The public can now see up close the cars and other vehicles used by former Philippine Presidents with the National Historical Commission’s (NHC) inauguration of the Presidential Car Museum at the Quezon Memorial Circle, Quezon City, last August 19, 2018. These cars will surely transport Pinoys back in time because these are the actual cars and vehicles that Philippine presidents rode in during their terms and they have been restored to their former glory.
Of the many privileges accorded to presidents and leaders of countries, none is perhaps as visible to the public and as symbolic of their leadership as the official state car. There is so much you can tell about a president’s character by the kind or brand of car he or she chose to ride in.
For historians, these presidential cars are remnants of the past that tells us two kinds of stories. One is the story of the car itself like who made it, what was the process of its production which is of interest to car enthusiasts. The other story is that presidential cars are artefacts about the past and they give us a glimpse about the person who rode in it and occupied it.
The Presidential Car Museum includes the cars used by Presidents Emilio Aguinaldo, Manuel Quezon, Jose Laurel, Elpidio Quirino, Ramon Magsaysay, Ferdinand Marcos, Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo.
“Aguinaldo’s Packard Limousine is really one of the precursors of the limousine format as we know it. There is a solid divider between the driver and the passengers which is now a standard feature among most of the American limousines like the Lincoln. The Packard is one of the cars that started it all, this kind of style of separating the chauffeur from the owner or passenger of the car,” said Inigo Roces, NHC researcher.
The 1924 Packard is a seven-passenger limousine that was the personal car of President Emilio Aguinaldo during the 1920s. Before he passed on in 1964, President Aguinaldo donated his Kawit, Cavite estate including his beloved Packard to the National Historical Commission.
Also parked in the Presidential Car Museum is a Willys Jeep. It was used by President Ramon Magsaysay who was popularly known back then as a very relatable president and someone who is very close to the people. In a way the Willys Jeep is very symbolic of the Magsaysay administration which was straight to the point and no frills. The green Willys Jeep was used by President Magsaysay when he was still defense secretary and a gift from General Douglas MacArthur who once owned it.
President Magsaysay had to abandon the Willys Jeep for another American icon—a 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood, a seven-passenger formal sedan—after being elected president in November 10, 1953. This was the presidential car during the term of President Magsaysay, from 1953 to 1957. Magsaysay’s Cadillac was also used as an auxiliary/reserved vehicle during the first term of President Ferdinand Marcos.
In post-war Philippines, America’s influence was still very much alive, not just in politics but also in style. During the 1950s, in terms of car design, people were very much crazy about space travel and it was the next new frontier. There was a lot of research being put into new kinds of airplanes and rockets that would one day take us to all sorts of places. Visitors to the Presidential Car Museum will get to see that influence in the design of the bumpers of the Cadillac Fleetwood which makes it look like a spaceship ready to blast off into space.
There was so much effort put into the general appearance and art of arrival of these presidential cars. If you pull up a driveway in one of the luxury cars displayed in the Presidential Car Museum it is like you are descending into the red carpet ready to see a premiere. These luxury vehicles really made an art of arrival.
President Ferdinand Marcos, another staunch ally of the United States, rode around the country in another American car. Marcos rode in a customized Lincoln Town Car or Continental that was one of the most powerful and luxurious at the time he was president
“The Lincoln Town Car that President Marcos used is a stretch limousine and it is what we call the Signature Series. The Lincoln is already a luxurious car but above the top of the line is the special line called the Signature Series. You can actually tell by the interior of the car where there are stitching on the seats which is the logo of the Signature Series. It is a special line created for the most discerning clients of Lincoln and it has all these extra luxurious touches that cannot be found in regular stretch Lincolns,” said Roces.
Ironically, President Marcos who was criticized as an American boy was the first Philippine president to introduce popular European car brands like Mercedes-Benz to Malacanang. It was the beginning of Malacanang Palace love affair with European luxury symbolized by the controversial choice of First Lady Imelda Marcos.
If there is one car that is definitely a standout in the Presidential Car Museum it is the rare Rolls-Royce Phantom 5, one of only few made in the world. The Rolls-Royce Phantom 5 was the penultimate state car in its time. Queen Elizabeth II, the Shah of Iran, Hong Kong’s British governor and Yugoslavian dictator Josip Broz Tito all rode in a similar one. Only 515 Rolls-Royce Phantom 5 remains today and the Republic of the Philippines can proudly claim of owning one.
The fall of the Marcos dictatorship in early 1986 ushered in a new era in presidential cars. Over the top luxury in Malacanang Palace was taboo and the utilitarian ethos pervaded the palace, including the choice in presidential cars. Presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos were chauffeured in a no-frills Mercedes-Benz S-Class. If not for the armor plating and recognizable number 1 plate number, you can hardly tell the Mercedes-Benz was meant for a president.
President Joseph Estrada’s Mercedes-Benz S600, part of the armor plated S600 Guard series, was an upgrade in size, comfort and passenger protection technology. President Estrada’s successor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo went one step further by acquiring a Mercedes-Benz S600 Pullman guard Stretch Limousine, a full 45 centimeters longer than the standard model. In spite of her being short in stature President Arroyo’s car is one of the longest of any Philippine president.
“In a way the presidential car serves as a projection of what kind of administration they want to have, the kind of administration they want people to think of and the era they belong to. The presidential car is a lot like a little piece of their personality,” said Roces.
One of the coolest features of the Presidential Car Museum is the Interactive Wall. When curious visitors click on the buttons flashed on the screen they will get to know more information about the presidential cars. Click on the engine button and they will get to know more about what lies under the hood of the presidential car. Click on the protection button and they will get to know more about the security features of the presidential car. Kids who visit the Presidential Car Museum will surely find the Interactive Wall fascinating.
The Presidential Car Museum is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday and the best thing about the museum is the entrance is free.