It’s time for Bangerwatch, PetrolBlog’s equivalent of BBC TV’s Springwatch, only without Kate Humble, Michaela Strachan or any wildlife. Instead, Bangerwatch takes a look at rare and interesting cars that have fallen into Banger territory, seemingly spiralling into oblivion. By giving them exposure as potential Bangernomics project cars, it is hoped that PetrolBlog can save them from extinction.
The Proton Satria GTi is no stranger to PetrolBlog, appearing once as a Car Confessional and subsequently appearing in an Ask PetrolBlog feature. Well it's time to make it a hattrick of entries as the Lotus-developed hot hatch has now made it to the heights (or should that be depths?) of Bangerwatch status. Come on, how many other ten year old hatches with genuine Lotus credibility and an evo magazine four-star rating can you pick up for less than a bag of sand? That's right, none, so make sure the Satria GTi is on your list of potential suitors for some B-road action this spring.
History of species
Proton purchased Lotus Cars in 1997 and, for a while, the world looked forward to the wizards of Hethel breathing some magic into the range of Malaysian budget brand cars. At the time Proton was offering a three-door hatchback in the form of the Satria, essentially a mildly reworked fourth-generation Mitsubishi Colt.
In fact, aside from a few cosmetic changes and an interior from the Proton Wira, very little was changed. At best the car could be described as average, but the Mitsubishi running gear meant that it was ultra-reliable. Average and reliable aren't two words that immediately spring to mind when conjuring up images of a hot hatch.
Which therefore makes the transformation into the Satria GTi all the more remarkable. Although you could never claim that what emerged from the sheds at Hethel had the same impact of say the E-Type Jag in 1961, it was a remastering that would have done Jive Bunny proud.
A few questionable details aside, the Satria GTi looked every inch a ground up engineered hot hatch. The square exhaust pipes were just wrong and the exposed wheel arch rivets were a bit of a ‘Marmite’ feature, but the rest has to be put down as a success. The 16-inch six-spoke alloys were just about perfect, as were the rear spoiler and revised front bumper.
I distinctly remember reading issue 14 of EVO magazine which saw it pitched against the Fiat Punto HGT, Ford Puma and Peugeot 206 GTi. I won't go all Alan Partridge and start quoting comments from the article, but needless to say the review was rather positive.
Naturally the Puma won hands down, but reading between the lines the Proton just edged the 206 and beat the Punto. Today, the Satria GTi has been cruelly removed from ‘The Knowledge’ at the back of the magazine, meaning it's down to the likes of PetrolBlog to keep the fires burning bright.
It was sometime later when working for a creative agency that I came into contact with the Satria GTi. Proton's lack of image in the UK and a tiny marketing budget meant that the Satria GTi was never a great success. In fact you'd stand more chance of seeing one at Silverstone's Proton Racing School than you would on the road. The small matter of a £14,500 price tag didn't help matters, so buyers stuck with the brands they knew, even if it meant buying an inferior product.
But by working on the Proton account I did have the opportunity of taking a Proton as a company car. Naturally I chose a Satria GTi. Sadly, the first one I was given was an ex-Silverstone car and countless thrashings had left it feeling a little tired. So in 2004 I was given a brand spanking new car and I loved it.
The input of Lotus was evident as soon as you hit a B-road. There were distinct kart-like characteristics, like the huge levels of grip, complete absence of body roll and a surprisingly communicative chassis. The steering was also sharp, direct and full of feel. It was, however, trumped by my Ford Puma in just about every area, aside from the Recaro seats which were wonderfully supportive, unlike the Puma's.
But like the Puma there was always a sense that it needed more power. The 1.8-litre 16v engine was essentially a non-turbo version of the lump found in the Mitsubishi Lancer GSR that developed 133bhp. A 0-60 time of 9.4 seconds and a 50-70mph time of 14.7 seconds highlights the Satria's lack of punch, meaning you had to really work the engine to take advantage of the car's handling prowess. This had a drastic effect on the Satria GTi's already poor fuel economy, resulting in numerous visits to the local Shell garage. Achieving less than 200 miles from a 50-litre tank of fuel was not uncommon.
