It was 1978 and I was a freshman in high school. My close friend Nollette Samson and I were being driven home from school by his uncle in a white Mitsubishi Celeste 1600 ST that they bought brand-new for P62,000 just a year ago. I really liked its sporty styling and my young impressionable mind thought that it was the coolest 2-door fastback in Manila. Then, in late 1979, Nollette’s family was selling the Celeste because they were migrating to Canada. I pleaded with my father to buy it but I knew that we couldn’t afford the P40,000 asking price. I vowed to buy a Celeste when I grow up.
Fast forward to 2014: I just sold my collectible 2003 BMW R1100S Boxer Cup Replika superbike and began feeling some sort of “seller’s remorse”. To get over it, I decided to fulfill my high school dream and find myself a nice Celeste. Sometime in early October, I found a nice blue one (NJT-378) in the OLX.Ph Cars and Automotive online ads, but someone else bought it before I can even view it. I somehow felt that the fates conspired against me from getting a Celeste because I was already working on two project cars – my 1971 Chevy Camaro RS and my 1986 Mercedes-Benz 500SE.
Bought a 10-Footer
Just when I was about to give up, another blue Celeste popped up on OLX. I thought that it was the same blue one that I missed out on but when I saw the yellow fog-style headlights and the license plate (NRF-707), I knew it was a different car. The seller, Ruel De Guzman Itang, was a courteous guy who invited me to view and test drive it before we negotiated on a price.
Ruel’s Celeste was a “10-footer” – it looks good from ten feet away – and it had a lot of issues. It had rust in some panels, a misaligned rear hatch, gauges that don’t work, tired and noisy suspension, weak brakes, nervous steering, and worse of all, the wrong stance. But at least, it was complete and running. Ruel was asking P80,000 for it but we settled at P70,000 after I pointed out the problem areas and after I learned that the Land Transportation Office (LTO) registration was not current. On October 15, 2014, I became the proud owner of a 1977 Mitsubishi Celeste 1600 ST.
The documents that came with our Celeste showed that Ruel bought it in February 2014 from Son-D Christian Prime Soriano, who remains as the owner-on-record as shown on the Certificate of Registration (CR) and Official Receipt (OR). Soriano acquired it in December 2007 from Angel Domingo, who in turn, purchased it in February 1987 from Amaury Agoncillo. We are at a loss about its ownership between 1977 and 1987, but we will appreciate any help in tracing the previous owner/s. We also learned that it spent most of its existence being driven around Metro Manila since its owners lived in Pasay City (Agoncillo), Manila (Domingo), Quezon City (Soriano), and Caloocan City (Itang). Its odometer read 96,441 kilometers when we purchased it, which is just about right for a car that spent 37 years in the metropolis.
Initial Repair Work
Nine days after we got our Celeste, we started working on it. We wanted to correct the car’s stance, remove the excess baggage, and turn it into a clean “Old Schooler“. Here’s what we did:
Corrected Stance and ATS Wheels
Our good friend and rally enthusiast Raul Asuncion brought us a set of original 5-spoke ATS 13”x7” wheels and we immediately snapped it up to replace the gold mesh-style faux Enkei wheels. The lighter ATS set removed several kilos of unsprung weight to make our Celeste handle and ride better.
Baby, You Can Drive My Car
It is often said that cars are designed to be in motion. Metal parts will rust and rubber components will become brittle if a car is left sitting still for an extended period of time. So, we decided to drive our Celeste more often from late 2014 throughout 2015, attending events like the “Old School Gathering” at Camp Aguinaldo, the Vintage Car Philippines (VCP) Eyeball at the Bonifacio Global City BGC, Diamond Motors Corporation’s Auto Tune 2015 at Robinson’s Novaliches, and even to menial errands around town.
Electrical and Aircon Repairs
Sometime in early 2016, the battery of our Celeste would be completely drained the following morning after a drive, so we bought a brand-new Motolite 2SMF N50 battery. Then, we found that the alternator was only churning out 9-10 volts instead of 12-13.5V, so we drove our car to our favorite and trusted auto electrical repair shop, Yock’s Auto Electrical Repair Shop & Auto Supply along Roosevelt Avenue in SFDM, Quezon City, to have the electrical gremlins eliminated.
Rust Never Sleeps
Neil Young once famously sung, “Hey, hey, my, my… Rust never sleeps”. We knew that our Celeste had some rust issues when we bought it and these tin worms are beginning to spread like cancer two years into our ownership. Thankfully, JSK Custom Paint and Auto Works finally found a slot for our cars repair in June 2016. We thought it prudent to assess the extent of the rust and dents on our Celeste before we turn it over to them.
Rust Repair and Fabrication
The technicians at JSK Custom did not waste time deconstructing and disassembling our rusty Celeste. By the second week of July 2016, the body has been reduced to its bare shell, and the fenders, doors, front hood, rear hatch, interior, engine, transmission, driveshaft, rear differential, gas tank, suspension, and wiring harness were all removed. All the rusted portions were either cut away, are being repaired, or are being fabricated. Various parts of the car were either being stored or cleaned by the JSK technicians.
Preparation and Alignment
By the last week of October 2016, the JSK technicians have removed all the rotted metal and replaced the rusty portions with fabricated pieces that look like they came from the factory. After all the metal work, they started piecing the exterior back so they can align the body and trim parts. As the pictures show, our Celeste is beginning to look like a car again, except this assembly will only be temporary since the car will be disassembled again for the final painting process.
Color Selection and Paint
The body of our Celeste was ready for paint by April 2017. We, however, weren’t ready yet. We haven’t really decided on what color to use. Initially, we thought it would be great to keep it in its factory-applied BB-code medium dark blue instead of the light metallic blue it had when we bought it. We also thought of finishing it in Aqua Marine Blue, which was a popular color for American muscle cars but not appropriate for an Old Schooler. While our Celeste was coated in yellow etching primer, we had an epiphany: Let’s color it Ferrari Fly Yellow! It would be perfect for displays in car shows!
Making It to MIAS 2018
Despite having undergone a two-year-long restoration, our Celeste was rushed to meet the deadline of the 2018 Manila International Auto Show (MIAS) in April 2018. Johnson Tan, the proprietor of JSK Custom Paints and Auto Works, promised that his team will make the bottom of the car and the underchassis as show-worthy as the whole car itself, and he delivered. Now that it’s finished, we realized that turning our Celeste into a show car has relegated it to the status of “trailer queen”. It can now only be driven occasionally and transported on a trailer to car shows, club meets, and the like. It will never be driven in the rain or over rough roads. It has ceased to be “just a car“. It has become a show piece.
So, there you have it. Unlike those automotive restorations done in car reality TV shows where they can turn a project from scrap heap to show condition in just seven days, it took us a couple of years to find our car, fix it, paint it, and dress it up before we can take it to the show. While it’s really relatively easy to restore a car, you’ve got to have the budget, the correct parts, the right tools, and the talented manpower to do all the work from body work and metal fabrication, painting, mechanical and electrical repair, upholstery, finishing and detailing. Most of all, you’ve got to have the patience because in your eyes, the car will never be finished. There will always be something to work on.
We compelled ourselves to work on this 1977 Mitsubishi Celeste 1600 ST not because we thought it was easy.
We did it to fulfill a dream.