FEATURE STORIES

Plate Number One: Cars of our commanders-in-chief

Plate Number One: Cars of our commanders-in-chief image

Text: Anton Andres / Photos: Kelvin Christian Go | posted May 20, 2016 17:39

The Philippine Presidential Cars

Another administration will soon make its way for a new one and it will perhaps be the last time we will be seeing the white Toyota Land Cruiser of Noynoy Aquino on television. The said Land Cruiser will soon be part of history as one of the few cars that wore the 1 plate. Normally, when Presidential cars are retired, they are kept under the care of the Presidential Security Group (PSG, The Philippine's Secret Service), but the National Historic Commission had different ideas for the these vehicles.

Tucked away safely from prying eyes, a warehouse in Pampanga holds rather significant pieces of our history. It may look like a fleet of old cars but you know these vehicles are special the moment you see the Philippine flags mounted on their fenders. These cars shuttled none other than our former heads of state. Formerly under the care of separate trusts and foundations, the NHC brought these cars together, restored them from various states of disrepair and are now storing them until a more permanent home for them is built.

From Aguilando to Arroyo, this warehouse holds the cars that brought our presidents all over the country. We take a look at motoring history through the cars of our former heads of state.

J.P. Laurel's Packard 180

 JP Laurel Packard 180

We first take a look at Packard of J.P. Laurel, specifically, his Packard 180 series. The Packard 180 was first introduced in 1940 and was aimed at the upper-crust of society and, perhaps unsurprisingly, heads of state. Laurel's Packard was a standard 1941 model. The most interesting part of the car was its engine. Instead of using a traditional V8 engine, Packard arranged the cylinders in an inline manner, which explains the long and imposing hood.

Elpidio Quirino's Chrysler Imperial Crown

Elpidio Quirino Imperial Crown

Fresh out of World War II, the American influence on the Philippines continued with Quirino's Imperial Crown Custom Limousine. Imperial was Chrysler's luxury brand that was positioned against Cadillac, Lincoln and Packard. A car fit for a President, Quirino's Imperial Crown was a long wheelbase version that offered seating for eight, along with a partition window that separated the driver's quarters from the rear passengers. This being a Chrysler product, there's no surprises under the hood: a big, thumping 331 cubic inch FirePower Hemi V8. The 5.4 liter motor made 180 PS and 423 Nm of torque to propel over two tons of steel, iron and leather.

Ramon Magsaysay's Cadillac Series 75

Ramon Magsaysay Cadillac Series 75

Ramon Magsaysay famously drove a Willys Jeep, when he was Secretary of Defense. Once he became President, Magsaysay was comfortably seated in the backseat of a 1955 Cadillac Series 75-23. Measuring over six meters long and two meters wide, the Presidential Cadillac was as big as they come. Like the previous limousines, it came with a seven seat configuration but did not come with a partition window. It was powerful too with a 5.4 liter V8 engine with an output of over 250 horsepower. It was rather advanced for its time with its four speed automatic transmission. Needless to say, it was a far cry from the Willys Jeep.

Imelda Marcos's Rolls-Royce Phantom V

Ferdinand Marcos Rolls-Royce Phantom V

Ferdinand Marcos is said to have many cars, but featured here is one of the conveyances of the former president's better half. The Rolls-Royce Phantom V was used by Imelda Marcos when she was the First Lady. It is as luxurious as you expect. Its interior gets a generous dosage of wood, leather, steel and wool and very little plastic makes its way in the cabin. We also see the return of the partition window. At the back, it comes with a special cabinet that stores wine or champagne bottles, and a set of four crystal champagne flutes in case the First Lady or her guests are in the mood for a drink. There's also a built-in humidor for the finest selection of Cuban cigars.

Inside the Rolls-Royce

Under the hood of the Rolls-Royce is a 6.2 liter (or should we say litre?) V8 engine. Being a classic Rolls, power is simply rated as “adequate”, in stark contrast to the decadent levels of luxury inside.

Ferdinand Marcos's Lincoln Continental Signature Series

Ferdinand Marcos Lincoln Town Car Stretch

While the Rolls-Royce leaned towards traditional luxury through craftsmanship, the Lincoln Town Car stretched limousine of Ferdinand Marcos was all about comfort. Blue and gray velour dominates the interior, complemented by wood and chrome trim. It also gets unique embossing in the seats, part of the limited and luxurious Lincoln Signature Series line. The seating configuration was slightly rearranged for the Town Car limousine. There is still seating for seven but the extra pair of seats at the back face the President instead of the usual forward facing jump seats.

Lincoln Town Car rear quarters

Interestingly, Marcos' Lincoln featured a digital gauge cluster with a full-function trip computer. Its displays showed the driver "miles to empty" plus an "estimated time of arrival" readout. Under the hood of the Town Car is a 5.0 liter Windsor V8, but don't get too excited about it. It may be the same block as the iconic Mustang but only put out just 140 PS and 320 Nm of torque. We couldn't help but think how 140 horses lugged around nearly three tons of car.

Corazon Aquino's Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL

 Cory Aquino Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL

Perhaps the next car is a little dainty compared to the huge chariots Marcos had. In fact, Cory Aquino's 1986 Mercedes S-Class looks the most pedestrian among the Presidential cars so far. It wasn't even the top spec 560 SEL model and its interior was simply trimmed in vinyl and velour, just like most mid-spec S-Classes. However, Cory Aquino's 500 SEL had a lot more to offer under the rather subtle exterior.

