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While car modification is a matter of self-expression, sound design convention and quality workmanship should be part of the equation 

Everyone wants a car that he can call his own. And for a country whose people  thrives on individualism, this cannot be more true. 

One only has to look at the history of the fabled jeepneys with their striking designs and eye-catching artwork. Or the now endangered owner-type jeep, whose drivers attempt to transform into a car any chance they get.

Over the years, Filipinos have obsessed on expressing themselves through their cars. Nothing screams, “Look at Me!”, more than a ride that has been modified to suit one’s taste. Whether it is a rosary hanging from the rear view mirror, or a complete redo of the car’s bodywork and paint, Filipino ingenuity is at its finest when it comes to car modifications. Even the Southern California (SOCAL) import car scene is ringed with Filipino-Americans who have made a name for themselves in the aftermarket industry. Truly, this is one Filipino talent that has gone global. 

Despite our ability to achieve almost anything with our cars, there is still a matter of taste, or as some would claim, the lack of it, that perennially casts doubts on our competence. Take for instance the curious case of the 30th Anniversary MX-5. 

The car by itself is already a rare gem. There are only 3000 of these built and sold around the world. And only 30 examples landing into the hands of lucky Filipinos.  The special edition fourth generation Miata’s Racing Orange hue already makes it stand out among a sea of sports cars. And yet, one owner decided that the car was not special enough. 

The shop that worked on the modification proudly displayed on social media how it upturned Mazda’s Kodo: Soul of Motion design philosophy with an amalgamation of asymmetric fiberglass and paint putty. “Freedom of expression is one thing, and I’m not out to stifle that, shares Aurick Go, a purist car enthusiast who first got wind of the build. ‘The car is reminiscent of early-2000s tuning – and I get that there really is a genre for that kind of vehicle and, truth be told, that bit is ‘ok’ still.” 

Even Tom Matano, the legendary chief designer of the first and second generation MX-5 Miata, is a bit circumspect on evaluating the creation when shown the social media video about the car. “It is always difficult to make a real fair and accurate judgement. There are two things that stand out. Wide body treatment and the graphics.” Matano adds, “It is hard to see some details on the body in the video. Though, it looks like they had done a good job. My idea of graphics is either to support the body shape or enhance it. In this case, it is sort of a combination of both. Rear wing support kind of matches the graphic patterns.”

Tom Matano on the importance of personalization: “Once the owner has decided to do whatever he or she wants, it is out of our hands”

And as the Internet was set ablaze by the alleged misfortune that befell the special edition MX-5, many netizens could only turn their heads away from the creation that constantly flooded their screens. For hardcore car afficionados like Go however, the finished product became  talked about around the world for the wrong reasons. 

Go contends, “What grinds my gears is the execution of the work. There’s no single aligned panel on the damn car. Lahat ineyeball. If you’re going to chop up a limited edition vehicle you may as well do it properly. Widebody work is no joke, everything needs measuring to make it fit properly otherwise it’ll look like a soap box.” 

“My money, my choice.” This is what we normally hear from car owners who choose to modify their cars with little or no regard to what others may think of their work. While in reality the maxim is true, purist car enthusiasts would still insist that sound design convention and quality workmanship, should guide any build. 

As a creative exercise however, there are those who appreciate personal preferences as a form of self-expression. “Taste is your preference and style is how you present it,” says Jaykee Evangelista, co-owner and Creative Director of First/We/Drive. As someone who worked in beautifying cars as a former art director of a popular syndicated car magazine, Evangelista actually thinks the finished MX-5 is a reflection of the owner’s personality. “It doesn’t matter what everyone thinks. Actually I admire him because he has the guts to make that,” says the seasoned creative. 

Matano is even more pragmatic in his assessment of the importance of personalization. “Once the owner has decided to do whatever he or she wants, it is out of our hands.”

So, how should one really personalize his car to avoid backlash from automotive purists? Well, while it is a generally accepted saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, car nuts would argue that there are still design conventions and engineering factors to consider as you choose which modifications  are good or suitable for your ride. 

“A build’s backbone consists of proper planning and research,” claims Go.  “Cars and parts aren’t cheap, so if you’re building something, it’s best to do your homework then only pull the trigger once. You need to have an idea of what you’re setting out to do with the car before you chop it up, otherwise you get people with half-assed builds or those that have all the baller parts with no specific direction.”

Go suggests to work on these areas first when beginning a basic customization build: 1) Good wheels and tires; 2) Good brake pads and stainless steel brake lines if budget permits; 3) Depending on what you want to do with the car, lowering springs or good coilovers; 4) Creature comforts such as an updated head unit with Apple CarPlay, phone magnet mount, etc.; and 5) A proper alignment by a professional who knows how to set suspension up properly. According to Go, one can even bypass power-adding modifications during the early stage of a build. “These days you don’t need much power to enjoy a car – our roads are too small and traffic is too dense. The odd catback exhaust and a proper tune is well and good, but I feel that proper attention needs to go towards suspension and good handling to truly appreciate a car.”

The choices we make in modifying our cars are based on our own personal convictions. And while these choices may be limited by our budgets, it is apparent that Filipinos have the ability to transcend shortcomings in order to achieve the look they have envisioned for their rides. “At the end of the day, we all love cars,” adds Evangelista. “Iba iba lang how we express that love.”

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