For nearly 20 years now, the Trans Sport Show has become a permanent fixture on the automotive enthusiast's calendar. Long rows of automotive aftermarket booths line one side while some of the most finely restored cars and most eye-catching modified vehicles in the country take the majority of the floor.
Booth exhibitors and participants prepare for this show months to even years in advance. Attendees on the other hand anticipate the arrival of summer and, just as sure as the seasons, another staging of Trans Sport Show.
The brains behind the car show are not your average grease-stained, pot-belied mechanics. They are, in fact, two of the most bubbly, relatable and meticulous car enthusiasts you'll ever meet.
At the Tradeshow International office, among tall stacks of paper, bookshelves of repair manuals and Kelly blue books, pictures and posters of various cars on the walls were Sophie delos Santos and Marie Villar, sitting back on car racing seats repurposed into office chairs.
In spite of the Trans Sport Show being just days away, they willingly entertained Chokdee.info for an interview.
Interviewer: So how did it all start?
Sophie: Marie and I, in the 1980's, were both still working with Philcite. Philcite then was the biggest exhibition venue and organizers of exhibits. Marie was already working for them and I followed suit.
Marie had more years there handling shows like BuildEx, Sights and Sounds, Health and Fitness. I came in 1987 and the first show I handled was the Trans Show International.
Even before I joined Philcite, my heart was set on the Trans Show. My friends were part of the crews of rally teams, and I'd tag along with them so the passion for cars was already there.
The Trans Show was born 1982 but when I joined in '87, I handled it for a couple of years.
Come 1992, Marie resigned to be a housewife. Philcite decided to stop organizing exhibitions and changed its operations to running the Star City theme park.
We weren't so keen on the change so Marie and I decided to put up a food business. Yet while we were starting it out, we kept receiving calls from car competitors.
"When is the next Trans Show? I have a car prepared…"
So we were entertaining calls and decided to do it - just one show because we missed it. One thing led to the other and we realized we had to put up a company because we started booking booths but had to issue receipts. So we had to put up a company to be able to organize this event without even thinking it would be for the long haul. It was just a spur of the moment without any long term plans. So Trade and Show Management was born there in the fast food area of Shangri-la Plaza Mall.
I: So would it follow the same style as the original Trans Show?
S: When we decided to put up Trans Show, we wanted it to have a distinct appeal, what would distinguish it from others. We had the Trans Show Cup. We have the Best of Show winner which we always highlight and feature in our posters.
We wanted the Trans Show fever but we wanted a new name to go with the new venue. We had to think of what would be new with our Trans Show. So we decided to inject motorsports. That's why we put "Sport" in the name.
I: So how was a discipline like motorsports (which focuses on race cars) included in a car show (which has static cars)?
S: We were the first to highlight motorsports because we wanted to bring back motorsports in the Philippines. We had to introduce the different disciplines to the public by having seminars. We wanted to get into slalom but only a few understood. We wanted to use the Trans Sport Show to get in touch with the enthusiasts.
Circuit racing disappeared for a while but we had a lot of other disciplines to be promoted in the show. We would display a few souped up cars. We got one from each discipline; karting, slalom, drag race cars. The race cars were really used but they really made an effort to make it look good. And we invited some speakers, calling it Motorsports 101 to help popularize motorsports.
Are there any other special exhibits besides motorsports?
Marie: We'd give importance to a certain marquee if it's celebrating an anniversary. There was a time it was Ford, Porsche, the Mustang. There was also time that we featured automotive designers or a certain marquee. If there's something being celebrated, we highlight that so that there's an educational aspect.
I: Why is this educational aspect important?
S: It all boils down to the fact that the Trans Sport Show is a car hobbyist or car enthusiast show. It's more for the end users; people with cars, with children who are interested in cars. We always say the Trans Sport Show is where enthusiasts are born.
I: Does this cultivate a different kind of interest from a manufacturer show?
S: It's a general car show. We're not a manufacturer show. The difference between a manufacturer show and an enthusiast show like the Trans Sport Show are those who join. Our participants are smaller companies and the end users. We support the automotive aftermarket. The industry includes restoration, mobile electronics, accessories. It's all under the industry.
I: Back to the show itself, how did it evolve to become what people know it as now?
The Trans Sport Show is very public. It's the first car show for the year. It started in September, but we moved it to April because there were a lot of car shows already at that time of the year. Since then, it's become the first April automotive aftermarket show for us.
I: SM Megamall's Megatrade Hall seems to be the show's favorite venue. Why so?
M: At the time, SM Megamall was being built. When they found out we were having the show in Shangri-la Plaza Mall, they offered us the venue because they were converting the 5th level to an exhibition level. Starting '93, that's where the Trans Sport Show has been. For 18 years, we've been there.
I: Are there any limitations with the area?
M: There's weight restrictions. A car weighing more than 2000 kilos needs to have a platform. There's the size of the door. We had to remove the frame of the cargo doors once because a Diablo we featured was so wide. The Hummer is too big. We can never feature Hummers. That's why we have the Manila Auto Salon.
I: What can one expect when joining a car in the show?
M: We have an orientation. We show them the process.
S: When they're new, we do the calling. They come here to our office and we prep them. We take care of our competitors and exhibitors. We go the extra mile and instill values as well. If we see some competitors treat his people the wrong way, we'll call his attention.
I: How are the entries classified?
S: There's no rule between vintage and classic. It's really vague because it depends on who says so. From the point of view of MSCC, the definition is different. From the point of view of Vintage Car Club of America, the definition is different.
It really depends on who's saying it, you really have to take it as it is. Not all convertibles can be a roadster or a sports car. So whoever is organizing the competition sets the rules.
