Any modern car can be fitted with the future of automotive technologies. But not all cars can be so intertwined with a nation’s past, or be the conveyances of men (and women) who would eventually determine the course of a nation’s history.
June is, of course, one such month that has been loaded with history for our nation. Just yesterday we commemorated the 123rd year of our declaration of independence from Spanish colonial rule (only for us to fall into the hands of another colonial master for the next 50 years or so. But that’s another story reserved for the Fourth of July). Incidentally, June is also the birth month of our national hero Jose P. Rizal, who, unfortunately, did not live to see his beloved motherland’s declaration of independence he so mightily fought for with his pen.
Ever since that first horseless carriage noisily rumbled its way down Europe’s cobblestone streets in the late 19th century, the automobile has been an integral part of humanity’s history, and has helped lead very important historical figures to their destinies.
In the Philippines, the National Historical Commission (NHCP) maintains the Presidential Car Museum (Museo ng Pampangulong Sasakyan) at the Quezon Memorial Circle along Elliptical Road in Diliman, Quezon City, to preserve the largest collection of the country’s historic state cars.
Unfortunately, for reasons owing to the ongoing pandemic, the museum is still closed to the public. This writer, however, was directed to its official Facebook page the NHCP Presidential Car Museum, which features a virtual tour of the museum and its collections. For yesterday’s independence day celebration, the FB page stated that its theme would be “Spirit of Freedom for National Unity and Healing”.
The virtual tour, launched in October 2020, explained that the museum is the first and only one of its kind featuring official state cars in the country. The tour showed the museum’s characteristic physical design—a three-tier building tilted 60 degrees—signifying the three corners of the equilateral triangle of the Philippine flag. The tour also cites the number 8, the number of rays of the Philippine flag’s sun, which was also a dividing factor for most of the design elements of the buildings.
The virtual tour states the President of the Philippines to be “the most powerful person in the country”, elected by citizens and tasked to lead the nation and its armed forces. It adds that “the existence of the Office of the President is a clear expression of our will as a free nation rooted in history and anchored in our constitution.”
It continues: “The way with which we choose the President through a national election shows our resolve as a democratic state to make our voices heard and to direct our own destiny as a nation, hence, it is appropriate that the President’s car reflects the values his/her position holds. It should be the best in security, privacy, convenience and the luxury equal to the dignity of his office and the respect given to him by the nation and the international community. The requirements to transport the President safely to his destination continue through the years as the different threats to his security arise.”
The NHCP is mandated to collect and maintain all historic Presidential cars, as each one is part of Philippine history and cultural heritage. These cars—the earliest dating to 1924—had been carefully prepared and restored by the Commission since 2008.
Each car has its own history, reflecting the era from which it was manufactured and the personality of the President who used it in his or her official capacity. The museum aims to preserve such vintage cars for posterity, as each vehicle provides an alternative perspective not only from the Philippine Presidency but also from the country’s history.
The cars seen in the virtual tour include Emilio Aguinaldo’s 1924 Packard Single-Six Touring Model 233. This car, however, was acquired by Aguinaldo only after his presidential tenure. Prior to his death in 1964, Aguinaldo donated the Kawit estate, including the Packard, to the NHCP. The American-built car was among the top luxury marques at the time.
Also featured are the 1937 Chrysler Airflow Custom Imperial CW used by Manuel L. Quezon, the 1941 Packard 180 used by José P. Laurel and Sergio Osmeña, the 1940 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 of Manuel Róxas, the 1953 Chrysler Crown Imperial (see main photo) of Elpidio Quirino, Ramon Magsaysay’s 1955 Cadillac Series 75-23 Fleetwood, Diosdado Macapagal’s 1959 Cadillac de Ville, Ferdinand Marcos’ 1980 Lincoln Continental Mark VI, Corazon Aquino’s Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL, Fidel V. Ramos’ Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL Guard, Joseph Estrada’s Mercedes-Benz S600, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Mercedes-Benz S600 (LWB).
Other vehicles include the 1935 Cadillac V-16 Cabriolet, the first presidential car Quezon used, which was eventually turned over to General Douglas MacArthur in 1937. There’s also the 1943 Willy’s Jeep donated by MacArthur and used by Ramón Magsaysay during his tenure as Secretary of National Defense, the 1960 Rolls-Royce Phantom V owned by first lady Imelda Marcos, and a kalesa owned by the family of León Apacible, a member of the commission that drafted the Malolos Constitution.
Shown in this spread are photos shared by renowned automobile restorer Alfred Perez of Alfred’s Motor Works, who had a hand in restoring some of these classic cars to their original pristine condition.
It would be interesting to see what automobiles the NHCP would add to its collection representing the official presidential vehicles of Noynoy Aquino and Rodrigo Duterte.