A Thriving Vintage Car Scene Is Hiding On The Remote Island Of Cebu
Story and photography by Jenna V. Genio
When people talk about automotive enthusiasm and Asia in tandem, they don’t usually namedrop the Philippines—the archipelago nation north of Indonesia and south of Taiwan—and laymen usually know very little about it to begin with aside from some postcard notions. International news can paint an incomplete picture of the Philippines as well, focusing solely on the societal and political problems while missing out on the brighter portions of a larger picture. The Philippines is replete with natural beauty, remains mostly quite peaceful, and has been enjoying an economic rise along with its Southeast Asian neighbors… And where there’s prosperity, there are cars to be found.
Most of Filipino car culture is concentrated near the capital around the Greater Manila Area, where a sizable swathe of the population resides, but those who are involved in the community are aware that gearheads all over the country share the hobby and exercise their enjoyment of it in their respective provinces. One of the most interesting scenes away from all the downtown bustle can be found in Cebu, the hub of the Visayas chain of islands, a tourist hotspot, and a quick-developing city in its own right.
The growth and automotive journey of one group of friends in Cebu eventually led to the formation of PACE (Performance and Classics Enthusiasts) 12 years ago, a local car club whose most important requirement for joining is a genuine love and aptitude for driving. If all you do is preserve your collection of garage queens in proverbial bubblewrap, this isn’t the group to join; PACE members frequently take their cars—old and new—on joy rides that range from short, spirited jaunts to fully fleshed-out road trips. Weekends are spent disappearing deeper inland onto the snaking network of mountain passes, or rolling on and off ferries to explore nearby tropical islands. They take advantage of the region’s scenic coastal routes and narrow, jungle-covered back roads wherever they happen to be, and I’d be remiss not to mention that the club organizes and hosts the annual Tour de Cebu—a multi-day historic rally, which utilizes the ferry system and averages 300km of driving on each leg of the tour.
While I was in Cebu recently with Jay, a classic Porsche collector, he set up a Sunday meet-and-greet with seven other PACE members and their cars. Though just a slice of the group as a whole, it was a good mix that showcased PACE’s diversity of tastes. Jay, a co-founder of the club, guided the morning drive with in his 1968 Porsche 911S Targa, and with him leading the way, the group assembled and proceeded to clim the hills that led deeper into the quiet forest.
One of the cars that joined in was a 1965 Chevrolet Corvette C2 Sting Ray 327. Its owner, Darren, proudly proclaimed that when he got the car, he ended up influencing other PACE members to start buying classics as well. His ‘Vette was from Subic Bay, a Philippine port famously known for its past serving as an American base, so I suppose a fitting place to find such a machine! The car had been in the country since the ‘60s, but in Darren’s hands it’s gone through a full restoration to incorporate some safety modifications—rack and pinion steering, adjustable leaf springs, and double-piston brake calipers for instance. He’s added several thousand miles to it since, and the car has been a regular Tour de Cebu participant since the touristic rally’s beginnings.
Kenneth, another co-founder of PACE, showed up with his yellow 1974 Dino 246 GTS. Produced by Ferrari, the Dino marque was named to honor Enzo Ferrari’s son, Alfredo, who helped convince his father and thus Ferrari to produce non-V12 engines. Dino helped spearhead the development of a V6 that would eventually find its way into cars like the Lancia Stratos as well as the car named after him, but as we know he didn’t live long enough to witness its final fruition; he died young at 24 years old from muscular dystrophy. It is always then a bit bittersweet to see one of these cars, but regardless of the unfortunate fate of the man behind them, one can’t help but smile in the presence of a Dino. Kenneth’s GTS is a targa-topped version of the Dino 246 GT, the successor of the Dino 206; both were designed by Leonardo Fioravanti at Pininfarina.
