I beg your indulgence, dear reader, as I embark on a sentimental trip down memory lane. You see, this month of August marks my 20th year of writing for the motoring section of this esteemed newspaper. I took on the role of motoring editor in April 2012, but it was in August 2000 when my byline (as a contributor) first appeared in this very section. And it’s appeared almost every week since then.
It is said that the life of a journalist is an exciting one, with never a day repeating itself. But to that I add that life as a motoring journalist — especially if one is a car enthusiast — is truly a dream one.
And to mark my 20 years as a journalist, please allow me to relive 20 of my most memorable moments behind the wheel of (or just looking at) the most extraordinary cars in some of the most amazing places on earth.
1. Australian Grand Prix (2000)
One of my first bylines in The STAR was for my coverage of the 2000 Australian Grand Prix. That was the time F1 engines were still hitting 19,000 rpm. The scream of Jacques Villeneuve’s BAR-Honda engine was absolutely ear-splitting. And we loved every moment of it. Running face to face with him in the paddock area (and catching a glimpse of Michael Schumacher relaxing in the Ferrari lounge) were the icing on the cake.
2. Pebble Beach Concours and Highway 1 drive (2000)
Not only was I lucky to have been given the rare chance to attend the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Monterrey, California, I was lucky enough to catch the 50th anniversary of the prestigious event. The world’s automotive royalty were in attendance, and it’s easy to find yourself elbow to elbow with powerful CEOs, eccentric automotive designers, and even celebrity actors and rock stars. The rarest automotive gems were all on display on the well-manicured lawns of the world-famous links. It’s surreal enough to find yourself standing on the pristine 18th hole green of Pebble Beach, let alone do so while a priceless assortment of brand-new-looking yet decades old Bugattis, Packards, Delahayes, Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Ferraris and Lamborghinis sits beside you.
After the Concours I got to immerse myself in GM culture by driving models we didn’t have in the Philippines — Pontiacs, Buicks, Chevrolets, Oldsmobiles, and Cadillacs. The most beautiful part was the drive along California’s famed Highway 1, which afforded the most spectacular seaside vistas imaginable. We wrapped up our stay with a drive from San Jose straight to San Francisco International Airport where the ASEAN media separated for our respective flights home.
3. Ford Ranger/Ranger Raptor Outback drives (2000 and 2018)
Everybody loves Australia. Those Aussies love to have fun. And fun was on the menu when I drove the first-gen Ranger in Alice Springs, which is the real Outback. We camped in tents and wooden cabins. There was no electricity or cell signal (this was in 2000) where we stayed, just a gas-powered generator. The vast and barren desert place was so desolate we didn’t see a single animal throughout, even though the locals warned us against dingos and rattlesnakes. No surprise that 90 percent of Australians haven’t even been to Alice Springs, which is right in the center of Australia.
Eighteen years later, I’d get to visit the Outback again, but this time in Darwin, which is the northernmost tip Down Under. And this time, we saw a lot of kangaroos as well as all sorts of big birds scavenging on carcasses of dead kangaroos — roadkill. And like my earlier visit almost two decades earlier, this one was behind the wheel of a Ranger again — the scintillating Raptor to be exact. The Aussies let us fly the Fords over the desert, twin-turbos singing and Baja Mode activated. “Good day, mate” would be a huge understatement.
4. First electric car drive (2001)
I actually drove a pure electric car for the first time 19 years ago. There were hundreds of jaw-dropping cars in the 2001 North American International Auto Show, but what I still remember vividly is not a show car, but the tiny red pure electric car I drove from Detroit International Airport to The Henry, a beautiful old hotel named after Henry Ford. That tiny car was the Ford Th!nk, an EV prototype about as tiny as the original Mini and seemingly made of the same plastic used in Little Tikes toy cars.
5. BMW drives in Germany and Italy (2001 and 2003)
I slept in a real centuries-old castle in Sardinia in Italy. The magnificent entrance, vast hallways, huge doors, humongous guest rooms, and antique furnishings were straight out of a Disney princess movie. Outside my window were two dozen all-new BMW 7 Series sedans parked side by side in millimetric precision. The next morning we were doing 255 km/h on the autostrada in the uber-luxurious E65. Two days later, we were in Munich for the plant tour.
Two years later, I was back in Italy — this time in scenic Fiuggi and this time for the new 5 Series (again arranged in perfect military alignment at the hotel parking lot). And like two years before, we also went to Munich after, this time to visit the BMW Museum.
