It was a lifetime ago, 60 years to be exact, when 33 men in 14 Land Rover Defender Series IIA vehicles went on an epic overland journey traversing Eastern, Central, and Northern Luzon. Remember that this was six decades ago, and those routes were more or less unpaved tracks and trails not normally traversed by vehicles of the time.
It was a major motoring event, being the first 4WD event supported by GAMI, the country’s Land Rover distributor and a major petroleum sponsor at the time. The first-ever Land Rover Philippine Safari culminated in a gala dinner at the Manila Hotel no less. Not bad for an event full of firsts.
Despite my extensive knowledge and history of 4WD motoring events in the country, I only heard of this event in 1999 when I joined the fledgling Land Rover Club of the Philippines (LRCP). Some members of the club spoke of their uncles participating in the event. I had the opportunity to interview Cotey Villa Agustin, who we affectionately called Tito Cotey, and was the most senior member of the LRCP at the time. But I still could not find any information about this fabled 4WD trek.
Then recently, LRCP club president Robby Consunji found a copy of the feature story in an old Manila Chronicles magazine. This is where I learned what these men went through.
Going on an expedition like this at that time was not without its incidents. One of the vehicles actually fell off a mountain in Rizal province, with an injured participant requiring an emergency helicopter evacuation in the event’s first leg. On the lighter side, the expedition was welcomed by the Dumagat tribes of Eastern Luzon by a tribal dance, and the ceremony was conducted with Senator Manuel Manahan, who headed the committees on cultural minorities.
After much thought, planning, and consideration, the LRCP has organized an event marking the 60th anniversary of that momentous occasion. The activity kicked off last October 22 through the gracious support of sponsors like Concept One Wheels, Overland Kings, and Rene Romero and Agnes Macam Romero who hosted the welcome breakfast and lunch.
Kicking off the four-month homage over that weekend was a gathering of 77 Land Rovers of various makes. This is the first time the LRCP has done a club activity since the COVID-19 pandemic began, hence the enthusiasm of the members to participate. And arrive they did.
From the early Series II vehicles restored to immaculate condition to the all-new Defender, we all gathered at Residencia Romero in San Fernando, Pampanga on a Saturday morning for registration, installation of event stickers, and the distribution of giveaways.
There was also the inevitable photo opportunity of members around the send-off arch and restaging the original launch photo 60 years ago as seen on the Manila Chronicle magazine cover. A short program was staged giving a brief history of the 1962 event and what was in store for the participants in the next two days.
After lunch, the group proceeded to a purpose-built 4WD track, dubbed Sand Base, built by Joe Bailey Guerrero. Here, the more experienced members prepared the new guys in the club for the other activities scheduled over the next few months. Various simulated obstacles were made to mimic conditions that may be encountered when driving off-road, and it became one of the most anticipated activities of the weekend.
By the evening of the first day, a camp was established at the track where the festivities continued. It’s not uncommon at these gatherings for participants to break up into their respective groups—notably the Land Rover Dirty South group, with their large contingent and festive atmosphere at their campsite.
The next day was a little more laid back. Breakfast was served and the fellowship continued until lunch. At 4pm, the participants regrouped again at Residencia Romero for raffle prizes and the closing ceremony.
Upcoming activities will retrace the route of the original event, while others will be driving all over the country to little-known destinations to commemorate the spirit of adventure the Land Rover brand has been known for. Participating members, about 40 Land Rovers, will have their vehicles decked in full 60th-anniversary livery. All of these overland drives by the club members will culminate in a gala dinner in February 2023, once all documentation, videos, pictures, and stories have been compiled.
It is hoped that through this activity, a little of Land Rover and Philippine motoring history will be preserved. Maybe 60 years from now both stories will be told by a new generation of adventurers and enthusiasts. As we always say in the club, “one life, live it.”