My First Car

Like many adults who drive their own vehicles today, my first car was a hand-me-down from my father.

In 1965, our brand-new family saloon was a white Consul Corsair, made by Ford of Britain, and distributed in Manila by Luneta Motor Co. Costing a then princely sum of Ps 12,000.00, this “bantam” had manual transmission, white sidewall tires with shiny hubcaps, manual window roll-up handles, and absolutely no air conditioning system. But the weather back in the Sixties was much more pleasant, and the summers rather benign, that one could unlock the quarter windows up front, twist them outwards, and enjoy an unpolluted breeze whiff through the car. And at mild speeds of 60 kph, one COULD actually reach Makati from Cubao in 15 minutes through the just-renamed EDSA (or Highway 54 in pre-1959 days).

“Project Buccaneer,” the code name for the new Corsair being developed by Ford of Britain back in 1963, was meant to produce an aerodynamic profile (almost like a small Thunderbird), and a smooth, silent engine performance. Even its doors closed ever so gently, like a refrigerator, we used to joke. The London Daily Mail proclaimed, not without some exaggeration, that “this Corsair is a swashbuckling pirate, but blow me down, the quietest one who ever swept along with muffled oars.”

As we resided in a garage-less apartment along Mayon St. in La Loma, Quezon City, the Corsair, pictured in July 1966 in the feature image (Kodak film developers printed the month and year on photographs then, a kind of “timestamp” during that era), was parked overnight on the street. Happily, it was perfectly legal back then. And it was my job, at 12 years old, to clean this car every day with used rags, a bristle tire brush, and a pail of water.

That sort of responsibility eventually gives one a feeling of entitlement, that is, that he deserves to have the car passed on to him when a new one is acquired. Indeed, in 1973, as I entered Junior year in college, my father bought a Toyota, and in those pre-number coding times, he didn’t need a second car. The 19-year-old me, now armed with a driver’s license, bid farewell to his JD Transit- and DM Liner-riding days, and drove daily to the Ateneo at Loyola Heights, and routinely picked up my girlfriend at U.P., Diliman, in style.

In April, 1975, I drove Amie to her commencement exercise at U.P. Diliman in my Corsair. She wore a formal dress and a graduation toga, and my car had no air conditioning. Neither of that seemed to matter.

This wasn’t to say that the Corsair was in impeccable condition. A nine-year old 4-door sedan when I acquired it, its finest years were definitely over. It was in constant need of periodic repairs, and I had to take quite a number of trips to some ramshackle motor shop near Aurora Blvd. in Cubao. Its favorite malady was its refusal to start, and at the Ateneo, I had to park on a sort of sloping driveway near the Cervini Hall dormitory, just in case the choke knob didn’t work, and I had to clutch start the darn thing. So it wasn’t the most sophisticated traveling experience ever, but at a time when having your own wheels beat commuting on a public bus, I couldn’t really complain.

To say that the Corsair served me well would be an understatement. After all, it did bring Amie and me in relative comfort to our usual destinations – Farmer’s Market, New Frontier Theater and Hong Ning cafe at the Araneta commercial district, the Delta Theater in West Avenue, the Circle Inn diner just across it, the Italian Village restaurant along Quezon Boulevard, the Merced Bakeshop in EDSA, and the Ateneo business school in Padre Faura. The AM radio provided metallic-sounding pre-Spotify music, the non-reclining PVC bench seats allowed us to sit abreast when we were feeling particularly romantic, and the 1500 cc engine had just enough power for a cool ride.

Like a lot of people who think they know better than the original car designer, I had a couple of blue racing stripes painted on the hood of the Corsair and at the base of its sides. It just seemed like a brilliant idea at the time.

In 1977, I had just driven from a then eerily desolate Valle Verde I residence (where our MBA study group had discussed a business case), had then brought Amie home in Kanlaon St. near Retiro, and was cruising along a rise in Quezon Boulevard – just before the corner of South Avenue – when my dependable chariot crashed on its knees as its front axle, worn out from years and miles of driving, finally broke down. I remember thinking how horrifying it would have been if the accident had happened in the dark, unlit cogon grass fields that surrounded the underdeveloped Valle Verde area back then. As a tow truck pulled the crippled auto back home to our West Avenue residence, I was devastated at the notion that the adventures of this swashbuckling buccaneer were about to come to an ignoble end.

The 1963 pamphlet – here with the front and back pages – that came with the Corsair is the only remaining memento of this car.

Eventually, I moved on to other, newer, more modern vehicles, which had the conveniences and amenities that this original baby never had. But the Corsair will always occupy a special place in my memories. The first ones always do.

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