6. Honda drive in Twin Ring Motegi (2001)
Japan has three legendary racetracks: Fuji, Suzuka, and Twin Ring Motegi. (Honda owns the latter two tracks; Toyota, Fuji.) Letting loose in Motegi in 2001, after visiting the Honda museum (where Ayrton Senna’s McLaren-Honda is on display), is something I’ll never forget. I got to drive various Honda models, but the most memorable was the Side-By-Side, an open-wheel single-seater powered by a Honda 750cc motorcycle engine with a rally car-like sequential gearshift lever. Two days before Motegi, I rode shotgun with another journalist in a Honda S2000 sports car in Honda’s R&D test track in Tochigi, and we ended up upside down (but thankfully uninjured). Unforgettable, indeed.
7. Fiat drive in Catalunya Circuit (2003)
Barcelona is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It’s actually one huge museum/art gallery. Which made the drive around its city streets simply breathtaking — until I and the rest of the Southeast Asian media got lost. There were still no navigation systems in 2003 and most of the locals couldn’t speak English, Filipino, Malay, Chinese, or Thai. Needless to say, we were all late getting back to the racetrack — yes the racetrack. We drove flat out on F1’s famed Catalunya Circuit in the then-new Fiat Stilo Michael Schumacher Edition. How cool is that?
8. Malaysian Grand Prix with McLaren (2003)
As F1 races go, the Malaysian Grand Prix isn’t among the more exotic ones. The bus ride from KL to Sepang is boring and the circuit itself is so hot! Thankfully, our host, TAG Heuer, ushered us straight to — drumroll — the ultra-luxurious McLaren VIP Lounge, where we lined up at the buffet with David Coulthard and Ron Dennis (and ended up sitting at a table right next to theirs). Cloud nine.
9. Ferrari Maranello factory tour (2012)
Shell is so proud of its association with the Scuderia that it flew in journalists to its high-tech R&D center in Hamburg, where we got to play with some highly exotic F1 fuels and see their performance parameters on a computer. Two days later, we were in Maranello to visit the Ferrari factory (and see half-assembled Italias and Californias in their naked V8 and V12 splendor) and dine in the famous Ristorante Cavallino. I’ve never taken so many steps on weak knees.
10. Kia Carens (2013) and Bentley Flying Spur (2019) drives in Monaco
In 2010’s Ironman II, Tony Stark’s personal assistant Happy Hogan drove a Rolls-Royce in the opposite direction around the Monaco circuit to protect his boss from a rampaging Ivan Vanko. Three years later, I would do the same — in a Kia Carens. The Korean MPV impressed, but the drive through the iconic tunnel and up and down the beautiful mountain roads of the principality will forever stick to my mind. Six years later (in 2019), I would relive the experience in a decidedly more upmarket car, the fabulously luxurious Bentley Flying Spur — but with an even longer (and much faster) drive that took me all the way past Nice.
11. Toyota Vios Cup (2014)
Not all memorable drives happen abroad. There are many truly unforgettable drives right here in our beautiful country, but one sticks out not because of the scenic venue, but because it was one of the most nerve-wracking yet fun drives ever. The 2014 Toyota Vios Cup was the very first round of the very first season of the now-popular one-make race. It was not just my first time to join a circuit race, it was also the first time 30 cars participated in the same race, making it the largest ever grid in Philippine motorsport history at the time. Happy to say also that I finished five places ahead of my qualifying position.
12. Mustang drive in LA (2014)
Driving a Mustang is always a special experience, wherever you are. But driving it in the concrete playground of LA along the iconic Sunset Boulevard, through glamorous Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and up and down the winding roads of Angeles Crest Highway while listening to the growl of the V8, makes it simply surreal.
13. Paris Auto Show (2014)
Being a journalist means hectic deadlines and schedules. The very next day after landing in Manila from LAX for the Mustang drive, I was back in NAIA for a flight to Paris — this time for the Paris Auto Show. I was sent there by Jaguar — and a sexy flagship XJ sedan in head-turning Stella McCartney livery (it was also Paris Fashion Week) picked me up from Charles de Gaulle airport. It was a dizzying, dazzling occasion, although I wasn’t sure if it was from the spectacular show cars or the fact that I crossed six time zones in 24 hours (including layovers) and barely slept in 72 hours. Even my luggage were in limbo, never arriving at CDG airport or at my hotel until I got back to Manila.
14. Porsche track day in Willow Springs Raceway in LA (2014)
Not six months after my LA trip with Ford, I was back in the City of Angels to drive the Porsche 911 GTS around LA and the mountain roads of Angeles Crest Highway again. But this time, we would drive all the way to Willow Springs Raceway (where Caroll Shelby and Ken Miles tested and developed the Ford GT40). Let me tell you — hurtling a Porsche 911 around a racing circuit never gets old.
