The Icon Exhibit at PIMS 2014

A four day show sponsored by the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers in the Philippines, Inc., the 5th Philippine International Motor Show is a little bit more specialist than the other car shows we have on the calendar. Instead of just a show where manufacturers and the aftermarket come in to show off their latest offering, PIMS 2014 is turned towards the future of the Philippine motoring industry, and the future of motoring in general. Sure, there were the usual unveils and special discounts, but the show program also included talks and presentations on high-tech, high-sustainability motoring.

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The show was also a bit of a celebration, hence the quite-extravagant opening ceremonies, for the record sales which the industry saw in 2013, and is continuing to see as 2014 rolls along. Reportedly, a year-on-year comparison shows that this year is set to break last year’s record. On one hand this is great news for the industry in general, but on the other this is probably a contributing factor to the daily transformation of our roads into parking lots.

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But before we go right into the main show floor, here’s an interesting bunch of cars: Kia Prides, all gussied up and orderly queued. Well, to be more accurate most of them were Kia Prides; the third car from the left is a Ford Festiva. As the abused Pride taxis have begun disappearing from our roads, the sight of such well-loved examples of the little car is certainly a bit of a surprise.

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Automotive connections time! The Miatas you see in this picture, which run from the 25th anniversary edition NCs to the first generation NAs, are actually related to the Kia Pride. How? Well, the Pride was actually one of a triplet of cars: the Kia Pride, Ford Festiva and Mazda 121. Ford provided the budget, Mazda provided the engineering, and – at least for our market – Kia provided the construction. The Festiva was released in 1986, licensed production of the Pride began the same year, and the 121 was released in 1988. So that’s the interesting automotive connection for the day, but here’s a bonus: the ever-beautiful Aston Martin DB7’s tail lamps are the same units you can find on the 323 Astina, only with a plastic shroud to visually change the shape of the edges.

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Upon entering the World Trade Center, you’re immediately greeted by a selection of cars, and the first you’ll come upon is this pastel blue Beetle. The display was devoted to a selection of motoring icons. We’ve already looked at how well-loved the Beetle is in the Philippines, so there’s no reason to doubt the Beetle’s presence here.

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This is such a beautiful example of a Beetle, and from what I can tell this seems to be a Beetle from the middle of its production span. It’s not a Super Beetle, but it’s not an early one, at least going by the tail lamps and wheels.

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Next to the Beetle was this W120 “Ponton” Benz. This was the first series of all-new Benzes after World War II, and is basically the start of Mercedes’ reputation for finely-engineered automobiles.

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Mercedes-Benz have been putting diesels in their sedans for a very long time. Case in point: this is a 180D, with “D” designating the diesel engine.

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The rounded, slightly jutting front and rear fenders are what the nickname “Ponton” refers to. Such fenders were called pontoon fenders (Ponton is the German word for pontoon) and fell out of fashion in favour of fenders that were integrated into the body.

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Here’s an interesting little detail on the Ponton. Why these blinkers are positioned so high up on the fender, I can only guess at. Perhaps to inform the driver of the car that the blinkers are on? It does seem an unlikely purpose though, since I don’t think these are in the driver’s line of sight, and there are probably repeaters in the instrument binnacle anyway. Or, it could be an easy way of differentiating the four-cylinder Pontons from the six-cylinders; the six-pots’ fender blinkers were more elaborate, with the blinker atop the head lamps and the housing being a chrome spear running along the top of the fender.

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Another thing you don’t see on cars anymore is a non-moving door handle, paired with a combination keyhole and latch release. I’m guessing the separation of the keyhole and latch release is a mechanically more reliable arrangement, and admittedly this does kind of look like it belongs on a house door.

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Old-world luxury is what you’ll find when you peek into the Ponton. The interior features are limited by the technology of the time: a radio, an interior light, seatbelts and perhaps a cigarette lighter, accompanying ashtray and rudimentary heating and ventilation. Nothing you couldn’t fit on a lesser car yourself, in other words. Vehicular luxury in the old world was defined by quality, mechanical elegance and comfort, unlike today, where vehicular luxury is measured by the length of your spec sheet.

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How these cars were parked next to each other is very interesting. With the Beetle you had the car for the masses, engineered to be cheap to buy and cheap to run. On the other hand, the Ponton was made for those of considerably greater means; this may have been the entry-level Benz, but that entry level is still higher up than most Volkwagens of the era. In the period, the man driving the Beetle could pull up to a stoplight in Germany, look to his right and find his boss sitting in the Ponton.

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The next car in the exhibit is this J40 series Land Cruiser. The Land Cruiser was conceived at the request of the US military, and the J40 series is where the Land Cruiser first grew into its own real identity other than just being a Japanese version of the Willys Jeep. J40s have, over the years, become genuine classics, with good examples commanding significant price premiums.

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Few 4WD badges have ever been so iconic.

