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‘An unbreakable beast that brought us to hell and back’

By Tessa R. Salazar Philippine Daily Inquirer September 15,2019

‘An unbreakable beast that brought us to hell and back’What are the synonyms of immortality? Indestructible. Sturdy, Resistant. Durable. Enduring. Perennial. Inextinguishable.

You can scour the dictionary, or you can experience it for yourself in a vehicle. The members of the Mitsubishi L300 Club Philippines chose the latter, and they have heaped such accolades on their “immortal” rides.

These L300 owners—be they of the FB or the Versa Van types, diesel- or gasoline-powered, probably offer the best arguments for this unique Asian utility vehicle to be included among the country’s most iconic automobiles ever.

Their stories run along a common weave: Their L300s have “brought them to hell and back” in the uphills and downhills of their lives, and in their lowest and highest points.

On Sept 12, Inquirer Motoring met with nine officers and members of the more than 7,000-strong non-profit hobby group of auto enthusiasts known as the Mitsubishi L300 Club Philippines at the Mitsubishi Motor Philippines Corp., Santa Rosa, Laguna plant. The group—some of them coming from as far as Baguio City—traveled all the way to the plant to reconnect with the birthplace of their rides. It was also where they learned that MMPC would also be giving birth to its newest baby: A brand-new iteration of the L300.

Tough ‘Bullet’ from a dentist

“Our tag with our Mitsubishi Versa Van, a 1997 model that we call Bullet, as told by my brother is this: ‘Literally, the car can bring you to hell and back.’ That’s how tough it is. They drove Bullet to the highest point in Sagada with 10 passengers on full air-condition,” quipped Ronald Anthony Fernandez, 50 years old, a dentist who owns a 1997 gas variant Versa van.

“I first drove an L300—also a Versa Van—in 1999, which was owned by a classmate. At first I didn’t want a van, but when I drove it I thought it was really nice and easy to drive. So I fell in love with it. When I got married, a Versa Van was offered to me by my patient. I told my wife, ’Ma, this is our new vehicle,” recounted Fernandez.

His family named the van, a 1997 model, “Bullet.”

Then Fernandez said that his sister had a brand new van from a popular car brand that cost more than P1 million, but the ride was jarring (matagtag). The family who was traveling to Bolinao in Pangasinan wanted at first to ride in his sister’s brand new van. On the way back to Manila, everyone wanted to ride on Fernandez’s old Versa Van. Eventually, his sister sold the new van.

Fernandez said that he retained the stock version, spending more on original parts, which were, fortunately, affordable. Fernandez said that the Versa Van worked perfectly for working class people like him who needed a van but also needed the function of a pickup.

“Just remove the vehicle seats, even a coffin can fit in,” Fernandez joked.

Feels like a car, works like a pickup

“The Versa Van feels like a car but works like a pickup. Imagine, remove all the seats and it can fit in my mother-in-law’s hospital bed. We also were able to fit in an 8-seater narra dining table. Six people carried that dining table, and fit that in. Because our Versa Van is simple, it is easy to restore. I know someone who is good at restoring the Versa Van. I was able to restore Bullet like a brand-new van,” said Fernandez.

Fernandez said that the two qualities he admires about Bullet (his Versa Van), and the L300 FB of his fellow members are their simplicity and easy-to-maintain qualities.

“They need less maintenance,” he said. He added that parts are widely available, and owners can do the repairs themselves. “Unlike in new vehicles, you need computers. So then I realized that even its parts are affordable. The good brand of shock absorbers, for example only cost P600 each,” he said.

‘An unbreakable beast that brought us to hell and back’

Mitsubishi L300 Club Philippines officers and members (Fernandez, 2nd from left, standing) visit MMPC’s Mark Parulan and CJ Yucoco

Through ups and downs of the family business

 

For Benjamin Liao, 34, a businessman, and the club’s president and owner of a 1995 L300 FB, the vehicle has also taken him and his brother Ben through thick and thin.

“We first had an L300 FB gas type in 1987. We’re into a family business for appliances in Baguio City. It was still a ‘pawis’ steering (not power steering), and the dashboard was still colored brown. We sold it in 1992, updated our vehicle into an American pickup, and in 1995, we bought an L300 FB, which was already power steering. It came from our Dad.

“It’s a multipurpose vehicle. You can do anything for business, delivery and hauling. It’s a practical vehicle. When our dad passed away in October 2007, my brother and I had to struggle with our business for a year. We couldn’t even afford to run our L300. It was stuck for a year. And then in mid 2009, we were able to save funds to put fuel, do repairs, and maintenance on our L300 FB. That started our delivery business. I also started accepting rentals on the vehicle, aside from delivering factory goods for food.

“Since we have some skills, I’m into computers and my brother and I are into sales and marketing and technical stuff, we didn’t struggle for long. Since grade school, we were exposed to business. Even though we weren’t interested in business, we heard it all the time. Those days, we would travel to Manila, then to Baguio. As long as we could make money legally with the L300 FB, anything went: Delivering, hauling ‘Lipat Bahay,’ then we entered wholesales,” recounted Benjamin.

“When our business went down and slowed down to a crawl, the L300 was always there. It was designed for our businesses,” said Benjamin.

“The L300 FB is durability at its finest. We had a Christmas outing. The L300 was loaded. We drove to Sagada. It was a walk in the park for the L300, even beyond the province’s highest point,” he said.

Benjamin said that he is excited with the introduction of the new L300.

“From Day One until now, many consumers buy the L300 for business and for family use. In short, a true-blue multipurpose vehicle. In layman’s terms, practical,” he said.

He said that with the new L300 FB, “hopefully the government would be fair” in its anti-smoke belching campaigns, and not single out the L300FB.

