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Butch Gamboa has left the building

The godfather of Philippine motoring journalism has passed

Taken in 2009, when Butch Gamboa traveled to Europe to drive the BMW Z4. PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

Ray Butch Gamboa has taken to the highway to eternity. I can see him with his hand on the wheel and a song on his lips, with his perfectly coiffed hair blowing ever so lightly in the wind, his sunglasses catching the sun and his impeccable sartorial flair draped across his tall frame. This image of him with his winning smile and seemingly insatiable zest for life are indelibly seared in my mind and my heart. Drive on, my friend. I’ll see you on the other side.

Kuya Butch, as I always deferred to him, had been my big brother in many ways. When I joined Toyota Motor Philippines, his long shadow was already there. He was the acknowledged dean of what was then the smallest of small groups of motoring media. Kuya Butch and the late Pocholo Ramirez were the inimitable tandem hosts of Motoring Today, a television program that was—as Butch himself described—“dedicated to serving the interests of motorists and the development of local motorsports.” The maiden show was aired on June 7, 1987, on PTV 4, one year before TMP was established in August 1988.

Clearly, broadcast was king at the time, and the motoring sections of broadsheets and auto magazines were only a figment of the imagination of other media organizations. So, when Butch and I met, the affinity was instant, and the friendship that followed was to last a lifetime. His passion for cars and motoring was clearly abundant, but what made him stand tall—literally and figuratively—was his vision of chronicling and heralding everything and every step that the auto industry had to offer. He was relentless in bringing the good news of new model launches, funky and entertaining test drives, motoring tips, car shows and all sorts of trivia to the consciousness of the viewing public. There was no story too small for him to cover or report about. He was 24/7 before they even invented the term. He was tireless. He inspired me in a way that made me realize that the stories that Toyota had to tell needed someone to tell it. Making things happen was only half the battle; the other half was in sharing it with a public that was enamored of and hungry for life in the fast lane.

For the last time, the man shared an intimate dinner with the industry at the ‘Auto Focus Test Drive Festival’ in May this year. PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

The charm of Kuya Butch was at once disarming and dangerous, in a good way. We would always kid each other about his infamous “ambush” questions. During interviews, he had a way of lulling you into a highly relaxed state, then—bam!—he would hit you with a question that came way out from left field. He always tried to trip me into spilling the beans on new model introductions or sales initiatives and, I must admit, he did succeed on occasion, and I had to beg him to take it as an off-the-record comment. He always graciously obliged, of course.

He was not a morning person, I assure you. But whenever we planned to get together, catch up or talk business, my usual free time was early morning. I would never hear the end of his complaints each time we agreed to meet—the coffee shop at the New World Hotel or the Jeepney Bar at the then Intercontinental Hotel were favorites—but he always (always) showed up. I felt special because he would constantly remind me that he never got out of bed early in the morning for anyone—not even for his wife! I will never forget, Kuya Butch.

His passion for cars and motoring was clearly abundant, but what made him stand tall was his vision of chronicling and heralding everything that the auto industry had to offer

Butch and I were also perennial travel mates especially to Japan and the Tokyo Motor Show. Covering the auto events and Toyota to-do’s were a staple for him. We enjoyed each other’s company—on and off cam, on and off duty. Many an escapade in the streets of Roppongi and Shinjuku in the late hours of the evening or wee hours of the morning shall remain between him and me. There was hardly a dull moment when we were together.

When I moved to the regional office of Toyota in Singapore, we lost track of each other, but we remained in touch. From afar, I continued to admire his never-ending zeal for the auto industry and his craft of communication. When I came back to the Philippines in 2019, Kuya Butch was, unfortunately, already sick. But the sparkle in his eye and the sharpness of his tongue remained. In my eyes, he was still and would always be larger than life.

I will miss you, Kuya Butch. You made this world a better place for many. Thank you for sharing the gift of your life with us.

Vince S. Socco

Vince is the chairman of GT Capital Auto and Mobility Holdings, a post he accepted after his retirement from Toyota Motor Asia-Pacific. His career began in 1979 with Delta Motor Corporation (Toyota). He mentors everyone—in real life and through his ‘Navigator’ column.