15. Kia in CES, driving an autonomous car in Vegas (2016)
My first visit to the geek-heaven tech convention that is CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas was in 2008. There was not a single car company with a corporate booth there. Eight years later, in 2016, every single car manufacturer was featuring their future tech in the convention. Kia knocked my socks off with a showcase of their autonomous car. A prototype Kia Soul EV left its parking slot somewhere with hundreds of other car, negotiated several corners, and stopped to pick me up at the curb — with no driver or passenger inside! It then drove me around a simulated urban setting, automatically slowing down for pedestrian and railroad crossings and school zones (it can read road signs) and even signaled to the left lane to avoid a “stalled” car on the road. A second car driven by a Kia engineer overtook our self-driving car and suddenly cut into our lane. Our Kia automatically braked. It even moved aside when an ambulance, its lights and sirens activated, came from behind. Yup, I experienced the future of the automobile four years ago.
16. Mini/Oxford and Rolls-Royce/Goodwood experience in 2017 and 2019
Driving a Mini in its hometown of Oxford, a picture-perfect suburban area an hour’s drive from London, makes it simply surreal. Coming back to Oxford two years later for a factory tour gives you a completely unique insight into this charming little car.
The reverse applies to Rolls-Royce, with a drive around the provincial towns around its Goodwood home in 2017 and a truly jaw-dropping plant tour in 2019 — capped with two days at the incomparable Goodwood Festival of Speed, where you see all the fantastically beautiful, exotic, historic cars on earth hurtle up the famous hill climb and preen on the beautiful lawns of the estate.
17. Nissan drive in Fukuoka with Nismo HQ tour (2014)
Driving an everyday Nissan X-Trail in downtown Fukuoka might not be as exotic-sounding as driving a Porsche or Rolls-Royce in Europe, but Nissan more than made up for it by including a visit to the shrine of Nissan motorsports — the Nismo HQ in Yokohama. All the iconic racing Datsuns and Nissans were there, including the GT-R that set a record in the Nurburgring. Drool..
18. Peugeot 308 GTi in Nice (2013)
I’ve always loved hot hatches. The Peugeot 308 GTi is France’s answer to England’s Mini Cooper JCW and Germany’s VW Golf GTI. And it proved to be one exhilarating drive through the mountain roads of Nice. The 308 GTi is the ultimate embodiment of joie de vire.
19. Corvette drive in Vegas (2018)
It’s ironic that for someone who has been smitten about Corvettes since his teenage years and have been writing about cars for almost a quarter century, I have never driven a Corvette before 2018. Which meant that driving a Corvette for my first time was met with an excitement akin to a kid in a candy shop. Did I tell you that I will be driving it in Las Vegas? And on a racetrack? I was 52 years old by the time I got to first drive a Corvette. Well worth the wait.
20. Porsche 911 GT3, Cayenne Hybrid drives in Munich and Montpellier (2018)
Three days. Two Porsches. Two countries. That was the itinerary. Drive a Porsche 911 GT3 on the autobahns and along German country roads in and out of Munich. The next day fly out to France for a slightly more sedate drive of the new Cayenne Hybrid in the wine country of Montpellier. Everything about this trip was fast.
There are so many more memorable memories, like blasting around Sepang in a single seater, experiencing the Woodward Dream Cruise in downtown Detroit (and following that up with a NASCAR race), circumnavigating Singapore in a Porsche 911, racing a bulldozer in Vegas, driving around the volcanoes of Bromo, Indonesia in BMW X Series (with multiple craters smoking around you), driving a Nissan Leaf around Hong Kong, interviewing the creators and designers of the R35 Nissan GT-R in Tokyo in 2007, having a media dinner in Detroit and having GM’s CEO Mary Barra suddenly join your table, driving a BMW X5 all the way up to Whistler Park in Vancouver, piloting a huge Rolls-Royce Ghost in Hong Kong (while stressing over the aggressive taxicabs there), marveling at the state-of-the-art MG plant in Nanjing, China, gliding around Gold Coast in a Bentley Continental GT, watching the inaugural 2008 F1 race in Singapore with colleagues and friends from Toyota (and again with Shell in 2012 — where I got to try out Fernando Alonso’s simulator — and yet again with friends from Foton in 2017), pushing a Porsche Macan through hairpin turns in the mountain roads of Mallorca, Spain, or exploring Stockholm for the world launch of the Volvo XC90. And much, much more..
Being a motoring journalist is a dream job (made even happier with the fellowship from The STAR family and the camaraderie of my colleagues from the motoring beat). It can also be hectic, stressful and exhausting, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. And for those who wish to follow my footsteps, let it be work or a career, but make sure to add passion. Love what you do — even without the perks. And be patient. I had been writing about cars for two years before I got my first test drive and five years before my first overseas assignment. Never demand anything. You will reap the rewards with hard work and in God’s own time. And don’t forget to enjoy every moment of it.