“A new L300, in a Euro4 or Euro5 engine will address this issue. We all want cleaner air. And if it’s indeed a Euro4 CRDI that will be introduced, then so much the better.”

Non-profit organization assists fellow owners

Benjamin also talked about the group’s hobby club established in August 2014 and has been SEC-registered since Aug. 23, 2017. The group of fellow vehicle enthusiasts—which thoroughly screens its members making sure that they own an L300—has for its main purpose of helping and becoming a part of charity work, car shows, mini and grand eyeballs, and meet-and-greets with other clubs.

The club’s Facebook page says that whenever and wherever any club member is in need of help, there would always be an L300 or other Mitsubishi vans out there to help, making the group reliable, and earning respect from fellow road users. The club also aims to foster brotherhood and family bonding with fellow vehicle enthusiasts and L300 owners.

Benjamin disclosed that the club also has a resident mechanic.

Fire volunteers and businessmen in the mix

For resident mechanic Ernest Yu, 28, who owns a 1991 L300 FB, his utility van was also witness to his family’s business struggles.

Yu uses his family’s L300 FB mainly to haul steel for the family’s hardware business, and for people transport. He also drives a 1994 L300 Versa van configured into an ambulance. Yu is also a fire volunteer and is part of the Emergency Medical Services, helping burn victims in fires and car accidents. For him, both the diesel-powered L300 FB and the diesel-fed Versa Van (4D56 engine) are reliable enough to put your life on.

“The L300 FB was bought by my Dad who passed away already. It was way back 1993, but that was a 1991 model. When business went down in 1999, he sold it to my uncle. Then eventually, in 2013, my uncle called, and said, “Your L300 has broken down. Let’s sell it to the junk shop, or would you want it back?’ So being a mechanic, I got it back.”

After four days with Yu, the engine was revived. The van was running again.

“That L300 FB was actually my pride,” said Yu.

Other members then asked for Yu’s help with their own L300 units, which could be seen lined up in front of his house.

Mitsubishi fanatics from all over

Ian RJ Reyes, 40, is known among gearheads as a Baguio-based Mitsubishi fanatic. Who wouldn’t be if you owned several Mitsubishi vehicles, and kept fond memories of each of those?

“I wasn’t the decision maker when we got an L300. My uncle just showed up with this L300 way back in 1990s. It was silver, and became our constant companion in all our family trips because it was a Versa Van. My aunt purchased it as well. It was passed on from one family to another. From 1990, we had it all the way up to 2008,” said Reyes.

“That’s a testament of how durable the Mitsubishi Versa Van was, and still is. It didn’t have power steering. My uncle and aunt had to muscle their way around,” Reyes recounted.

Reyes’ first car was a manual transmission box-type Mitsubishi Lancer.

“For me, the L300 Versa Van became the national people carrier because, in the ’90s, there was no other rival. When we got an L300, everyone had an L300. We just had to repaint ours because of wear and tear. Otherwise, we had no problems.”

Reyes is excited about the new L300 about to be introduced. “Hopefully, my family would get the new L300, and it would be a success for MMPC again. We had so many fun memories, and we look forward to having more again soon.”

The introduction of the new L300 would be “a step in the right direction. Everyone in Baguio also liked the L300. One of the biggest clients of the L300 has been the city government of Baguio. Every time there was a display of the L300, Baguio City would order one,” he said.

Drives like a car, works like a truck

Car enthusiast “Jimmy Jazz” Virador also owns several Mitsubishi vehicles, including an Xpander and a gas-powered 1997 L300 Versa Van that he swears still has a smooth-running engine.

“There’s no vibration, especially when in high speed. It feels like you’re driving a Lancer. And it’s really fast. When it comes to durability, it works like a truck. Imagine, a 1997 van still runs in the streets of Metro Manila.”

Jimmy drove his 1997 L300, his “daily warrior”, to the Mitsubishi plant for this meet.

“I drive the L300 especially during the rainy season. I like its flat nose. You see the surroundings. It drives like a car, with the durability of a truck,” he quipped.

“Of course, parts will break down. What can you do, they’re old and worn. But that aspect of being worn, of being “luma”, is endearing and captures my heart because the durability is highlighted. The Versa Van is perfect for personal and for family use because you can seat 12 there.”

Jimmy Jazz isn’t just all for the old and worn. He’s looking forward to the new L300 Euro 4 CRDi diesel engine.

A sturdy L300 Exceed

The club’s photographer, Daryl Pagsisihan, 28, owns a 2001 L300 Exceed van for family use.

“We need it since we have a big family. It can fit up to 12, so we use it every time we go home to Gumaca, Quezon. The 4D56 2.5-liter diesel engine is very durable, and popular. It’s spacious, and the aircon still works fine.”

People hauler for ad agency

Mark Anthony Atienza, 29, uses his 2011 L300 FB to regularly haul staff and crew of an advertising agency and a crew that produces TV commercials and teleserye.

“The vehicle can really carry a lot of passengers, as many as 13,” said Atienza. He said his brother also drives an L300 FB.

The biz ‘kuya’

 

Ben Liao, 40, the older brother of club president Benjamin, said the L300 FB isn’t just for business or for family use, but also for hauling relief goods in calamity-stricken areas.

“The good thing about the L300 is that it’s reliable no matter what road it’s on—whether wet, muddy or on uphill. It won’t get stuck,” stressed Ben.

He added: “This one can be used for deliveries, business, family, cargo, parties, going to the beach, or transporting relief goods for typhoon-stricken provinces. Most people think that the L300 is just for one purpose. But if you’re imaginative enough, it can be used for several purposes,” said Ben.

And being imaginative translates to timelessness, as it turns out for the ever-running, ever-ready L300.

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