 500 SEL interior

Fresh from the EDSA revolution, the country's first President of the new Republic had to be protected at all costs and protect her it did. It was the first official state car to feature bulletproof panels and windows with glass measuring almost two inches in thickness. The levels of protection were unheard of in the 80's and even featured fixed rear windows to ensure the rigidity of the glass in case somebody shot at it. The driver would be able to get out of harm's way quickly too thanks to its 5.0 liter V8 with 223 PS and 365 Nm of torque.

Fidel V. Ramos's Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL Guard

 Fidel Ramos Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL Guard

Right beside Cory Aquino's car is another Mercedes Benz 500 SEL, also in black. This particular car belonged to Fidel V. Ramos and, perhaps curiously, wasn't as heavily armored as his predecessor's S-Class. FVR's state car was, in fact, the first production armored car from Mercedes-Benz, the S-Class Guard.

 Special switchboard standard in the S-Class Guard

The Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL Guard was used by Germany's counter-terrorism unit, the GsG-9. It comes with thinner bulletproof glass (compared to Cory's 500 SEL), ballistic panels and a special switchboard exclusive to S-Class Guard models. It houses the controls for lights and sirens, as well as a “check” button for the control modules and fuses. Like Aquino's 500 SEL, FVR's Benz is motivated by a 223 horsepower 5.0 liter V8.

Joseph Estrada's Mercedes-Benz S600

 Joseph Estrada Mercedes Benz S600

The tradition of Mercedes-Benz S-Classes continued with Joseph Estrada and his S600. Internally known as the W140, armoring for this particular S-Class has been beefed up, featuring even thicker steel plates in the doors along with kevlar, the same material used in bulletproof vests. Curiously, this particular S600 was sourced from the US as evidenced by its amber corner lights, imperial measurements (mph) in the instrument panel and emission control plate found near the radiator shroud. From its name, the S600 is powered by a 6.0 liter V12 engine and its 394 PS output is more than enough to overcome the extra weight brought on by bulltproofing.

 Interior of Erap's S600

Other features in Estrada's S600? This particular car features two batteries and a more powerful alternator. The backup battery can be switched on through a switch found in the center console. Another switch activates the flagstaff lights, illuminating the Philippine flag at night. At the back, Estrada has his own TV and telephone and, apart from the Presidential Seal, the rear quarters are standard S-Class fare.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Mercedes-Benz S600 Pullman

 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Mercedes-Benz S600 Pullman Guard

No surprises for guessing what Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had for her Presidential Car. It is, of course, yet another Mercedes-Benz 140 series S600 but comes with a very noticeable change in body style. Now called a V140 S600 Pullman due to its (very) extended wheelbase, this limousine is by far the most heavily armored car in the lot. It features four layers of thick laminated glass with extra reinforcements made to the middle window, ballistic panels with kevlar and steel plates, run flat tires and engine block protection from sniper fire. Opening the doors of this limousine was quite a chore and it closes with a vault-like thump. Like Estrada's S600, GMA's Mercedes-Benz also comes with a 6.0 liter V12 but came with the updated engine now producing 408 PS and 580 Nm of torque.

 PGMA's mobile office

Inside it is as plush as it can be, perhaps matching the Rolls-Royce Phantom V in terms of luxuries. The interior is trimmed in tan leather while the division window makes a return for this stretched S-Class. The extra seats also face towards the president and the rear quarters come with a TV, VHS player and a cabinet. On the side where GMA would have been seated, it comes with a special set of switches so she herself can control air-conditioning, heater, driver partition, sunroof, intercom and map lights. Meanwhile, on the left-hand rear door, a hidden gun compartment is disguised as an armrest.

Emilio Aguinaldo's Packard Single Six

 Emilio Aguinaldo's personal Packard

We did mention that we will be including the car of Emilio Aguinaldo and, as a bonus, the car of our first president was also present there. While not a presidential car per se, Aguinaldo used a 1924 Packard Single Six as his personal vehicle back in the 20's after his presidency. It offered seating for seven along with lashings of wood and vinyl. From its name, the Packard Six is powered by a straight six engine with a displacement of 4.0 liters. This being made during the early days of motoring, it doesn't exactly have loads of power. Still, 55 PS was a lot for the roaring 20's, considering the Ford Model T only has less than half of the Packard's power.

Ramon Magsaysay's Willys Jeep

 Ramon Magsaysay's Willy's Jeep

Another bonus car here was the car Ramon Magsaysay drove as Secretary of Defense, before his term as president: a Willys Jeep. Described by many as a simple man, the Jeep seemingly reflects Magsaysay himself. In stark contrast to the Cadillac presidential car, it is devoid of luxuries and screams utilitarian. The Jeep still features the gas can and shovel most WW2 service cars had, along with a collapsible radio antenna.

A future permanent home

For now, these cars are held up in an undisclosed warehouse in Pampanga but don't worry, you'll soon be seeing these cars in the metal. The National Historical Commission will soon begin the groundbreaking and construction of a dedicated museum for these special cars. Located in the Quezon City Memorial Circle, the museum will be up by next year, in a 2,000 square meter building. They will be much more presentable as the commission is doing its best to restore each and every car. In addition, they are also trying to locate the other cars of our former Presidents that are currently not part of this collection.

Will Noynoy Aquino's car be part of the museum in the near future? Only time will tell. As for now, our presumptive President may opt to use an Isuzu D-Max, perhaps ending the reign of luxurious presidential vehicles. It's also quite possible the PSG's safety concerns may coerce him to go for a newer official state car like a Mercedes-Benz S600 Guard. Either way, it will be another interesting addition to our history as we turn to a new chapter of leadership.