In its class, the Land Cruiser has always been considered one of the best, and its chief rival has always been the Land Rover. Curiously, both vehicles followed the same development routes, discounting the military origins of the J20 and J30 series Land Cruisers. Both started out as utilitarian and capable all-terrain vehicles and progressively got more luxurious and more expensive over the years, until we ended up with the current J200 Land Cruiser. While the J200 is still probably as capable as the nameplate demands, it’s become a little too expensive for extreme overland adventures. That the J70 series Land Cruiser continues to be sold in some markets today says a lot about where the J200 stands.

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Behind the J40 Land Cruiser was a very familiar shape: the A170 series Lancer, better known as the “Box Type”. One of the most recognisable cars on our streets, its status as an icon is not a matter up for debate: it’s as much an icon of the Philippine motoring scene of the 80s as the Mini is of the British motoring scene of the 60s.

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This example was wearing a pretty special set of wheels. Manufactured by Yokohama, these Advan ARZs aren’t particularly common, so are the perfect choice for a period look that nonetheless stands out.

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Out back, the 1800GSR rear panel trim was present, along with the trunk spoiler. A very light poke of the spoiler confirmed that it was of the correct rubber material; I can only guess at the amount of care that has been put into keeping that spoiler fresh. Overall, it’s a period-perfect recreation of what a lightly-modified Box Type could have looked like. The high-tech optimism of 1980s Japan was present in every single inch of this Lancer’s squared-off lines…

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…and then came the soap-bar-smooth styling of the 1990s. Released in 1989, the Mazda Miata was the car that brought the British two-seat roadster back to life, only this time with the assurance that everything would work every time the key was turned. As celebrated as the car is now, the story could have turned out very differently: three design proposals were put forth for the new Miata, two from Tokyo and one from California. One of the Tokyo proposals had a mid-engine layout and the other was front-engine front-wheel drive. The California proposal was front-engine rear-wheel drive, and was the only one of the three that could drop its top.

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A pair of those tail lamps hang in the Museum of Modern Art.

In the end, the goal of driver engagement and the disappearing top clinched victory for the California proposal. It may seem ridiculous now, but you have to remember that back then, none of the teams involved in the project could have had any idea of the new car’s future. Front-wheel drive would have been a much cheaper proposition, but rear-wheel drive provided much better dynamics and the mid-engine layout was neither here nor there as far as costing was concerned. Had either of the Tokyo proposals won, this Miata’s spot in the PIMS’ display would probably be occupied by something else: FWD would have turned it into a nice-looking but forgettable sporty car, and Toyota’s MR2 could only dream of the Miata’s success. An interesting footnote to this story is that – at least in concept – the FWD proposal did actually see production as the 1991-1994 Mercury Capri, a Miata rival that was ironically based on the contemporary Mazda 323.

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At the end of the row was this Nissan 370Z. The latest iteration of Nissan’s Z sports car, this one was wearing the full Nismo bodykit. Were it up to me though, I would have chosen a non-kitted 370Z to display, if only to show the Filipino-penned lines.

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Filipino? Well, yes. The man who submitted the design proposal that eventually became the 370Z’s exterior is a Filipino by the name of Randy Rodriguez. While it did have some questionable elements when it first came out, like the “fangs” in the front intake, the design has aged really rather well, and looks current even as it comes on five years of age. Even the addition of an extended bumper, wide flares and rear wing can do little to clutter up the car’s lines. Every design will have its detractors, but I think the 370Z will be remembered as a good-looking little coupe as the years roll on.

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All things considered, and especially in consideration of what else has been done to these cars, this is an example of impeccable taste. These gorgeously understated wheels and the stealthy silver paint come together to produce a very clean, very fresh 370Z that hasn’t aged one bit.

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Another design of impenetrably good taste is the E36 3-Series. If you were an up-and-coming hotshot young professional in the 90s, this was the only car to have. Anything Japanese was just too terribly pedestrian, and anything with the three-pointed star on the hood simply looked too old.

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Today, the upright lines of the E36 still look good. Much like the Box Type Lancer, the lines are undeniably of another  era, but have aged extremely well. While the E36 has surrendered the yuppie-conveyance-of-choice spot to a variety of other cars including its younger siblings, there’s is still a certain air of dignity about it.

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Next to the E36 was this Peugeot 205 GTi, proving to all the world that the Golf is not the last word in GTi goodness. Say what you will about how the French build cars – and they have to their name some very good ones – but when it comes to hot hatches, they build them very well. Starting with the Renault 5, the French have given the world some very fast hatchbacks, and the 205 GTi is widely considered to be one of the finest.

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Clearly this is a car of a different period, with its large glass area, slender pillars and low sills and cowl. Designed in the early 80s, it’s another one of those designs that have aged impossibly well despite the red stripe and black plastic.

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Of course, this being a product of the 80s, there will be at least one detail that instantly and irrevocably dates the whole car. In the 205 GTi’s case, that is fulfilled by the lettering on the hatch garnish. It isn’t the 80s until you have some semi-futuristic computer-inspired lettering. That being said, it still isn’t as 1980s as tape stripes and the word “TURBO” everywhere, so this hatch garnish is pretty mild.

