10/07/2013—Last summer, as you may recall, Lexus announced it would do something a little different for this year’s SEMA auto show.
Instead of just handing over a Lexus IS to a hotshot car tuner to modify, Lexus invited fans to submit their own designs. The winning design would then be built for unveiling at SEMA in early November.
Well, here we are, just a few weeks away from the debut. The judges have, of course, picked the winning design (nice work, Rob Evans), and Clark Ishihara of VIP Auto Salon has been steadily bringing the modified Lexus IS to life in time for SEMA. So how’s it been going? Ishihara explains:
LEXUS: This is a first for Lexus—taking a Lexus fan’s vehicle design and then making it happen with a real car. Where did your team start?
ISHIHARA: We started with the ride height. The stance is very important—it’s what gives the car its overall drama. We’re going with a company called Universal Air Suspension to replace the springs with airbags that can alter ride height on the fly. Then we’re going a step further and implementing a package called e-Level by AccuAir; it automatically adjusts the ride height as you add passengers to the vehicle.
How are you handling those giant wheels?
We designed them in CAD based on Rob’s rendering and then cut them out of a solid block of aluminum. Once we figured out the ride height and where the wheels would sit, we began the shaping process around the wheel. After the shaping process was complete, a mold was created. From there, the styling package was then manufactured using a blend of carbon fiber and FRP [fiberglass reinforced plastic].
You reviewed hundreds of SEMA IS contest car submissions—how interesting was that?
There were a lot of great submissions. Not everyone was from an automotive background, so just seeing all the interpretations in the automotive space was very interesting.
You were one of a few judges—what were you personally looking for in the winner?
I’m always looking at things from an enthusiast’s perspective and wondering, ‘Would I do this to my car? Is this feasible for my car?’ In the case of Rob’s design, the answer was an absolute yes. I remember shuffling through designs and landing on Rob’s rendering and thinking, ‘This screams SEMA.’
So what made Rob’s winning submission stand out in particular?
What I really enjoyed about his rendering was that he retained all of the vehicle’s factory bodylines and didn’t alter them. What he did was enhance them with add-ons and develop what’s already there.
The grille was the final selling point for me. To me, the grille on this vehicle—or any vehicle—is like the brand identity. Lexus spent so much time and energy developing that look to carry on this generation of Lexus vehicles. So the fact that Rob didn’t change that brand image was very important to me.
Now that that car is taking shape, what are you liking most about Rob’s design?
Rob was very technical, keeping things very realistic. As someone who had to turn the concept into an actual finished product, I really appreciated that. I’m also really liking those front and rear fenders. They give the car a futuristic look—the way the fender is not completely covering the wheel, but instead leaving it exposed. The front bumper itself was not dramatically altered—we’re changing the angle of the air vents on each side, and then just adding a little front diffuser.
Down the line, we intend to create an aero package inspired by this look and bring it to market. It’s that good.
—INTERVIEW BY CLARK HEIDGER/VIDEO AND PHOTOS COURTESY OF VIP AUTO SALON
 Show vehicle. Not street legal. Modifications made by a third party with non-genuine Lexus parts that void the warranty and may impact performance and safety.