Clark Ishihara gets ready to do what no tuner has done before: turn a Lexus fan’s vehicle design into auto-show-worthy reality.

09/03/2013—This summer, as a panel of Lexus judges pored through fan submissions for this year’s SEMA project car design contest, there was one judge with a little more at stake than the others—Clark Ishihara, the judge who’s been tasked with the intriguing job of turning that 2014 Lexus IS design into a real car.

It’s a unique experiment, but in many ways, there couldn’t be a more perfect person for the job, as Ishihara resides squarely as the crossroads of creativity and Lexus appreciation.


At the moment, the 27-year-old automotive designer drives a GS F SPORT, and he’s also the founder of California-based VIP Auto Salon, which specializes in taking visually stunning Lexus automobiles and pushing their designs a bit further.

One can think of Ishihara as an artist for hire whose medium, quite literally, is Lexus vehicles, styled both for clients and for Lexus; the latter often tasks him with the enviable job of modifying Lexus “project cars” for key auto shows. That can mean completely reupholstering a Lexus interior with custom stitching and materials.

Other times, it’s a matter of altering the car’s exterior personality, using imported aftermarket parts—and Ishihara’s swirling imagination—to make, say, a Lexus LS look just a shade more aggressive. Ishihara likens his clients’ experience to a fitting for a custom tailored suit.

SEMA Sketch

“There is no right or wrong way to enhance a vehicle,” he explains. “Your vehicle expresses who you are. It’s like fashion. One person’s clothing sense might be different than another’s, but if they walk out the door and feel good about how they look, that’s all that matters.”

Ishihara’s work isn’t only about appearances, however. For one of his most recent projects, he added 60 horsepower to an already powerful Lexus sedan. In addition, Ishihara often guides his clients toward bigger brakes—a design cue that he notes has made its way back to the factory.

But brakes as a design cue? Definitely.

Ishihara believes in a balance of aesthetics and performance. To him, the two are inseparable, with many performance-minded Lexus drivers as eager to test their vehicle in a track environment as they are to showcase their car around town.

Ishihara Driving

“For some people, if a car looks fast, it had better be fast,” he explains.

For interior and paint colors, Ishihara continues to draw inspiration from the fashion world: trends, materials, and colors. Yet for styling, he favors Lexus’ ongoing move toward a more masculine look. As examples, he points to the aggressive design of the spindle grille and, of course, the LFA. Ishihara insists this trend toward aggressiveness is embodied in the factory look of the car he drives, the 2013 Lexus GS 350 F SPORT.

”People were surprised when it debuted,” he notes. “The car already looks like it has a performance body kit on it. The overall stance, the aggressive front bumper. It looks great.”

If Ishihara has his wish, in five years this sort of thing will seem neither untraditional nor surprising. In the meantime, he will continue his own personal mission, adding his unique vision to a product he loves. “I’m not exactly an artist,” he insists. “I just see an automobile, and I decide how I can make it better.”