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Two engines were available for the 205 GTi, effectively giving you two available flavours of 205 GTi. You could have a 1.6 four-cylinder with 105 quoted horsepower and a remarkable eagerness to rev, or a 1.9-litre four-cylinder with 128 horsepower and a slightly lazier attitude. No matter, because with either engine you’re still getting a tossable, capable chassis.

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One thing about the 205 GTi that hasn’t aged at all is the wheel design on the 1.9. A few simple holes right on the outer edge of the rim and a deep curve are all the wheel needs to look good, without looking nearly thirty years old. Deep-dish multi-spoke multi-piece wheels will always have their place, but sometimes simple is best.

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At the very least, the 205 is a very simple design, with not a lot of fussy detailing to clutter up the small body. This is good; there are just enough design elements to keep the car from being boring…

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…and yet it still looks every bit as clean as the unbelievably timeless EG Civic hatch. Grey might be one of the most boring shades around, but applied on the right curves, it can be the epitome of good taste.

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Front ends like this have been regulated out of the passenger-car world forever. Honda in particular have pulled off the grille-less look better than most manufacturers who have attempted it, basically building the Honda “corporate grille” of the 80s and early 90s by not actually having one. This particular EG is a very clean race build, with a cage, a single seat and no interior. The intake taking the place of one of the foglights also points to some nice work done under the bonnet, and I would not be surprised to find a B16 in the engine bay.

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What small brakes these are! Yeah sure, but this is probably a choice of balancing the car’s performance; there’s no need for a huge, heavy set of brakes when the car is light to begin with, and the front brakes do most of the work anyway.

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This, perhaps is the most surprising car of the display: the showroom fresh Kia Pride. We’ve gotten so used to seeing these little cars wearing a taxi light bar on the roof and utterly abused that the sight of one so fresh and clean is more than a little jarring.

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Even the original hubcaps are all present and accounted for. No missing trim, no dented body panels and paint chips, and not even a single crack in any of the plastic lenses. There isn’t even one trace of fogging or sun damage on any of the exterior plastics.

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I have many memories of that interior, because the Kia Pride was the default subcompact taxi of the late 90s and early 2000s. None of them were particularly good; nearly all of them rattled, clunked over bumps, had barely-functioning A/C, and had cloth seat covers stretched tighter than the last plastic bubble you blew in your childhood. The last time I rode in one was in 2006. A cockroach crawled out from under the front passenger seat, stopped just short of my foot, and crawled back under it.

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It wouldn’t even matter if this was a museum-held example, which was rolled off the production line and right into a preservation bubble and has never moved under its own power. It’s got no reason to be the way it is and yet, it is. A Kia Pride with not one single blemish. Absolutely mad.

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The last car in the icon exhibit is not actually a car, but rather a truck-based multi-purpose vehicle. Introduced in 1996, the Isuzu Hi-Lander was introduced as an all-in-one vehicle that was developed specifically for the Southeast Asian region’s needs. In other markets, the Hi-Lander was available in pick-up form, but we in the Philippines only got the five-door MPV. Offered in an array of two-tone colour schemes and accent stickers, the Hi-Lander was positioned as a robust family wagon, occupying the same class as the Toyota Tamaraw FX. CAMPI’s chosen example of the Hi-Lander isn’t as perfect as the Kia Pride – it’s missing the “ISUZU” badge in the grille, for one – but is representative of the model.

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I used to ride in one of these on a regular basis; that one was bought new in the late 90s, in a green and beige two-tone with stickers running from the rear doors to the rear quarter panel. I never remembered it as a particularly refined vehicle, which is fine, because Isuzus of this era are generally a little wanting in the NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) department. What I do remember that Hi-Lander as being was imperturbable: running in slow traffic, on hot summer days with a full load of people and baggage and the A/C on full blast was no problem at all. Also, closing the doors, even when it was fresh off the dealer lot, produced a very tinny clank, and the horn pad required what seemed to be an inordinate amount of pressure to function.

In its time, the Hi-Lander was an extremely popular choice for extended families; a tough and economical diesel, capable A/C system, reasonably good ride and lots of space all added up to a winning combination. Hi-Landers were so numerous in their time that street-parked examples became frequent victims of parts theft. The green-and-gold one from my youth was also a victim of such deviant behaviour: at the height of parts pilferage, the tail lamps were stolen one night, but not before the owner had marked them as his some time before. When the sun came out and the missing lamps were discovered, the owner went to Evangelista to source replacements, and came home with the very same marked set that had been stolen the night before. Never again were the lights stolen.

That is the PIMS’ iconic exhibit covered, so when we return we’ll head into the main show floor to take a look at cars that might be sitting in icon exhibits twenty years from now.

– Words by Kristoff Franco, pictures by Eugene Calimag.

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