It was a sight to behold: a line of vintage olive drab green military jeeps jostling for space with modern vehicles on the main roads of Cavite, a province right next south of Manila. Clad only in camouflage pants and white shirts (emblazoned with the words “You can’t bring back history” in front and “but you can restore its remains” on the back), the jeep drivers were oblivious to the mid morning sun, their eyes agleam with pride and self-satisfaction.
And who wouldn’t? Other motorists were straining their necks for a good look at their vintage jeeps – the father of today’s public utility jeepney (PUJ) and the poor man’s car, the “owner” jeep. Even the people by the roadside looked fascinated at the speeding OD green machines, bristling with antennae and hardware.
For the young generation, these were the jeeps that they could only see at reruns of Combat, Rat Patrol and other old war movies. Of course, we saw them recently in the movie Saving Private Ryan and the HBO-produced Band of Brothers. Well, at least, they were all relieved the convoy was not part of another coup in the offing!!
The Willys MBs started it all
The Filipinos were first introduced to the jeeps during World War II when the Americans brought the Willys MB and the likes here. They were the workhorses of the military, transporting not only goods but also personnel, both wounded and not. The Philippineswas then the center stage for the war in the Pacific and the Americans and their tough jeeps made their last gallant stand at Bataanand Corregidor, with Gen. Douglas McArthur making a bold promise to the Filipinos: I shall return.
The Japanese captured the Philippine archipelago and Gen. McArthur did just as he had promised: he returned with his jeeps to liberate thePhilippinesfrom Japanese occupancy. Thus started the fascination and love of the Filipinos for the jeeps.
From Willys MBs to PUJs
For most Filipinos in the rural areas then, the jeep was their first encounter with motorized transport. And they have a few terms of endearment for the jeeps: everything was “Willys” (even if it’s a Ford or later, a Kaiser or a Mitsubishi) and instead of calling the ODG machines with their alpha-numeric names like MB, GPW, M38, CJ2A, etc., they called them by, of all things, names of American presidents. Thus, different jeep models were called McArthur and later, Eisenhower and Kennedy.
Soon, they used the jeep as a means of public transport, thus was born the auto calesa (calesa literally means a horse-driven carriage, then the main mode of public transport). These auto calesas soon evolved into PUJs, then seating ten to twelve passengers (two on the front seatand four to five on each of the two rear bench seats).
Today, a PUJ could transport up to 20 passengers and is emblazoned with a lot of side and rear view mirrors, a galaxy of colors and texts with loud stereo music to boot and just so you do not forget it still is an auto calesa, a lot of die-casted horses (the more horses, the more horsepower??).
Jeeps for private use
With a lot of Filipino ingenuity, the jeep also evolved into a poor man’s car, the “owner” jeep (but doesn’t every jeep have an owner??). With a used (in street lingo, “surplus”) Japanese engine, it costs a fraction of a Japanese car with the same Japanese engine. It handles like a car and could also be air conditioned. It could even be made of stainless steel so it could last a “lifetime”. A majority of Filipinos who today have a car will tell you that he either learned how to drive using an owner jeep or has even owned one himself.
Preserving the jeep
There is a lot of Philippine history attached to the jeep, thus a group of jeep enthusiasts with age ranging from 21 to 75 years old banded together to ensure such memories are preserved. They are these men who drove aroundCavitein their vintage jeeps and they belong to the Metro Manila and Cavite Chapters of the Philippine Jeep Preservation Association (PJPA).
The group drove in a convoy to the town ofAmadeofor a short off-road driving and a scheduled pictorial in Barako Farm (a coffee plantation) after assembling in a local restaurant. Rommel Juan, vice president for sales & marketing of MD Juan Enterprises (a manufacturer of replacement jeep bodies and parts) and executive director of the PJPA, hosted the event as a forum for new enthusiasts and old vets to come together to ask and answer questions about jeep restoration.
They also gathered to swap parts, exchange information on where to source hard-to-find parts, teach the neophytes how to restore a jeep, how far away an ongoing restoration job is from completion, discuss the technical intricacies of restoration, then end up surveying each other’s jeep like a bunch of kids inspecting each other’s toy.
“It is not surprising that many people are now getting into jeep restoration. Bringing a military icon back to its old glorious self holds much appeal,” Juan said.
Let the legend endure
What the vintage jeep enthusiasts may have failed to imagine however, was the extent of fervor with which Pinoys would embrace jeep restoration. And even Juan – who has probably heard all adjectives imaginable extolling the virtues of the army jeep – appeared continually surprised at such fanaticism. The Philippine-based MD Juan Enterprises is the only source inSoutheast Asiaof historically accurate, hard-to-find jeep bodies and replacement parts.
Juan acknowledged that jeep restoration as a hobby is gaining worldwide popularity. The PJPA, which is based in Metro Manila, is affiliated with various clubs for jeep enthusiasts as far asDavaoin the South, Nueva Ecija and Ilocos Norte in the North andCebuinCentral Philippines. There are also clubs in nearby Bulacan and Pampanga provinces.
Many of the men who are into jeep restoration are Worlds War II buffs who get emotionally attached with these war relics because they were part of the country’s rich history. Some had their jeeps handed down to them and somehow, they got enamored by its rugged beauty and functionality.
Is there money in jeep restoration?
But more than just a hobby to splurge cash on, jeep-struck individuals can also profit from jeep restoration. A rundown jeep that has been left idle in the yard and used to dry laundry can be had for about P60,000 (about $1,200). A restorer could put in $2,000 or more for parts, materials and labor and the restored jeep can fetch from $5,000 to $8,000 abroad, particularly in theUnited States(maybe more on e-Bay).
But in most cases, Filipino jeep enthusiasts are there not for the money, but for the memories and the satisfaction of having restored an icon and having a piece of history in his garage.
Rommel T, Juan
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel. no. 0922-8174869
M.D. Juan Enterprises, Inc.
No. 2 Susano Road, Deparo, Novaliches,
Tel.no. (632) 930-8012;930-7003
Email address: email@example.com;firstname.lastname@example.org