Tour De Cebu: What’s It Like to Go on a 1,000-KM Drive Onboard Classic Sports Cars
Being a journalist is something of a Jekyll and Hyde (or Bruce Banner and The Hulk.) Sometimes you get some crappy assignments that you’ll have to force yourself to write about, other times you get to experience really incredible stuff. Riding in a classic Italian sportscar with the top down on a seemingly endless winding road? Yeah, that definitely counts as one of the latter, and one I recently did during the Tour De Cebu (TDC) 2019. Jekyll it is. (Okay, Bruce Banner).
If you grew up in the 80s and 90s then your first toy car was most likely modeled after an Italian sports car (no offense to the Japanese brands.) There’s just something about that distinctive silhouette and those curved lines that scream luxury.
“Italian sports cars are really a sight to behold, a work of art,” said Glenn Soco, one of the founding members of the Cebu-based Performance and Classics Enthusiasts (PACE), the car club that started the annual rally. “Driving one is an experience that’s hard to describe.”
A bit older now and not playing with toy sports cars anymore, I just nodded in agreement, not entirely convinced. Surely, driving an old car couldn’t be that great, right?
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to find that out for myself. TDC participants usually come in twos: a driver and a navigator. That’s because TDC isn’t a speed contest. Rather, it’s a battle of consistency and precision. The course, which takes participants through the scenic roads of Cebu and Bohol, is divided into several stages and checkpoints, with each having a specific time for you to complete. Finish ahead or later and you’ll get point deductions.
Soco didn’t have a navigator, so I got to ride with him for a part of the race. “I usually drive solo, because I actually don’t join to compete,” said Soco, giggling. “It’s all about enjoying the drive for me. I don’t want any pressure.”
Weapon of choice
‘We’re going to ride in that?’ That was literally my reaction (along with a hanging jaw) when I saw what we were going to drive. Soco brought in a gorgeous 1967 Alfa Romeo Duetto, which he has used multiple times in TDC. While the marquee brand might not be instantly familiar to millennials, Alfa Romeo is one of the most hallowed luxury brands in the world and is a revered figure in car racing history.
The Duetto, in particular, was an engineering and design marvel during its time. According to Soco, it was actually designed by the legendary design firm Pininfarina, the same firm behind the cars that helped launch Ferrari into astronomical heights.
Soco doesn’t like messing with his cars too much, so the Duetto has remained almost totally stock. A testament to Italian engineering, the Duetto is as pristine as can be for a car that’s more than 50 years old. The dashboard still looks fresh, with the leather, incredibly, still looking like it just came out from the showroom and feels better than the ones in some new cars. Even the leather seats are comfortable for my height (I’m six feet tall) for such a small car.
“Italians are really meticulous with their cars. Even small details such as gauges or handles are well-designed,” shared Soco.
But Soco’s Duetto isn’t the only car that impressed at TDC. The starting grid literally looked like a car show. From Jaguars to Corvettes, Porsches, and Mercs, the best and rarest classics and vintage cars (29 in total) were all accounted for. It was complete car porn.
“It’s been described as a rolling museum just like the Mille Miglia, the annual 1,000-mile global race event held in Italy which was the inspiration behind the Tour De Cebu,” said Lui Alvarez, last year’s TDC champion and current president of PACE. Alvarez, for his part, raced in his gorgeous green 1973 Porsche 911 Targa.
TDC 2019 also featured one of the most prized collectibles (and probably one of the most expensive since it’s price tag reportedly exceeds P20 million) in the lineup: Michael Aguilar’s Dino 246GTS by Ferrari in bright yellow.
“TDC is open to both members and non-members of PACE and the Manila Sports Car Club (sister club of PACE), but we do have categories in which your car needs to qualify,” explained Alvarez.
All the feels
We set off in one-minute intervals, starting from the center of Cebu City towards the port. A few onlookers probably developed stiff necks as we drove by, with the classic sports cars sticking out from the crowd of everyday cars and PUVs.
“Appreciation for beautiful cars is universal, I guess,” said Soco.
The Duetto had no air conditioning, had no anti-lock braking system (ABS), no modern tech. It doesn’t even have a working radio (although Soco brought a separate Bluetooth speaker so we were able to enjoy some tunes). But it didn’t matter once we cleared the city. The winding roads of the Cebu countryside revealed what was great about the Duetto: it lets you feel the road. Its responsiveness during turns is amazing considering its age, and while it skids (Soco was really having fun pushing it) at higher speeds, it never felt like it would go out of control. And I felt all these even though I was just riding shotgun.
“Imagine actually driving it, right?” said Soco. I imagined, alright, but I didn’t dare drive a car worth more than probably all my earthly possessions combined.
“Newer cars have all the tech, but they also take away the raw driving experience,” he added. “They have all these driver-assist features, it’s almost as if you’re no longer the one driving.”
But old cars, even the best ones, do have their drawbacks. These machines are meant to be driven and most of them don’t get enough road time aside from the yearly TDC, which means it’s like getting a retired world-class runner who doesn’t regularly run anymore to join the Boston Marathon without training. Some are bound to break down.
And some did even before reaching the Cebu port on our way to Bohol, where majority of the route is situated.
“It’s actually quite normal for some cars to break down during the race,” said race organizer Sophie Delos Santos, president of Tradeshow International Inc. which is behind auto events like the Manila Auto Salon. “That’s why we have a complete team of mechanics, tow trucks, and rescue vehicles. We also coordinate with local government units to ensure the safety of the participants.” The route was also planned out and timed months before TDC by rally director Pepon Marave and grand marshall Junjun So.
But the breakdowns here and there are part of the charm of the event, according to PACE founder and world-renowned designer Kenneth Cobonpue, who rode in his exquisite 1961 Jaguar XKE Roadster.
“There are a lot of people who like classic sports cars, but it takes a true enthusiast to love these old cars,” he said. “The ones who really know their stuff, the ones who really love driving, they’re the ones who join TDC.”
It runs in the family
Aside from being a challenging rally, TDC is, in essence, an event where classic car lovers spend time with others who share the same passion. Lately, it has even become a place for families to have some quality time. Many of the participants are father-and-son tandems, such as the Cobonpues (Kenneth and Andre), the Medallas (Oscar and Raju), and the Lhuilliers (Michael and Michael James), just to name a few.
Since we also stayed in two gorgeous resort hotels (Montebello Villa Hotel in Cebu and BE Grand Resort Hotel in Bohol) downtimes were spent relaxing, enjoying good food and drinks, and talking shop with other participants.
“It (TDC) has really become an annual reunion of sorts, it just so happens that there’s a race during the mornings,” confessed Alvarez.
After three days of driving, going from Cebu to Bohol and back, we ended up back in Montebello Villa Hotel for the awarding. There were awards for the stage finishers and winners and special awards such as the Clubman Class Champion, Celebrity Award, and even a Survivor Award (one whose car refused to give up and finished the race even after a myriad of problems).
In the end, the overall TDC Championship award was given to the Lhuilliers, who accumulated the most points. All winners received a special trophy designed by acclaimed sculptor Reg Yuson.
“Some choose to compete, some choose to just enjoy the event, as I did,” said Soco. “But I think in the end, everybody is a winner because we all have that same love for these cars.”
Indeed, TDC isn’t just about seeing beautiful cars. While I’ll most probably never get to own one of these fantastic cars, the way I felt during the drive is something I don’t think I’ll forget. It’s about bringing back the pure joy of driving without any extras, without any distractions. It’s just you and the car—just how it’s supposed to be.