A market starved
Today, we are spoiled for choice. Except Skoda, SEAT, Renault, FIAT and Samsung, we can choose from easily 40 world name brands. Thirty years ago, the little car market we had that was served by a handful of brands was abandoned because of the foreign exchange crisis post Ninoy Aquino assassination.
Ford abandoned its body stamping plant in Mariveles, Bataan and paid all its tax liabilities with fully assembled Lasers and Telstars. Delta Motors, the Toyota distributor, was foreclosed by the banks for insolvency, laying to waist Toyota's investment in gasoline engine, vehicle manufacturing for the Mini Cruiser and the Tamaraw AUV and NipponDenso's extensive investment in parts manufacture. GM gave up its facilities and [PEC – Pilipinas Engine Corp. Dasmarinas, Cavite] diesel engine plant to Isuzu who maintained the dwindling stock of Gemini diesels for taxi fleets.
Universal Motors Datsun were nursing their dwindling stock of 620, 1.1 liter mini pick ups and 180B sedans. Commercial Motors, assemblers of basic spec ancient W123 Mercedes 200D and 200 sedans were also no longer replenishing their stock of CKD's, already superseded by the W124 in 1985. Tropical Distributors of Renault had only a few R20s left before they were about to close shop. Francisco Motors, makers of the Pinoy AUV also stopped production since it could no longer source Mazda parts.
Two Manufacturers of consequence
Newbie, Pilipinas Nissan, hunkered down for the long haul. They were building a huge plant in Santa Rosa, which was designed to handle high production volumes by robot assembly in the near future. They bought the remaining body stamping bits of the Ford Fiera III and rebadged it as the Nissan Bida, using the locally made PEC diesel engine, a barely disguised Isuzu C-190. Nissan's current model then was the B12 Sentra to which Nissan just introduced a 1.7-liter diesel, on top of 1.3 and 1.5 liter gasoline variants. The 1.8-liter T-12 Maxima was the biggest car one could buy from a local volume brand at that time. With Nissan's commitment, owners of Pulsars and T-11 Stanza were not in fear of losing parts and service support. The other manufacturer who stuck it out in the Philippines was Mitsubishi who continued to build the rear wheel drive Lancer, fondly nicknamed “box” type. Mitsubishi added the L300 van to its menu, which was an instant hit with large families and the new People Power elite with their train of bodyguards and hangers-on. Mitsubishi also soldiered on with its manual transmission plant, its contribution to the fading PCMP car making program. Besides, Nissan, the only AUV maker left was Isuzu with its KC 20.
Orphaned, grey market
Orphaned brands, like Toyota continued limited sales of the first front wheel drive Corolla and rear wheel drive Cressida through independent jobbers. With the collapse of the local car makers, the “grey” and sur market boomed. Imports of pristine pre-owned North American Federal version Mercedes Benz W126 300SD turbo diesels and a sprinkling of 190E 2.3 wer the car of choice of the new elite. Taking advantage of “Balikbayan” or returning resident reduced tax privilege, the grey imports multiplied in the garages of the high society top 400. Those who preferred European sourced W124's, waited and paid deposits for ADB [Asian Development Bank] expats who dispose of their Mercedes's to the local market after a 3 year residency.
The Sur revolution
On the other side of the spectrum, and following the successful market coverage of imported used right hand drive heavy trucks from Japan, Johnny Tan, today's patron of racing circuits, imported sur Isuzu NKR/Elf light trucks, supplying the burgeoning Small and Medium Scale enterprises with versatile sub 4.5 ton light cargo and panel delivery vans. The sur light truck import grew by phenomenal leaps and bounds, filling in a gap left by the absence of any significant LCV [light commercial vehicle] seller. Sur engines, transmissions, velour seats, dashboards, factory tinted glass, doors, body parts, engine computers, etc. coming from breaker yards in Japan were soon flooding the market, keeping many a car or truck mobile and roadworthy. With JDM standards of OEM parts, some locally made Japanese branded cars were even treated to a style and feature [seats, dash, power steering, power windows] upgrade. Popular Toyota engines, like the Crown's 5R, Cressida/Mark 2's 18R, Corona's 12R, Corolla 3K were so abundant, they also became the power plant of choice for backyard assembled owner jeeps. There were also Mitsubishi Astron, Orion and Saturn engines but the Toyota's dominated. Isuzu C-190 and C-240 dominated the sur diesels and many powered PUJ's. Mitsubishi diesel engines were the choice for mini buses though. It was not unusual to find a local spec 80s Corolla, ditch its 4k engine for twin side twin cam 2TG, courtesy of the sur importers.
