When the brand Land Rover comes to mind, many of us have visions of open-top Series IIIs or Defenders crossing the African plains among the beasts pounding the earth and the birds foregrounding the clear sky above.
For others, Land Rover is a signifier (to use Saussurean parlance) of a British luxury brand that represents go-anywhere capability with uncompromised comfort and sophistication. But for the Land Rover Club of the Philippines (LRCP), the brand and its products represent a spirit of adventure that no other off-roader can offer.
“When you have someone who is adventurous, he or she will readily want to buy a Land Rover,” said LRCP president Robby Consunji. “The brand is proud to say that it has all-terrain capability. And when you link the vehicle to people who are willing to go into those conditions, it sets them apart from tarmac-based cars that can only use paved roads, which make up only around 12 to 14 percent of roads in the country.”
Consunji said the club was officially formed in December 1999 from an idea that a group of off-roaders that he was in had during an excursion to Mount Pinatubo in Zambales the year before.
“They actually wanted to form a group already in 1998,” he said. “But I was against it because I knew there were a lot of splinter groups of Land Rover owners. I told them that the only way you could do this is if you get all the Land Rover groups on board and so that’s what we did.”
Consunji said they campaigned at six Land Rover shops in the country at the time, as well as Asian Carmakers Corporation (which handled Land Rover at the time), until the number of interested people grew. He said the club started with around 30 members primarily as a venue to use and appreciate the vehicles, such as taking these on off-road trails and assisting in restoration projects. He said the club now has around 700 members, some of whom are in subgroups.
“With a multiplier of two, our club has around 1,400 Land Rovers, spanning from modern-day models to the earliest one from 1959,” he said. “We have a database of these cars that includes the owner, the car model, the previous owners and even the accessories installed.”
No calendar of activities
Consunji said unlike many car clubs, the LRCP doesn’t really have a set calendar of activities. He said the subgroups organize their own activities, ranging from tackling trails to participating in calamity-rescue operations.
“One of our subgroups is an emergency-reaction team,” he said. “Meanwhile, another subgroup is involved exclusively in off-road-racing events. I don’t aspire to govern everybody and to bring them all together. I just coordinate and keep things pleasant.”
However, Consunji said one major project the club has been supporting for the past two or so years is the Solar Lolas.
“It’s a project that selects grandmothers from indigenous communities in the country and sends them to the Barefoot College in India to teach them to become solar engineers,” he said. “We only provide the transportation for this initiative, but the thrill comes from helping these communities, who would benefit from not only having better lighting, but also from getting more education. I really think this is the most meaningful project of the club.”
Consunji also said the club takes part in the Land Rover Festival in partnership with other Land Rover clubs in the Southeast Asian region.
“In 2011, we conceptualized getting Land Rover owners in the region into Manila to visit Mount Pinatubo and make it an international off-roading destination,” he said. “We had around 40 vehicles and took 20 foreigners on a tour, which they really enjoyed. This year, the festival will be held in Bali, Indonesia in December.”
Spirit of volunteerism
Consunji said to join the club, all you have to do is send him an e-mail to prove that you own a Land Rover and sign up to the Facebook page. He also said a fairly recent requirement is a copy of the vehicle’s registration.
“Back then, I would have just taken your word for it, but I’ve noticed that there are too many people online trying to step in,” he said. “They would also have to send an introduction. If you don’t introduce yourself, we can’t bring you in.”
Consunji said that unlike other car clubs, the LRCP doesn’t distinguish between probationary and full-fledged members. He said there aren’t even requirements on attendance to club events.
“I think that’s the key,” he said. “I tell members that you’re volunteering for particular things. If you want to go, that’s good. If you don’t want to go, that’s fine, too.”
Consunji said the main perk of being in the club is the connections a member would get, especially in terms of maintaining their vehicles. He said Land Rover owners can get in touch with other owners to talk about and fix the foibles of their cars, which aren’t renowned for their reliability.
“In 1998, we were a bunch of miserable owners who didn’t know where we could get our parts,” he said. “We didn’t know where we could get our cars serviced. And so we said, ‘Let’s band together and solve the problem.’ I say that in jest, but the key issue we have always addressed are maintenance problems.”
However, Consunji said things got better in 2004 when Wellington Soong (who Fast Times featured recently) took the reins of Land Rover, which had stopped operations in 2001 under the previous owners. He said the new dealership has been very supportive of the club, even providing sponsorships for the racing subgroup.
Finally, Consunji said the club also has social perks because members get to take part in everything from relief operations to vehicle crews at major events.
“Some people show up at parties, just because there’s a party,” he said. “We’re not really a formal, rigidly structured car club, which I think has helped us survive through the years. What keeps us together is a shared direction of what we want to do with our cars.”