly, this blog belongs to the readers as much as it does to me: without the readers this blog would be no better than an exercise in syok sendiri! In any case – as far as I know – we are among friends here. So fire away, my friend.

    But I do appreciate your courtesy.

    I think I will do colons and semi-colons first; then I will move on to the exclamation mark.

  21. Dear MatB

    Have been religiously following but sorry, have not had the inspiration to comment…god, I’m getting grouchy again.

    Aaah, the VW…My memories of a VW is actually with the van…it was our school van in the early 70s…where about 30 of us kids would be cramped up into one.

    Tok Mila

    I remember that VW Combi very well. I went to the hospital so often in that van (driven by arwah Pak Cik Aziz) that I should have become a doctor. But of course, I wasn’t that sickly: I just wanted to skip classes.

    Those were the days…

  22. Salam Mat B…

    I thought your experience with a VW Beetle was a lot earlier than your first car. Remember, one fine day during one of those new students registration day…? A new student arrived with her family in a VW Beetle…? As usual the ‘Abangs’, keen to make an impression on those cute female ‘Adiks’ would be the first to welcome them… Of course one ‘Abang’ (or was it a ‘Kakak’, can’t really remember) was extra keen on making the impression and went straight for the boot to lift the luggages of that new ‘Adik’… Yes… You’ve guessed it… He/she opened up the engine compartment instead…!!!

    Mat Kjenk

    So glad to see you here, man!

    Yes, I do seem to recall a certain female junior whose parents owned a VW – and how I used to – er… never mind.

    But no, it wasn’t me who opened the trunk only to find the engine. Maybe I should have. That way, I would have had some impact on her. As it was, I had none at all!

  23. first car and first love, no one forgets. ever!

    mine was a used 8 or 9 yr old souped-up clubman to give it the feel of a 1275gt.

    dad must have wanted to live vicariously thru me. my dear mum thought we conspired just to annoy her. 😀


    It’s true! One never forgets one’s first car. But sadly, if we take the nostalgia out of the equation and really, really look at it, first loves are – how shall I say this? – often quite forgettable. Really! Take off the rose-tinted glasses and see for yourself.

    Then again, maybe I’ve been kicked in the teeth by women once too often…

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