Booming 2nd hand car sales and body/paint shops
With a shortage of new cars, 2nd hand car prices shot to the roof. For instance, a 1985 Ford Laser Ghia automatic, which retailed for less than 100k PHP brand new, was selling for 150k, used at car exchanges in 1987. Corolla lift-backs of 1980 vintage, SRP in 1980 at 50k were sold, 100,000km on the odo, warts and all, for 80k, 7 years later. Car restoration became a boom business as body and paint shops multiplied.
Arthur Tuason, the racer, an ex-emigre from Canada and who used to run AT Ford Escort performance tuner in Bankal Makati, reincarnated as a refinisher with his Sikkens branded “wet look” paint shop chain. Bayer of Germany introduced 2-pack polyurethane with its Anzahl brand while BASF's Glasurit gave Rinshed Mason's Macnell competition in the Acrylic lacquer segment.
By now, paint shops were shifting in droves from nitrocellulose “masilia de mano” to polyester body filler like Bond Tite. Body shops generally stuck to oxy-acetylene welding. Sphero nitrocellulose lacquer was relegated to the backyard assembled owner jeep and mini-bus category. Nippon paints, who used to have all the assembly plants to itself, were now selling OEM pre-mixed colors as either Nippelac acrylic or NAX urethane to retail paint stores. Throughout all this competition, Anacleto Lao of Binondo, Ditzler PPG distributor, kept to his premium pricing and his insistence on color matching and mixing paint formula by weight instead of guesstimate by sight. Dominant new car Rust-proofers Ziebart and Tuff-kote Dinol offered body repair and painting services making them one-stop-shops for automotive restorations.
Ever since the PCMP limited locally made cars to basic spec, a huge market for aftermarket car accessories grew. Popular items were alarms, side view mirrors, film window tint [Gila or 3M], wider tires and alloy wheels, spoilers, audio equipment upgrade, seat covers [corduroy or twill], fancy fleck floor mats, Italian leather or wood steering wheels [MOMO], driving lamps [Hella, Bosch] etc. The go-to guy in Makati in those days was Roger Lo of Roadstar, one among many accessory traders and fitters in Makati Auto Cycle on Buendia. Other venues for car accessories were Anson's Motor Square and SM ACA. But nothing beats Banawe street in Quezon City for a comprehensive choice among hundreds of shop fronts. It's cash only and be prepared to haggle.
For more esoteric mods like Koni adjustable shock absorbers one went to Anacleto Lao in Binondo. Weber side draft carbs, Italian branded aftermarket central locking, rear window defroster, power windows and luxury fabric upholstery, Britax cassette sunroofs and flip up glass moonroofs, Cibie and Marchal lighting, Paddy Hopkirk accessories for Mini and non Mini fans, Campagnolo alloy wheels were available from FCC which started in Biak-na-bato Quezon City area but later moved to Wilson on Ortigas in posh Greenhills. Popular alloy wheels were locally made by Rota-Italia, the predecessor of Mick-Mick Rojas's PAWI, or Phil. Aluminum Wheels Inc.
Spend a bit more and you can buy Ronal, Rial or BBS-Mahle wheels and Bridgestone or Yokohama tires instead of Firestone or Goodyear. Locally available wide radial tires like BFGoodrich radial T/A were the obvious cosmetic upgrade that came with a change of alloy wheels. Equalizers, amps and sub woofers were the minimum audio upgrade, if one already has an AM/FM cassette player with a digital LCD frequency display and a power antenna or a rubber duck coil antenna. Panasonic ceiling mount and Blaupunkt's Berlin gooseneck series, were quite popular.