We have our own definition. When we hold a car competition, we stick by this. This is what we mean by sports car, supercar.
I: How is the judging process done?
S: We focus so much on the credibility of the judges and the judging system. From the very first Trans Show, we were known to have a very good set judges who stuck to the principles and rules and regulations of the judging system. The criteria was very high.
We researched and put what is applicable to local, not necessarily the high end standards used by the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. We had to consider the level of those who joined. We noticed there's a mix of professional and new. And we want to encourage participation of the new.
That's why in every show, about 10% are from new competitors. Even if there's a long line of applicants, we always give a certain number of slots for the new competitors. It's part of our approach.
Every year we're in continuous search for new judges. We value credibility so we look into their background. If his expertise is just paint, we consider that but let him judge just the paint. If one specializes in Japanese cars, we consider it but try to balance it by having deliberations with other judges.
The judges do a swift scan all the cars because 85 is already a lot. You can't judge all 200 cars. If it's not in show condition car just from the look, it's eliminated. Then they go to the 2nd level of eliminations from exteriors to interiors.
Every part of the car has to be show quality. That's how car competitions are supposed to be done.
I: It's a rather harsh system. Have there been any complaints about it?
S: The first few years, we had a lot of complaints. After all these years though, we've had less and less, especially since we came up with a rule book. If it's clear to the competitors from the very start what they're getting into, what the rules are, there are hardly any complaints. The complaints are more about positioning these days.
The more information they have, in the form of a contract, educating them about the rules and that if they have complaints, they have to file it, the process is clear to them. Our car competitions are professionally done.
I: So how are complaints addressed?
M: If the competitor has a complaint, they can always approach the judges and they'll be always willing to explain to them why their car didn't come first in its class, or what's wrong with his car. From there, they know, they improve and they can prepare their car better.
I: Have there been a few difficult cases?
S: There a few that we've blacklisted. They ruin the experience, they don't show sportsmanship. If we feel that this person will be a threat to the other competitors, if he causes trouble, If he badmouths others, tries to bribe us, then we blacklist them. We don't like it if he causes trouble with the community.
I: So they're banned forever?
S: Not at all. If we feel that they've changed, then we'll give them a second change.
We're like mommies here. That's the difference with women. Females are really more meticulous. We're very forgiving. We believe people can change.
I: So after all that, how are the winners awarded?
S: We have the class winners, the Trans Sport Show cup. We have the best of show which we always highlight and feature in our posters.
I: How did that poster idea come along?
S: Back in the Trans Show days, when I was handling it, the posters were always graphic. I didn't like this. I wanted a real car and the winner that year was a Jaguar XKE. We hired a pro photographer in a studio were we brought the Jaguar. I had it shot from the top, all the angles. Since then it's become a tradition.
I: Can only old cars win?
M: For the Trans Sport Show cup, judges put a big weight on restoration. Usually older cars have a higher chance of winning Best of Show because it's harder to restore an old car.
But we have all these young guys who want to join the show but they're not really for restoration but more on fixing the car and modifying it.
Last year is the first time we've had two winners for best of show; Best of Show Contemporary and Best of Show Nostalgic. We just decided to award two because there were so many newer cars that were deserving of Best of Show.
There's a cut-off year: 1990 and newer fall under Contemporary. '89 or older can vie for Nostalgic.
I: Were there difficult times for the Trans Sport Show just as there were difficult times for motorsports?
M: The Trans Sport Show now is the longest running annual car show in the Philippines - that we're proud to say. No matter what the situation was politically or economically in the country, we'd push through with it.
In 1996-97, there was an economic crisis, some political turmoil. We had to come up with a show. There were few entries so we searched for cars to join in the show. We borrowed from friends with nice cars, friends who trust us, all without any compensation.
I: Those years were banner years for automotive sales in the Philippines. How was it difficult to put up a show?
Our exhibitors are smaller companies with smaller budgets compared to car companies. Come economic crises, the booths are not considered primary marketing tools. We'll tell you though that they're actually the best marketing tools.
The cars themselves are privately owned and if there's no budget to restore, there's no car to join. Joining a car show is not a priority because it's a hobbyist show. If there's anything you have to spend on during a crisis, the hobby is one of the last.
I: Difficulties aside, I understand this is a special year for the Transport show.
S: Yes. '92 was the first year of the Trans Sport Show. It's different with a show; once you hold a show, that's it. It's more of a 20th show, a 20th edition, not to be confused with anniversary.
M: This year, we're moving to SMX because we have 2 other events, 1st Philippine Nostalgic Car Show, and the Manila Sports Car Club's Concours d'Elegance.
Also for this year, we want it to be a reunion of sorts, a get together, a celebration of all past winners, all those who inspired us to continue to put up the Trans Sport Show, our mentors and, of course, a wide array of cars from past and present.
Barry Meguiar of the Meguiar Car Care Products from the US will come over. He hosts a show in the Speed Channel called Car Crazy. He's coming over to shoot two episodes and wants to know more about car enthusiasts in the Philippines.
He wants to see the people who come to the show and we want to show him that the Philippines restores cars well. He'll interview car collectors here. It's really a big thing for us.
We want people to know globally that there are real die hard car fanatics in the Philippines who know cars. There's no Philippine car show that is globally advertised. This is the first.
I:Any other plans for future Trans Sport Shows?
S: Our 25th show is coming up and we might make a coffee table book. Every time, the winners are professionally shot so that's our next project for the 25th.
I: Any final words to those who plan to visit the upcoming car show?
We are the leaders in car shows and we want visitors to understand that loving a car, to appreciate a car or to be an enthusiast, you don't necessarily have to be rich or poor, young or old. It transcends gender, age demographic. We welcome all walks as long as they're into cars. It's really about a love affair with cars.