There was further bad news on the inside where the Lotus makeover resulted in a selection of scratchy silver and black plastics combined with dated and flimsy switchgear and faux carbon fibre effect detailing. If I remember correctly, turning the air con on would result in a loud noise and a loss in power. So it was inevitably left switched off.
The thirst for fuel and a high company car tax bill meant the Satria was later sent back to Proton in exchange for a Jumbuck (no, really) – but I'll save that story for another update.
Time has been kind to the Satria GTi. At today's prices you can forgive the poor quality interior and instead revel in one of the most communicative and underrated hot hatches of the turn of the millennium. Even the exposed rivets and square exhaust tips have a certain amount of retro charm. Or maybe that's just me?
Many Satria GTis can be found loitering around the retail parks of Great Britain, some with questionable aftermarket trinkets and jewellery. There will invariably be a few up for sale on eBay and Gumtree too.
If you're lucky you may found a meticulously cared for and well maintained example on the driveway of a presentable bungalow on the outskirts of town. Proton owners were fiercely loyal back in the day and some Satria GTis would have made their way into the hands of a more mature buyer. These examples are worth hunting down.
What to look for
The interior wasn't up to much when new, so by now it could be looking incredibly tired, especially on high mileage cars. The Recaro seats are also prone to rips, tears and the material can go saggy. They also stain incredibly easy. Look out for dents on the bodywork, missing trim and check out the front bumper which is prone to stone chips.
Mechanically though they should be reliable enough – just make sure it's been well maintained. Check when the head gasket and timing belt were last done. It's also best to avoid one of the ex-Silverstone cars. Oh and if you don't like silver cars, look away now. They didn't come in any other colour.
Insurance can be on the high side, so check out some quotes online.
Risk of extinction
At its peak in 2004, there were only 729 Satria GTis on the roads of Britain, so it's always been a bit of a rarity. According to How Many Left? there are still 360 on the road, so the Satria GTi is in no real danger of extinction. In fact, I'd say that seeing 50% of all cars sold plus a further 100 or so listed as SORN is a testament to the GTi's staying power, reliability and charm.
Caught in the wild
You needn't pay more than £1,000 for a Satria GTi and it's also possible to pick up high mileage and tatty examples for £500. At this price they present a great case for a weekend track toy.
At £800 with no reserve, this low mileage car looks appealing. You'd need to get the blowing exhaust looked at, but if the mileage can be verified it becomes rather tempting.
Looks like someone has removed the Proton badges though. Still, at least they didn't whack a couple of Lotus roundels on there instead.
Check out the Satria GTi for sale on eBay.
This one is for sale close to Hethel in Norwich and going by the number plate, it looks like it's always been a local car. Again the mileage looks reasonable and despite the seller already knocking the price down from £1,595 to £1,295, it could probably be bought for a grand. Bargain.
Have a look at the Satria GTi for sale on eBay here.
At the top end of the price scale is this very tidy looking and low mileage car. It's a Bournemouth-registered Satria GTi that's up for sale on Auto Trader for £200 more than it is on eBay. Pricey, but it has only done 53,000 miles and comes with a full service history and new MOT. It's probably led an easy life in Bournemouth too.
Here's the Satria GTi up for sale on eBay.
The PetrolBlog Verdict
I could be imagining it, but I'm sure prices of the Satria GTi are on the rise. Seeing quite a few up for nearly £2k suggests that the days of a grabbing a bargain could be behind us. I still don't think that you need to spend more than £1k, but low mileage examples are going to be few and far between.
It's car that's unlikely to appeal to everyone. For some, the Proton badge is an obstacle that's impossible to overcome, even with the input of Lotus. For others, the likes of a Renaultsport Clio, Ford Puma or Golf GTi will hold more appeal. And for others, it's just a garish and underpowered warm hatch.
But for the rest of us, the Satria GTi is a tempting alternative to the norm with more than a few tricks up its sleeve. Enough to tempt you out of bed for a Sunday morning drive? You betcha.
Check out the Proton Owners Club where the Satria GTi is a well regarded hot hatch.
All images © Proton Cars UK.