Mods and tuning
If only Pacho Blanco and Gono's Auto dyno existed 30 years ago, it would have saved all mod and tuner shops from trial and error at the owner's expense. In today's tuner lingo of cat-backs, piggy back and chips, Pacho still says that the quickest and cheapest way to a bit more power is upgrading the exhaust to a free flow system, that passes local noise standards.
Well, 30 years ago, exhaust was also the default performance improver as owners, even under warranty ditched the OEM CPM mufflerhaus aluminized mufflers in favor of twin pipe Bravura's. For a bit more, a complete stainless steel exhaust system with hydraulically bent compound curve headers, can be custom cast by part time Rallye racer, Paeng Nodalo, same guy of his eponymous replacement exhaust retail chain. Mitsubishi had a complete range of camshaft set-ups ground to stage 1 [mild] to stage 7 [wild].
Free flow foam air filters, go faster ignition coils, high tension wires, breakerless ignition and special spark plugs were easily available at car accessories shops. Gas stations also sold fuel and oil additives from STP. High spec brake fluid rated as DOT 5 from Ate blue and Nitto gave one assurance that your brake fluid will never boil going downhill from Tagaytay or Baguio. Optical tuning was also served with Kamei and Foha's range of polyurethane front air dams and rear deck lid spoilers. There were various wind noise cheating plastic wind deflectors for the top of the side glass, encouraging heavy smokers to crack open a window for added exhaust.
Enthusiasm thwarted by economic realities but stoked by glossy imported car magazines and, in our case, frequent self drive trips to Europe, we, like every local motor-head, tried to get the best of a desperate situation. And so we resorted to making project cars of our daily drives. The body/paint shop was the local Alcayde Motors in Meycauayan, Bulacan, not far from our 1926 ancestral home. Master paint and tinsmith contractor Remy Banaag, ex-OFW to a Saudi body and paint shop, hales from Capalangan-Apalit, Pampanga, the body/paint/breaker/restoration yard masters of Luzon. His finish of choice was always Anzahl 2-pack urethane.
1985 Ford Laser 1.5 Ghia automatic [one in a fleet of four]
Bought in 1987 from a Marikina car exchange at 40% more than SRP brand new, the Laser was in response to perceived changes in motoring needs. 1. The Greenhills Makati commute traffic now demanded 2 pedal motoring if only to save the left foot from needless aches Before even getting into office. We also upgraded the rims to 14in. Alloys with the correct offset, using Nissan Maxima mags paired with 60 series Yokohamas. It was a subtle tribute to the wide tire “ one” philosophy.
From the fleet car white, we chose a Daimler Benz code metallic burgundy to go with the fabric tan interior, inspired by the Ford Orion service car I use in Zurich. The Ghia chrome mouldings were taped over with 3M ScotchCal matte black tape. Steering wheel replaced with a 4-spoke MOMO all wood wheel. Stick on wood from a German art laminate company was applied to the black plastic surround of the A/C vents and over a small brushed chrome strip above the glove box. Pale beige reed-look mats completed the picture.
Audio was by AM FM cassette by ALPINE. Thanks to Ford Phils' cathodic factory dip, Lasers were the few locally made cars that didn't rust through within the first 3 years. The short wheelbase of the Laser pitched a lot and struts all around gave it a stiff legged ride. It was light and very spacious. Its Mazda 323 sibling beat the Corolla as Japan best selling domestic market car in 1984. Quite peppy, even with air con on.
1980 Toyota Corolla Liftback Dx [E71]
Bought brand new [5-speed gearbox was the clincher] with Japanese style wing mirrors, chocolate brown fabric seats and dash, styled steel rims, black steel bumpers, rear window defogger and in maple yellow. Rust perforation [poor Delta Motors paintwork] within the first 2 years, despite dealer rustproofing [not name brand], led to a complete makeover with Ditzler DB series icon gold poly acrylic lacquer, a color first seen on the 1976 450SL Mercedes. FIAMM paired windtone horns [not air compressor horns] replaced the Denso mini discs.
