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1976 Mitsubishi Celeste 1600ST Part 1: Too Far Gone?

During the 2018 Manila International Motor Show (MIAS), we displayed our 1977 Mitsubishi Celeste 1600ST Power Wheels project car at the JSK Custom Paint and Auto Works display pavilion. It took us 4 years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to turn our tired-looking and rust-infected blue Celeste into this yellow show car, which was not entirely finished when we entered it into MIAS. That’s how really difficult it is to restore this Japanese old school classic, which is known inside Mitsubishi circles as the A73.

Johnson Tan, the car-loving proprietor of JSK Custom, made sure that the Celeste was show-worthy with an underchassis that’s painted as glossy as the whole car and complemented with a stainless-steel Borla exhaust system. He also made sure that the right amount of chrome tastefully graced the various engine and mechanical components. Because of its bright and eye-catching Giallo Modena (Ferrari Fly Yellow) finish, our Celeste project-car-turned-show-car attracted a lot of show goers, especially Celeste and classic Mitsubishi owners, those who used to own a Celeste in the past, and those who dream of owning a Celeste.

Bob’s First Ever Brand New Car

One of the show goers who gravitated towards our yellow Celeste was our friend, Aldous Rex Alingog, who’s a car and motorcycle enthusiast of the highest order. Aldous narrated that his family has a red Celeste that his father, Roberto “Bob” Alingog, bought brand-new in 1976. According to Aldous, his father, who was a young budding entrepreneur at that time, met and fell head-over-heels with a beautiful lass named Emelyn. After they met, Bob was a bit reluctant to ask Emelyn for a date because he felt that his lady love deserves a better ride than his work truck, a Ford Fiera light utility vehicle that he used to pickup and deliver agricultural equipment and hand tractors, which was his primary business back then.

Roberto “Bob” Alingog in the mid-1970s with his Ford Fiera work truck.

As a hardworking 25-year-old self-made businessman, Bob felt that a shiny red sports car could be the ticket to impress Emelyn as well as impress his business clientele. So, he hurriedly went to Manila and bought a brand-new 1976 Mitsubishi Celeste 1600ST, the very first brand-new car that he ever bought as a personal car. He chose a Bone Red factory finish for his Celeste, which came with a 1.6-liter single overhead cam (SOHC) inline 4-cylinder “Silent Shaft” engine that produced 72 bhp at 5,000 rpm and 116 Nm of torque at 3,000 rpm, which were quite impressive at the time. Bob also enjoyed shifting the 4-speed manual transmission and travelling around Northern Luzon in the Celeste.

Bob Alingog and his 1976 Celeste 1600 ST.

Love Story with a Twist

Aldous continued that Bob and Emelyn became a couple and the red Celeste became their date car. Bob was so much in love with Emelyn that he had personalized seat covers made for the Celeste monogrammed with a large “R” (for Roberto) on the driver’s seat cover and “E” (for Emelyn) on the front passenger’s seat cover. Soon, the couple became engaged and eventually got married. Bob’s business grew bigger as they started their family. The Celeste then served as their family car when the children were still small and could fit comfortably in the back seat.

Emelyn poses with Bob’s red Celeste.

Aldous recalled that when he was a small boy, all he could see when peeking out the hatchback and the quarter window of the Celeste was the sky. During night drives, he would ask his father to drive a little faster because he felt that the moon was chasing them. His fondest memory of the Celeste was when he would sit on his father’s lap while driving the Celeste and Bob would let Aldous take control of the steering wheel. “I felt so happy and excited when my dad would let me steer the car”, said Aldous. “It was a great memory that bonds me with my father and I guess those drives on my dad’s lap turned me into a motoring enthusiast.”

Bob and Emelyn pose with the red Celeste, which has now become their family car.

Misadventures and Abused Generosity

Aldous recalled an incident where a group of men tried to forcibly take the Celeste from them while they were on the road. “My dad was driving with my mom and us kids when an owner-type jeep drove alongside our Celeste and the front passenger brandished a shotgun”, narrated Aldous. “At the time, the ‘Celeste Gang‘ was causing havoc in Metro Manila and nearby provinces by stealing Celeste cars exclusively and using these as getaway cars when they rob banks or commit crimes. My dad had the presence of mind to accelerate away from the robbers because he knew that his red Celeste can outrun their owner-type jeep. He drove straight to a police station and we all got inside, where we waited until the cops said that it was safe to drive home.”

The exploits of the dreaded Celeste Gang was made into a movie starring former action star and Senator Bong Revilla.

Bob and Emelyn worked hard to expand their business into a bigger enterprise that turned into the ROPALI Group of Companies. Bob soon purchased newer vehicles and the red Celeste was used sparingly. Friends and relatives would often borrow the Celeste from Bob and some of them had the tendency to abuse Bob’s generosity. Some borrowers would return the car returning it with a scratch, a ding, a dent, or with a mechanical problem. Aldous recalled that his dad would have the Celeste fixed and when someone else would borrow the car, it would come back with a new problem. Over time, the Celeste fell into a state of disrepair until it was parked in their warehouse and was eventually neglected and left forlorn.

Planning a Surprise Birthday Gift

“When I saw the yellow 1977 Celeste of Power Wheels Magazine at the JSK Custom stand in the 2018 MIAS, I immediately contacted Lester and asked him if he could help me restore my father’s red 1976 Celeste”, recalled Aldous. “I told my mom and my siblings that it would be a great surprise birthday gift for Dad. I couldn’t think of a better gift to give the man who has almost everything than to give him back a piece of his youth, particularly his first car that generated pleasant memories.” Aldous immediately asked their employees about the Celeste and its whereabouts. After they located the car in one of their open stockyards, Aldous was disheartened with the current state of his dad’s Celeste.

“When I saw the photos of my dad’s Celeste, I was shocked!”, Aldous exclaimed. “I never thought that it had deteriorated that much and that so many of its parts were missing. The body, including the roof were dented and full of rust, which also ate through the hood. The windows were left open and the interior was exposed to the elements. The engine was exposed as well and water leaked into the cylinders and all the small crevices. The tires were all flat and the aluminum alloy wheels were starting to corrode because they were sinking into the ground. It was terrible. I told Lester that my dad’s Celeste was too far gone to be restored!”

“Thankfully, Lester was an optimist and asked me if I really wanted to surprise my dad by restoring his beloved Celeste”, Aldous stated. “I told him that I want to give my dad a very memorable gift on his birthday and that restoring my dad’s first car will be the best gift I could give him. Lester told me that we can still have the car restored if I’m willing to invest the time, money and patience to bring my dad’s car back to life.” And here’s where the story of this red Celeste’s restoration actually begins…

Log in again to see the second part of this multi part Power Wheels Magazine Project Car series about Bob Alingog’s 1976 Mitsubishi Celeste 1600ST. Stay tuned!