Can you believe that it has been nearly nine years since the Proton Preve was introduced? At the time, its 1.6 litre turbocharged CFE (Charge Fuel Efficiency) engine was the talk of the town. While it wasn’t quite as spirited as the Volkswagen Group’s 1.4 litre TSI mill, the CFE unit developed 138 hp, which was close to matching the Honda Civic FD’s 1.8L engine, and made more torque than the Civic FD 2.0L’s lump.

Our initial test drive impressions were positive – the engine was decidedly punchy, and Lotus’ ride and handling magic coursed freely through its veins. The mediocre GT Radial Champiro factory tyres aside, the Preve was a hoot to drive, with great steering response and a predictable tail. You could say it drove confidently and with much composure, even when barreling into the corners.

However, the real “potong stim” factor was the continuously variable transmission that came with it. During the Preve’s launch, Proton engaged Lotus brand ambassador and ex-Formula One driver Jean Alesi, who told the press that the CVT offered a “very smooth” driving experience and good engine braking performance. Well, let’s just say it didn’t quite work out like that, at least not for us.

The CVT wasn’t the best fit for the CFE engine. It roared uncharacteristically at full pelt, creating a loud droning noise akin to an airplane taking off. So we thought, wouldn’t a manual gearbox suit the car better? Surely it would have been more appealing to enthusiast drivers.

The green Preve you see before you is exactly that, a real-life manifestation of what should have existed. Syamil Hisham is the proud owner of the car for eight years. As an enthusiast himself, the modifications started out small. Five years in and a few transmission failures later, Syamil decided it was time to part ways with the CVT, thus began the painstaking journey of a stick shift conversion.

You might wonder, wouldn’t it be easier to do a full engine/gearbox transplant from the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution instead? If anything, the successful attempts of other Preve owners should justify the hefty investment. According to Syamil, the 1.6 litre CFE engine was already dynamic enough, and the engine swap route would only introduce more weight that could adversely affect the vehicle’s well-rounded nature.

With that, Syamil reckoned that the most “cost effective” mod, at least in the long run, is to do a manual gearbox conversion. To do this, he sourced a five-speed gearbox from a Proton Satria Neo, along with the brake and clutch pedals. These aren’t the plug-and-play kind, even though the CFE engine is based on Proton’s S4PH CamPro engine.

Some tinkering was required to get the gearbox to align with the engine (only three bolts were aligned at first). The process included modifying the CFE’s flywheel for a seamless fit, and the gated shifter itself was taken from a Lancer Evo (also modified to fit).

In case you’re wondering why Syamil didn’t just use the manual transmission from the Preve 1.6 IAFM, the answer is simple – there’s not many of those around, and not many can be found at half-cut lots. This Frankenstein method is clearly far more complicated, but let’s just call it a labour of love.

Once that’s out of the way, it’s time to sort out the electricals, specifically the wiring system and engine control unit. Like most modern engines, the Preve uses a multiplexing wiring method, allowing a multitude of compute units in the car to communicate with one another. If the signals from the original CVT are no longer present, then the engine will cease to function optimally.

To mitigate this issue, Syamil again Frankensteined the ECU. The original IAFM drive-by-wire system gets replaced with a throttle body (and cable) taken from a Nissan SR16 engine. Then, a new MaxxEcu Mini from Sweden gets installed. These aside, the rest of the electronics remain bone stock.

Speaking of which, the engine is also still in its factory state. The only work it has gotten is a top overhaul. Even the turbocharger is the factory unit. The induction system, however, gets upgraded with a Works Engineering carbon-fibre enclosure with a Simota air filter, and the air channels are shortened with custom fabricated aluminium ducts.

Syamil also used new ignition coils from a Honda K20 engine, plus a straight-pipe exhaust system that’s embellished with dual four-inch Akrapovic tips. There are no mufflers here, so you get the requisite pops and crackles, plus a little “fireworks” display when the foot is lifted off the throttle pedal.

All in, power is raised from 138 hp to 160 hp, or about a 16% increase from before. So that’s it, all good to go! No, not quite – the hurdles don’t end there. With the Neo’s gearbox now in place, the Preve’s original driveshaft is no longer usable, because the gearings on the differential slot don’t match. Syamil trialed a number of driveshafts, but many broke because they weren’t able to handle the CFE engine’s increased output.

For the time being, a carbon steel driveshaft seemed to solve the issue. Should it break again in the future, Syamil said he will resort to using chromoly, a tougher alloy made from chromium and molybdenum that’s commonly used for making bicycles.

Another aspect of the car that has been improved is suspension. Syamil went with homegrown brand FTuned Suspension for his setup, specifically the mid-range S Series. This was primarily for two reasons – optimal balance between performance and everyday comfort, and price. This is paired with a set of 17-inch Fifteen52 Tarmac wheels shod with 215/40 series Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres. The brakes are unchanged, though the front rotors have been drilled for better cooling.

Aesthetically, the Preve is finished in British Racing Green (a rightful nod to Lotus) and dressed with a front lip, a front splitter (reminiscent of Proton R3’s Preve race car), a ducktail rear spoiler, plus a rear diffuser by Varis, which was actually made for the Subaru Impreza WRX STI GDB. Notice the missing front left fog lamp? Well, that has been converted to an intake, specifically for the standard intercooler that’s right behind it.

Inside, there’s a new 13-inch flat-bottomed steering wheel by OMP (wrapped with Alcantara!), Bride Low Max race bucket seat for the driver, a Bride Cuga front passenger seat, carbon-fibre-wrapped trimmings, and Ralliart gear knob.

The party trick here is the new OBD2 Magician digital instrumentation that has been retrofitted into the instrument binnacle. It provides engine revolution readout, battery voltage, engine temperature and even turbo boost meter. It also doubles as a “mask” to hide all the warning lights that have come on as a result of tinkering with the engine management system.

In an ideal world, we would love for Proton to produce the Preve CFE MT, never mind if it was sold in very limited quantities. Syamil’s car is a living proof of concept, and anyone out there looking for some fun can start sourcing for a used Preve CFE, which can typically be had in the region of RM20k to RM30k. Now, dear readers, what do you think of this manual Preve CFE?

This article has been translated from the original story written by our BM counterpart.