And speaking of Ferrari, Jay’s brother Chris showed up in a red 1983 Ferrari 308 Quattrovalvole, the last iteration of the 308. When he turned 40, he got it for himself as a birthday gift, saying “If I only had one Ferrari, let alone only one car, it’d be the 308.” He’s wanted one for as long as he can remember, representing the generation of car guys born in the ‘70s who grow up loving the oh-so-familiar aesthetic lines and raw driving experience of what we now consider modern classics. It may not be one of the most valuable Ferraris for serious collectors, but the 308 is highly desired by multitudes for its significance; the shape evolved from the Dino, and it began a long line of mid-engine V8 Ferraris. The presence of the car is both subtle and masculine, and the driving experience is balanced but with plenty of fun connected to the right foot—especially in QV spec.
Juxtaposed with Jay’s 901-generation Targa was a white 1986 Porsche 911 3.2 Carrera—owned by another co-founder of PACE named Chris. A general appreciation for cars has taken him from dabbling in anything from Japanese and American classics to Land Rover Defenders. He’s tried all generations of air-cooled Porsches and loves the ‘80s Carreras for their drivability. “It’s not too low, and I don’t have to baby it. It manages traffic and the condition of our roads quite well,” Chris says, but despite the comparatively agreeable nature of this car, it still provides a visceral drive that demands concentration once you start pushing it. The mechanical sympathy, awareness of the limits, and the concentration required to drive old cars in a spirited fashion keep PACE members in check; safe is smart.
Conventionally seductive sports cars aside, a couple of boxy silhouettes—beautiful in their own right—tagged along for the ride and demonstrated the aforementioned variety in the PACE roster. For instance Charlie rolled in with a steely and stealthy 1972 BMW 2002, which he acquired from a German neighbor who shipped it down to the islands. The Alpina badging and buxom box flares may be replica jobs, and Charlie makes no airs otherwise, though the engine and its twin Webers have indeed been tuned by Alpina.
Another angular machine in our ranks was Red’s 1992 Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione 1. The turbocharged, two-liter, 16-valve hot hatch evoked rally fantasies in all of us, and especially so on the twisty roads we spent the day on. On this particular example of the Italian rally star, after the car was imported from Japan, replica Martini Racing stripes were added on to pay tribute to the ultra-exclusive Martini 6 version of the Integrale Evoluzione. Although not an actual Martini 6, the all-wheel-drive and boosted little beast wasn’t any less compelling in my opinion; the aggressive stature on narrow roads flanked by overgrowth, evokes visions of twigs and branches whipping along the chiseled flanks of the fenders as the turbocharger spools.
Four versions of the Delta collectively bagged Lancia six consecutive World Rally Championships for manufacturers (hence the Martini 6 edition), making it one of the most successful rally cars in history. Though not as insane the Group B beast that preceded it, the HF Integrale Evoluzione 1 was an important car for the company, as it was the last to be homologated for the Lancia Rally Team, giving them another victory before they withdrew from the sport.
My Sunday morning spent with the PACE guys was short and sweet—just about three hours of back road exploration including stops for shooting automotive erotica. The narrow, winding ribbons of asphalt stayed empty save for our convoy, and we were treated to stretches of road carpeted with leaves to further enhance the feeling of isolation. The old engines thrummed their nostalgic songs through the trees and jungle vines; the cars chased each other, doing their best to avoid paint scratches from the occasional encroaching bush. Meanwhile, the local crowds and beach-going tourists stayed far away below—casually thronged around the bay and unaware of our rolling exhibit up in the hills.
By noon, the men of PACE dispersed to spend the rest of the Sunday with their respective families, and while killing time at a coffee shop before my flight back to the Manila, I reflected on what I’d just witnessed. The jewels I got to shoot were just a sliver of what lurks under the tree cover of Cebu. The PACE members I met with were all collectors for instance, and each brought just a single car from their brood—what else must occupy the hidden garages out in the countryside I wondered. And if Cebu’s automotive scene is being revitalized with groups such as PACE and events like the Tour de Cebu, imagine what secrets the growing cities on other islands must hold!