Elvis has left the building

This column is not trying to fit way bigger shoes. For a very long time, in this very space on the left hand edge of this left-hand page sat the column of one of the automotive industry’s media icons.

I’m talking of none other than Ray Butch Gamboa, who passed away last November 15 at the age of 76. His column, Motoring Today, has been a fixture of this Wheels section (formerly called Motoring section) longer than the time I have been its editor, which has been a decently lengthy 11 years. In fact, Butch’s column appeared in this section throughout the 10 years of my predecessor, Dong Magsajo. It also predated Dong’s own predecessor, Junep Ocampo. Butch Gamboa started writing his column for The Philippine STAR under the helm of Roman Floresca.

That was way back in 1998—a whopping 25 years of nearly perfect 99.9-percent weekly submissions across four different editors.

Butch Gamboa and I go way back. Needless to say, it all started with me being an avid viewer of his automotive TV show from which he got his column’s name. Motoring Today started airing on June 7, 1987. I was 21 years old then and in my final year in college. Butch, who produced the show under his company, Sunshine Television, co-hosted it with legendary racer Pocholo Ramirez. I watched it every week. 

Six years later, and still an avid viewer, I would finally meet my idol. I was working for the advertising and PR department of Nissan Motor Philippines. It was 1993. We had just launched the Altima, and I was tasked to deliver a demo unit to Butch. I brought the car to his studio, then located at Valle Verde Country Club in Pasig. Needless to say, I was thrilled.

I also got a first-hand experience of Butch’s kindness and generosity. He asked me how I was going home. I said I was going to take a cab. What he said next stunned me: “Why don’t you take my car home?” Naturally, I was embarrassed to drive the car of someone I just met, let alone a TV personality. I told him I didn’t mind taking a cab. But he insisted. So I ended up driving his then-new Civic (Honda being a very new brand in the Philippines in the early 90s). He let me keep his Civic until I retrieved the Altima. 

Not two years after, I began my journalistic career by becoming a contributing writer for a then-new local car magazine, Automotion. Who would also be a contributor to that magazine than Butch Gamboa himself. That was 1995.

We continued to stay in touch until 1998, by which time he was all set to launch a new automotive TV show, Auto Focus. I got a call from Butch asking me to be the news director and segment host of that new show, a role I undertook from 1998 until 2000. For three years, I got to call Butch my boss, although he never changed the dynamics of our relationship, which always stayed like that of a friend-mentor. 

The year 2000 was also the year I began writing for The STAR which, for the second time in my then-young journalistic career, found me having the honor of having my byline appear beside that of my idol’s.

The rest is history, including our bonding moments camping out in the wild Australian Outback of Alice Springs, going on a cruise in Jeju Island in Korea, freezing in a drizzle in pre-winter Tokyo (we would be on the same media trip to Japan more than five times over the intervening 20 years), driving around exotic islands in Thailand, and watching Michael Schumacher battle Jacques Villeneuve at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, among countless other trips, here and abroad. Media trips were always much more fun and colorful with Butch around. His ever-present sense of humor was a godsend in all those long airport queues.

I, together with a few other members of the media, got to visit Butch in his home last March. That would be the last time I would see him.

I miss Butch Gamboa, as does the whole motoring beat and the whole automotive industry. We miss the leather jacket, the hair, and the mustache. But most of all, we miss the genuine warmth, kindness, and strong fraternal (and paternal, depending on one’s age) connection that Butch never failed to engender.

The motoring beat has lost its pioneering rock (and roll) star. Elvis has truly left the building.

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