Driving alone on a quiet road on a rare vintage car—matched with handcrafted driving shoes, a pair of sophisticated gloves, and aviators—is, for most of us, a fantasy. But for industrial designer Kenneth Cobonpue and entrepreneur Jay Aldeguer, that might just be a typical weekend. But don’t ever think they got through this hobby by living the fast life. This passion, they insist, can only be kept running through lots of hard work and late nights in their day jobs.
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From schoolmate to fellow collector
On paper, it’s not that easy to imagine Cobonpue and Aldeguer sharing a close friendship. Cobonpue is a designer, who made it to the headlines when one of his furniture pieces was bought by former Hollywood couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Aldeguer is an entrepreneur, who has won many awards for his contribution in business as the founder of The Islands Group, its most famous brand being Island Souvenirs.
Even when they shared the same school in grade school and high school—Ateneo de Cebu, which was then called Sacred Heart School in Cebu City—they weren’t really friends. Aldeguer revealed to ANCX, during our shoot for the Masters and Mentors campaign, “We were not that close. Just, you know, ‘hi-hello.’”
It was only years later, when both Cebuanos already made a name for themselves, when they reconnected—through vintage cars. They’ve been inseparable since.
Growing up, Aldeguer was more into planes or boats, but he “appreciated” nice cars. The Ateneo de Manila graduate had an early start in life, focused primarily on his business, and put his other hobbies aside.
One day, he visited a friend’s garage, and an old Porsche—“dusty, tucked in the corner”—caught his eye. At the time, luxury cars were starting to come into the Cebu scene, and he began giving in to a long-hidden automotive desire. He had already bought himself a new BMW Z3, but he found himself restless still. “I couldn’t sleep at night thinking about that [vintage] car,” he says. “And so I bit the bullet, got that car, got rid of the new car. And that was the beginning of my love affair for vintage cars.” That was in 1997.
Cobonpue’s vintage car story, on the other hand, started with an aspiration.
When he was in college, taking Industrial Design at the Pratt Institute in New York, he had a teacher who drove a Porsche Turbo. At that age, he was already in love with vintage cars. “[The car] was black, and he also dressed in black. New York artists wear black,” he recalls. “I admired him, and for many of us, that was a reason to work hard.”
By the time he could afford to get himself his first vintage car, a red Porsche went on sale. Coincidentally, Aldeguer had the exact same model in his garage—there were few a Porsche collectors in the country at the time. The designer approached his former schoolmate, and asked if he could just “sit in one” before making a decision on whether or not he would purchase the rare piece. “Jay was very generous to say, ‘Well, just borrow it for couple of days.’ And that was pretty good, incredible because even just to drive it and just to start it was enough. But for Jay to lend me one, that was very generous.” That was his first time to drive a Porsche. He then made the decision to buy the car on sale, and restored it himself.
That moment for him was a realized dream. The person who influenced him to pursue this dream was just glad he finally found a companion. Aldeguer says, “The thing with vintage car guys, you really want to share the experience with like-minded individuals. Lending the car, letting them use it, switching cars, letting them experience the same feeling you do, you have and share it with others.”
Now, their collections can barely fit in their garage. But they’ve since shared this hobby to a wider audience.
In 2014, their group of classic car collectors called Performance and Classics Enthusiasts (PACE), organized a one-of-a-kind precision-based rally named Tour de Cebu. In the rally, cars are given a specific amount of time to complete a course. It’s not a race to the finish line. “The demerit of arriving early is bigger than when you arrive late,” Cobonpue explains. Their rally has found its footing in the international market. In the past years, people from all over the world have come to participate in it.
It’s just love
It’s not an easy hobby to keep up with, they both admit. Aldeguer calls it a “money pit.” But love is simply blind—even to restoration and maintenance costs, the smell of burnt oil, and the lack of air-conditioning and power-steering wheels. He says, “I guess it’s a matter of personal taste and preference because a lot of car guys will never find themselves sitting in an old car that’s sometimes doesn’t start, sometimes breaks down.”
Gratitude, then, is always given to their team of mechanics. “We become more confident and bolder in acquiring cars that need a lot of work only because we have our team that are very capable of putting them together.”
He admits to being more “deliberate” these days, though, since, people have “snapped all the classic cars out.” But he’s pretty contented with what he has in his home. “So maybe a couple more. We say that every year.”
But those couple of cars may sometimes have to wait. As in business, there is a reward for being patient, Cobonpue says. “You’re building the work of art slowly. And that detailed perfection, you want it to be the best it can be…It’s also that which translates to my work: perfection, attention to details.”
Aldeguer also has the same focus on his hobbies as he does on his multi-branded souvenirs and travel empire: “When we do it in our businesses, it can be applied even in our passion or hobbies. And as long as you have that focus, determination, hard work, I guess we’re all allowed to dream as big as we want.”
Photographs by Chris Clemente