Chasing Metro Manila Rarest Wheels. An introduction [ENG]

The market & me

Most manileños will readily admit that Evangelista in Pasay and Banawe in Quezon are the two main car heavens in Metro Manila (MM). But take a step back and you’ll realize that Metro Manila as a whole is a giant scorching hot paradise for car enthusiasts.

Filipinos love to modify. They love their wheels too. They like them cheap, expensive (and / or expensive looking) from Japan, from Europe, originals, copies, copies of copies… The Philippines is not in the least a middle-class nation: if you’re from the middle class of a given western nation you’ll find here people extremely poorer and extremely richer than you. This reflects in the aftermarket community, they’re something for everyone.

Now I arrive in the picture. See trading wheels has been a passion of mine for a couple of years. I can’t help it, even more so now that I’m surrounded with likeminded car loonies.

Looking back, buying this shady looking 190e 16v was what rammed me into this niche market. Since the car came with aftermarket wheels, I had to look for the OEM wheels. The fact is those specific OEM “magwheels” had a very rich history: it was the perfect trap. And down the rabbit hole I went happily.

I remember the first trade I made. Bought wheels in Brittany, North-West of France, had to drive 1500 kilometers to get them. Sold them back to a spanish buyer for 5,5 times the price paid. I’ve been hooked ever since.

There’s a few stories like that, I’ll keep them for later tho’, the task at hand being the presentation of the Market. Metro Manila is a conglomerate of cities (16 to be exact) that boast 15 million inhabitants, making it the most populated urban area in the world*.

Cars nonetheless have an important place with 400 000 units sold countrywide last year, a significative part of which being massive SUVs (from Japanese manufacturers), the reasoning behind that is you will need that extra clearance when the rainy season (June, July, August being the worst months) has created overnight an impromptu pool of 10’’ on the street you normally commute on. Potholes and the rather formidable impossibility to know precisely what you may encounter each time you hit the road -a pinoy special – make for additional reasons to prefer the SUV. SUVs are marginally safer (it shows on the percentage of mortal accidents on the overall total of car accidents) and, all in all, and that’s not like the SUV’s used in quiet urban European areas, their use is understandable*. But It takes up room.

Freeways and expressways are severely under developed (the main highway that links Metro Manila to the South is a meager two lane toll road), traffic is inevitable. As such you may reach Cebu in 1hour via plane (about 400 miles), but you’ll need 1 additional hour to get to Cavite, 15 miles south of Manila City.

Car culture is not impeded by that, and thrives on the weekend, when most of the nuclear families are back to the provinces to visit their family (one weekend is the husband side, the other it’s the wife’s, no weekends is spent idle): then the streets are deserted and up for the taking.

A preliminary adventure

“in the Philippines you can do anything and get away with it, but the problem is, lots of people have realized that too, and it gets messy pretty quick”. My driver, also the guy who prompted my first buy there (on which I’ll expand for the next story), was awfully conscious of the slippery slope he had engaged both his CR-V and ourselves. But this didn’t bother him, and he went on telling me about the illegal street races that were happening near Paranaque and Las Pinas, where he lived. He was racing his Civic, who ran the quart of mile in the low 13s, two whole seconds slower than the winner.

But he was through those civic, he wanted a Subaru STI. “Civic’s are valued as racecars here, while they are not that much powerful”. He didn’t know much about my country and where it was, but he said, “I heard that in Europe you guys only have the hatchback version?” And he was right.

Exterminate all the bangus

My loquacious driver warned me of a line of Separation:” In Paranaque, Alabang and Las Pinas (South) people are mostly into JDM, in Quezon (North) people are more in EURO cars”. I took note of that eagerly. Even though it’s smelled like folklore, it was a starting sketch of market segmentation.

After dropping me off at the shop and helping me negotiate a fair deal (rather what appeared to me as an extraordinary bargain: repolishing the lips for the all set -and prior to that, taking apart all the bolts – for 40€), he asked me if he could take a picture of me in front of the set. Not a lot of foreigners are into cars, and even fewer are into trading used old allows. I was happy to pose, that’s good for business when you’re the only one of your ilk in a specific trade, that means you don’t need no business cards.

Next story: A whirlwind of Speedline Mistral

*Coincidentally, I’ve learn that Paris is in the top positions of this ranking, which might explain why I’ve never been comfortable for long in this town. Just passing through.

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