Noth­ing should stop us from at­tain­ing our car goals

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Car Culture - AL MENDOZA

Why do we buy cars? Or, why do we need to buy a car of our own? May I speak for my­self, if you won’t mind? I bought my first car in ful­fill­ment of a dream. You, too, I bet? Since child­hood, I promised my­self I’d buy me a car once I got a job.

Oh, wait—my first as­pi­ra­tion as a kid, re­ally, was to buy my­self a high-end stereo set once I was through with my school­ing. I told my­self if I stud­ied hard enough, I’d fin­ish col­lege in no time. Thank­fully, I did. Four years in school. I was sav­ing money for my very first stereo set when, sud­denly, the chance of own­ing my first car pre­sented it­self.

This was in the ’70s. I was a sports­writer at the Bulletin To­day, the mar­tial law name of to­day’s Manila Bulletin. The news­pa­per, then the num­ber one daily and miles ahead, in both cir­cu­la­tion and read­er­ship, of the Daily Ex­press and the Times Jour­nal (now both de­funct, hav­ing ceased pub­li­ca­tion al­most right af­ter the 1986 Peo­ple Power Revo­lu­tion), had to dis­pose of ve­hi­cles that had seen bet­ter days. Most were de­liv­ery ve­hi­cles.

I took a fancy to the Mini (Cooper) van. It was used to de­liver Bulletin To­day copies to Metro Manila news­stands at the break of dawn. Seven days a week, 365 days a year. Not only was it the cheap­est of the lot, it still looked cute as well. De­spite its di­lap­i­dated state, its stylish­ness was very ob­vi­ous.

On the day of the big auc­tion, I be­gan with P4,000 for the van. Lucky me that not a sin­gle soul bet­tered my of­fer, so I got the bid­ding was quick and has­sle-free. Was it be­cause the Mini ap­peared so old and wasted? I guess so. Its front wheel­base rat­tled like a church bell peal­ing when I ma­neu­vered it at full lock, ei­ther go­ing left or right. Its sus­pen­sion felt rock-hard when tack­ling even a mi­nor hump or a small pot­hole. The floor­ing was rust-in­fested—hole-laden even. There were a lot more de­fects, such as scratches and dents all over. Paint peel­ing off, too.

But did I care? Of course, not. When you put your mind to some­thing, your fo­cus is blurred, your logic is de­faced. I bought the Mini van with eyes closed? You bet. The clincher was, I pur­chased it on terms—as in payable in two years via salary de­duc­tion. Hardly would I feel a pinch in my monthly bud­get, I sur­mised.

The pub­li­ca­tion’s mo­tor pool was my Mini’s first des­ti­na­tion. Rea­son? Ma­jor surgery awaited it. No prob­lem: Rolly, the chief me­chanic, was my drinking buddy. “Leave ev­ery­thing to me, sir,” he said. It pays to have a pal who loves drinking with you till the mid­night sun. He’ll stand by you come hell or high wa­ter.

It took Rolly two weeks to re­ha­bil­i­tate my Mini. First thing was to patch up the holes on the floor, and then bang out the dents, fol­lowed by a fresh coat of paint. The steer­ing and sus­pen­sion prob­lems were sorted out as well. I had it re­painted white, with a huge red star on its fore­head for some ef­fect. The best part of it was, the ex­penses were again de­ducted from my monthly salary. With my car fi­nally in tip­top shape, my next mis­sion was to go ful­fill my first dream: get my stereo set.

As if by de­sign, I was dis­patched not long af­ter to cover the Pesta Sukan Bas­ket­ball Games in Sin­ga­pore. My one-week stint in the Lion City al­lowed me the lux­ury of a huge bud­get for cov­er­age. I saved re­ally hard to the point that I al­most starved my­self to death. But when I got home, I had with me my first stereo set. It was a high-end Ken­wood sys­tem. I had it hand-car­ried on my flight to Manila to pro­tect it from cargo mis­han­dling. My wife—a mu­sic lover, too—was hap­pily sur­prised. Ken­wood was also her fa­vorite.

And here was a bonus: Be­cause I had saved a vir­tual for­tune from my scrimp­ing and starv­ing spree in Sin­ga­pore (al­most un­spent beer money was in abun­dance!) I was also able to buy a ra­dio for my Mini. And it was no less than a Blaupunkt, the well-loved Ger­man brand that re­mains a fa­vorite among mu­sic afi­ciona­dos. In­deed, when it rains, it pours!

But you know what? The cel­e­bra­tion was short-lived. Not long af­ter, my Mini van was gone. Monica Fe­ria (God bless her soul) took a lik­ing to it. Grudg­ingly, I had to let go of my first car. There was so much re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion work that was al­ready done on it by chief me­chanic Rolly, but did I have a choice? Monica was also a jour­nal­ist like my wife. In their hey­day as news hounds for sep­a­rate news­pa­pers, they were al­most in­sep­a­ra­ble.

Sev­eral cars I’ve had af­ter my Mini in­cluded a Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle, a Toy­ota Corolla, and a Nis­san Sen­tra. Like my Mini, they are now all gone, subbed by a Lancer bought in 1997 and an Altis ac­quired in 2001. Both the Lancer (67,497km) and the Altis (10,419km) were bought on loan when I was still the Philip­pine Daily In­quirer’s sports editor.

Due for re­place­ment? I wish I could re­place them. But since I re­tired from full em­ploy­ment in 2006, gone, for me, are the good old days of man­age­able car-loan ben­e­fits.

Be­sides, the rise in car prices seems cer­tain now, with our law­mak­ers pound­ing hard on im­pos­ing seem­ingly huge ex­cise taxes to prac­ti­cally the ma­jor­ity of ve­hi­cle mod­els on the mar­ket. It’s all over the news if you haven’t al­ready seen it. The cov­er­age is com­pre­hen­sive on the Top Gear Philip­pines web­site. Look, will the In­nova cost P80,000 more than its old, af­ford­able price of roughly P1 mil­lion for the lower vari­ants?

These days, only the kind­ness of friends and strangers gives me the chance to drive newer mod­els, and for that I am eter­nally grate­ful. It re­ally pays to heed the coun­sel of the years: Be happy, con­tented. Ac­quir­ing your first dream car should be more than a bonus al­ready.

‘The rise in car prices seems cer­tain now, with law­mak­ers pound­ing hard’

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