The Tour de Cebu

COUNTER F LOW - James Deakin - The Philippine Star

So I’ve come full circle. Both figuratively, and literally.

Ten years ago, when I was just starting out as a motoring scribe, a group of performance and classic car enthusiasts (who happened to also be starting out) thought it would be a good idea to take their vintage, collectible, and historical cars around the country in a landmark nautical run that would set the tone of their club’s membership ideals.

They asked me to tag along. Being a newbie back then, I jumped in heel and toe first, dragged my then-6-year-old son along with me, and enjoyed one of the best father/son bonding activities ever. Rough and ready as it all was, to date, it remains one of the highlights of my entire motoring career.

Over the years though, responsibilities increased, time decreased, and as much as I wanted to join the annual runs, the easiest way to keep up with the convoy was on Facebook. But this being their 10th year, PACE were organizing their biggest tour yet, with at least 25 pre-1972 vintage or collectible cars doing a 1,000km loop through Western Visayas and they were not going to let me keep up digitally. So despite everything––not owning a vintage car being a particularly restricting one––I pulled out my proverbial Nike card, and just did it.

“We’ll lend you a car, don’t worry,” they said, exchanging knowing glances at each other.

And not just any car, but a 1963 Kougar, which loosely translated is a Jaguar E-Type with a stunningly retro (for that time) body kit and some go-fast goodies. It all seemed to good to be true. But you know what they say about that, right?

I first laid eyes on her barely an hour before I lined her up on the ceremonial flag off––and it didn’t take long to understand why they had been so economical with information. Gorgeous as she was, I knew she was going to be a handful; from the exposed exhaust that sat along side the driver, to the oversized, thin wood steering wheel that looked more at home on a sailboat, to a seating position that was as crooked as a politician, the Kougar’s cabin is as welcoming as Christian Grey’s special room, without the promise of a happy ending.

Barely 10 kilometers into it, I started rehearsing excuses in my head. The brakes have gone. The throttle is sticky. The people of Amnesty International called. By the time I got to the first official time check, I had more excuses than the current administration and I was ready to lay it on thick to the three who invited me. But as fate would have it, all three had retired––two from losing the brakes and one from a sticky throttle. I called it karma.

From Moalboal, it was a couple of hours drive to Santander, which is the jump off point to Dumaguette. From here, without anybody around to hear my screams, I decided to just drive around the little quirks and make the most of the situation.

Robbed now of a choice, I had little option but to engage her in dialogue. As much as I was used to telling her what I wanted to do, I started to listen. Then react. And she would show her appreciation by obliging. It turns out, she actually had no issues with corners before, she just preferred to be courted into them. Same went for the brakes, clutch and steering.

And so the dance began. Gentle on the turn in, load up the tires slowly, wait for her to absorb the load with the suspension, then power out and transfer that load gradually to the rear where all the grip was. It was simple, elegant, yet somehow still completely involving, requiring your full attention to keep it feeling and looking effortless. If that makes any sense at all.

By the end, as I crossed the finish line in San Carlos city, Bacolod, one of the organizers (two of them had gotten back on the road either by fixing the problem or sending a replacement car) came up to me and said, “We never thought you’d make it this far. In fact, the car has only been driven 10km in the nine years that it has been with its current owner. How was it? Or more importantly, now that you have spent a thousand kms together, what would you improve in the car to make it better?”

I remembered my first stop in Moalboal and how I had a mental list of complains longer than the road we had just travelled, but after the last 800 kms or so. I said. “The only improvements I’d make are with the driver.”

No matter what you do, it is important to go back to your roots. In my case it’s cars, and the love of driving. And the Tour de Cebu, using cars like these serve as priceless touchstones; reminders of why you fell in love to begin with. Over the years, my ride as a motoring scribe has been incredible. But every test drive I have taken since has successfully managed to deliver the same result, faster, better, and yes, far more efficiently. But in turn, has done so by taking it away from me, the driver. Which is why it is important to not forget to also tune them up every 10 years or 100,000 kms.












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