The French Embassy greeted this Inquirer Motoring author last Monday. Less than a month from the French national holiday Bastille Day (which happens to be this author’s birthday), I was in touch with the French Embassy. Being that I knew next to nothing about the French—their culture, heritage and legacy in this former Spanish and American colony of ours—I had to consult the experts. Why did I suddenly turn French? I point my “doigt” at the handsome Peugeot 3008 crossover that was in my possession for four days. When I claimed the keys to this vehicle at the Peugeot dealership along C-5 in Pasig (the second floor of which houses the headquarters of exclusive importer Eurobrands Distributors Inc.), I felt a sense of obligation to know more about the French, and their influences—in the architectural sense, at least—in Manila and surrounding environs. And besides, I was inspired by how the dealerships took pains to educate passers-by on how the name “Peugeot” was properly pronounced—in big white letters below the name was the phonetic “/poo-jZHO/.” Well, that should put the pronunciation debate to rest.
HISTORIAN Ambeth Ocampo says “oui!” to the Eiffel-San Sebastian Church link. Tight as my test-drive schedule may have been, I was also determined to go on a French “architectour” of sorts—using the 3008 to seek out structures with a touch of French. The rampant lion insignia on the hood of the Ruby Red 3008 would have jumped up and down with glee with my plan, since its character, as I learned in my subsequent research on the subject, may have been given extra patriotic impetus by the town of Belfort, where a rampant lion (meaning a lion which stood on its one hind leg with its forefeet in the air) commemorated the town’s victory over invading Germans in 1871. This was turned into a coat of arms by the sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, who also happened to be responsible for the Statue of Liberty presented to New York by the people of France. Heritage is what Peugeot is mostly about; that’s what being the oldest car company in the world bestows upon it. The automotive world credits the bicentennial French marque Peugeot with several achievements, such as big estate cars, hot hatchbacks, and thrifty diesel-powered utility vehicles. Renowned car designer Jean-Pierre Ploue enunciated that Peugeot married the heritage, strength and durability of antiquity with the modern technology and trends of the 21st century. Ploue enumerated Peugeot’s values: elegance, balance, freshness, harmony and robustness, and along with these were dynamism, sportiness, youth and urban chic.
SUV, hatchback, MPV
Needless to say, I saw all of these qualities in the latest version of the compact crossover 3008, which admirably combines the best qualities of SUVs, hatchbacks and MPVs. According to Peugeot, the 3008 Crossover was innovated upon by combining different vehicle types in a completely new way: the dynamism of the hatchback, the unified compartment of the MPV, and the high architecture of the SUV. Its reduced dimensions (4.365 m long, 1.837 m wide) are adorned with a powerful and refined style. As I examined the car, the character of the front face, which had been completely
THIS mansion was featured in a French magazine. redesigned, became more pronounced due to the contrasting aspects.
Panoramic glass roof
The first sight that caught my eye when I opened the door was the huge panoramic glass roof that practically occupied the entire roof panel. The sunroof, which can be covered entirely with the push of a button, became handy when I viewed the heritage structures from inside the vehicle. The “heads-up” display showing key information in its retractable polycarbonate strip sounded so space-age when it retracted. At the center of the dashboard a retractable screen displays the interface for the audio-navigation, the trip computer, the front and rear parking assistance and the video of the backing camera. Straight from the Pasig dealership, my first stop was at the Luneta Hotel in Manila, which is, as what my “informant” veteran architect Amado de Jesus explains, is a good example of French Renaissance architecture.
RICH in heritage both: lion badge and Luneta Hotel Just like the 3008, Luneta Hotel had its relaunch after years of neglect. This six-story structure on T.M. Kalaw Street was saved from the bombs of liberation and post-World War II wrecking crews. A historical marker by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines was placed, and a grand reopening was set June 24 last year, part of the highlights of the Araw ng Maynila celebrations. Cultural writer and conservationist Bambi Harper was quoted as saying that its “Mansard roof, French windows, carved details, attractive grilles and studied proportions” are reminiscent of French Renaissance architecture.
The Eiffel link
The next day, this writer drove the 3008 to the stunning Basilica Minore de San Sebastian, described by experts as representing an authentic Gothic Revival architecture. Although the church has not been officially on the list of French civil engineer and architect Gustave Eiffel’s works, historian Ambeth Ocampo confirmed to Inquirer Motoring that Eiffel—best known for the world-famous tower that bears his name, and for contributing to the design of the Statue of Liberty in New York—was, indeed, involved in the design and construction of San Sebastian Church. Ocampo said he found this out while doing research in Paris. Next stop would take me to the outskirts of Metro Manila, to the historic city of Malolos, Bulacan province. Thus, on the third day with the Peugeot, I drove to Malolos via the North
AN INSTANT lesson in French pronunciation Luzon Expressway. Noticeable were how the drive dynamics, functionality and technology worked so well together in the 3008. It was fast, responsive, yet frugal with its 2-liter HDi diesel engine technology where I got a fuel efficiency reading of over 20 km per liter, and it felt as stable as a train on rails.
It was just how Peugeot described it: “The 3008 Crossover provides handling that will delight the driver and passengers alike due to carefully designed aerodynamics (Cd of 0.296), reduced weight (from 1399 kg) and a compliant suspension set-up to a very high level. To reduce the weight, the 3008 uses VHSS (very high strength steel) and UHSS (ultrahigh strength steel) panels, reducing some 12.5 percent of the weight of the vehicle, using aluminum for the bonnet and composite materials for the front wings.” In no time, I was parked beside the Don Bautista Mansion near the Malolos Cathedral. The mansion, built in the 1850s, features a neoclassical design highlighted by its caryatid posts, and was reportedly redecorated in 1877 in the French Art Nouveau style.
THE SUNROOF occupies nearly the entire roof panel. The mansion served as the Secretaria de Fomento and residence of Don Antonio Bautista, Aguinaldo’s secretary of the interior. It contains heirloom memorabilia, including the original KKK flag. And here, José Rizal and Marcelo H. del Pilar spoke to the 21 women of Malolos on June 27, 1892. After that Malolos encounter, it was back to the dealership for the 3008. But my French connection wouldn’t end there. A few days later, the French Embassy, through press attaché Camille Conde, told this author that “[t]he Embassy was pleased that Peugeot returned to the Philippines in 2012 because having a well-established French automobile brand like Peugeot in the country offers Filipinos a different kind of innovation and sophistication that French expertise can offer.”
Preservation of heritage
“Since then, we’ve worked together with Peugeot on a number of events, most notably, the recently concluded 20th anniversary of the French Film Festival. The RCZ car [was displayed] during our successful red carpet opening night at Greenbelt 5 last June 3,” Conde said. “It is widely known that France has one of the strongest policies when it comes to the preservation of heritage, which includes architecture and infrastructure. The daily Filipino commuter who passes these landmarks may or may not know the French inspiration behind the structures, but the important idea is that there is an increasing consciousness among the general public of the need to protect this form of art, these structures,” Conde added. Peugeot, as well as the next passionate French artist and engineer, reiterates that history is as important as the future. Do we really need to spell it out?
By: Tessa R. Salazar
Originally published by Inquirer.net