Fiberglass body color sideskirts by Congje fiberglass bodies of Binky Victa were installed [Atoy body kit was still in diapers then]. Foha air dam and rear spoilers were added. Rota-Italia BBS-Mahle look gold center mesh 13in mags with 60 series tires graced the wheel arches. Nodalo's stainless double pipe muffler was stuck to the rear, as well as a Bosch red cube rear fog light. Cibie H4 yellow bulb conversions ditched the Koito sealed beam units. Englemann tinted door side view mirrors replaced the wing mirrors. 3M bronze tint went on top of the OEM blue tinged glass. Audio had a Blaupunkt gooseneck equalizer, Panasonic amp and digital receiver. Astro turf floor mats matched Portillo's RECARO facsimiles replacement front seats, in rainbow fabric inserts on matching brown velour. MOMO Gritti 3-spoke alloy and brown stitched leather steering wheel.
Out went the 2T 1.6 liter ohv engine for a 1600 2TG twin cam twin side Mikuni Solex, tuned by Mr. Unco, Dante Silverio's mechanic based in Bankal, Makati. This needed a set of NODALO's headers. Parted ways with it at a 30% premium over brand new SRP, 7 years later. Like all RWD Corollas, it had a sweetly supple front suspension ride, only to be betrayed by a jolting rear suspension. A very lively drive.
1983 Toyota Corolla Dx [E70]
Ex FAME taxi, Ex Rallye car. Last Delta Motors made model; 5MPH bumper look. Congje fiberglass hood and front wings. White 13in. mags with Yokohamas. 1.6 liter 2TG twin cam, twin side Mikuni. 5-speed. Beige interior and beige all vinyl seats. ALPINE audio. Nodalo's stainless exhaust system. Dark grey metallic Anzahl finish. Stock [lousy] headlamps. Auxiliary underfloor lighting, linked to dome light. MOMO all wood 4-spoke steering wheel. BOSCH windtone paired horns. Gila tint all around. More comfortable than the Laser. Supple front ride, jolting rear. Some loss in structural integrity due to Rallye shunts. There was still no Velocity Motors then to fix the structural integrity of a hammered unitized body. Eats 80's Opel Rekord but not 2.0 liter Ford Cortinas for breakfast.
1984 Mercedes Benz 200D [W123]
Dad's car. Bone stock. Bias ply tires on steel rims and hub caps, stored, practically brand new by previous owner [hoarded it thinking the Ninoy assassination was the end of the world] before reselling three years later. Only option was the pricey OEM Behr air con. Black local vinyl seats white dealer installed double knit white seat covers. No tint clear Safevue local glass. No power steering. 4-speed long throw, long clutch travel transmission. No mats, just generic brown paper delivery mats with 2 big printed foot prints.
Only one color : German taxi ivory off-white. And yet this was the most expensive locally made non current model car in those days. A dinosaur before its time, Commercial Motors never understood the meaning of sweetening a deal and sold it as if it was a limited edition collectible. Powered by a natural aspirated 2.0 liter diesel pumping 60hp, this car's acceleration is what you cannot call hurried. When the W123 was discontinued in 1985, sur engines and parts from abroad made the makeover into Euro spec a reality. In went a 3.0-liter 5 cylinder engine mated to a 4-speed slush box, with all original console.
Sekurit tinted glass all around with defroster rear window. Becker AM/FM cassette with the knobs that matched the Mercedes console. Italian fleck mats. Ronal Merc-look 14.in. mags. Bridgestones. Bosch rubber duck rear fender antenna.Mercedes metallic light blue Anzahl refinish. Headlights converted to OEM H-4 halogens. And an honest 300D chrome typescript on the trunk lid. Door cards and original matching vinyl seats to replace the brittle plastic local items were on order in 1988. Still a ponderous dog to drive with unbecoming NVH in the rear passenger cell. BOSCH paired percussion disc horns.
Maintaining old Mercs
The family corporation also maintained 16 assorted models of Mercedes Benz W115 200D/220D/240D's, vintage 1972-1975. All selectively benefitted from the Euro-upgrade courtesy of imported OEM sur parts ; tinted glass, black [instead of ivory] “licorice” steering wheel, Blaupunkt or Becker radios, power steering kits, power windows, original leatherette upholstery, carpets and door cards.