Professional tuner Clark Ishihara shows the world how even superior Lexus vehicles can be made better, stronger, faster.
Well, we’re smack dab in the middle of auto show seasonSEMA and L.A. behind us and Detroit just a few weeks awaywhich means it’s a great time to salute that talented pedigree of Lexus owner: the custom tuner.
For anyone unfamiliar, Lexus tuners are your fellow drivers who see their vehicles’ innate quality as only a starting point. Boldly and skillfully, these passionate owners equip their Lexus models with a slew of aftermarket performance partssome for style, some for power, and usually a slick combination of both.
And one thing’s for sure: they’re a force of thousands (just take a look at the latest threads and photos over at Club Lexus). Plus, they’re a reminder that each and every Lexus modelbe it for the commute, for transporting little league teams, for general lifeis actually a wicked high-performance automobile.
Last year, as you may recall, we introduced you to David Huang and his 1,000-horsepower IS. This year’s tuner star is Clark Ishihara, president of California-based VIP Auto Salon, a “restyling” firm that enhances luxury autos with custom parts, usually for owners who want their premier autos to stand out even further.
Ishihara is also a self-avowed “huge Lexus enthusiast.” A long-time Lexus tuner, it was his 2010 SEMA auto show entry, a modified 2011 LS hybrid, that won a Mothers award for design excellence and, in the process, ripped through a long-standing barrier: in its 10-year history, no Japanese marquee auto has won this prestigious honor.
Plus, it’s got one heck of an interesting paint job.
Lexus: First of all, some background. How did you get started?
ISHIHARA: I actually started at age 16 working in a specialty performance company. By 19, I had sketched out a business plan in my parents’ living room, from which was born VIP Auto Salon. I think we caught Lexus’ eye when we exhibited a radically modified GS 430 at the 2006 Toyotafest in Long Beach.
What made you choose the LS 600h L for SEMA this year?
This year’s Lexus project theme was hybrids, so we could have done any of the hybrids for SEMA. But we decided to go with the flagship LS 600h L. I think that this car has, in the past, been regarded as more in tune with an older generation that appreciates luxury, and I was trying to show that it can also be a fit for a young executive.
Be showing that it can be a little more in-your-face. People forget the LS 600h L has 438 horsepower and a huge 5.0-liter V8. Armed with a few aftermarket parts, the LS can be enhanced to appeal to any age.
Are the changes something a typical Lexus LS owner could easily have done?
Like most of our previous image car builds for Lexus, we try not to stray too far from what is feasible to the end driver. As far as customizing, most of what you’re looking at is readily available and bolt-on. The aero styling package is available for purchase. It’s made by a Japanese company called WALD. The air suspension we use is manufactured by Universal Air. Now for the wheels, I’ll be honest, they’re kind of on the expensive side: they’re WALD 22-inch forged monoblock, and go for about $4,000 each.
Obviously you did some modifications beyond bolt-on. I see where the fenders are flared.
The fenders are actually a direct replacement for the production fender. This is available to the U.S. market from WALD. Okay, we did take the extra step of molding the aero kit to the bumper itself, so it would have more of a flush look. Most people would slap it on and not worry about the seam. And that would look fine. But we wanted it to look like it was meant to come with the car.
What was the most challenging part to alter?
I would say reupholstering the interior. The LS 600h L’s interior is intricate and so we did our best to not overlook the smallest detail. We reupholstered the headliner, front and rear seats, door panels, A, B, and C pillars, rear deck, even carpeting. At one point, there it was, this $120,000 car completely gutted. It was crazy. Much thanks to our friends at Top Stitch for making our ideas reality and doing it under insane time restraints.
Tell us about the SEMA award from Mothers, which isn’t, as you know, a motherhood organization. It’s from the Mothers car-care line.
I didn’t know exactly what the Mothers awards were at first, myself. Then I learned they’re the most prestigious awards a car builder can receive at the SEMA show. And we’re the first Japanese brand to receive that award. I was so happy to win this award for Lexus. It just shows you that the Lexus brand is capturing attention from a broader audience that maybe wasn’t quite in tune with brand before.
How do you get your vision for your builds? What influences your thinking?
We’re really involved with a lot of Lexus clubs, especially Club Lexus. We listen to what those enthusiasts are saying about the vehicles, what they look for, what would be cool to them. So it’s not just my influence, it’s everyone’s influence.
What’s next for VIP Auto Salon?
There are talks about us enhancing the all-new CT 200h for the 2011 auto show circuit and potentially working with the LFA team. As an avid enthusiast of the Lexus brand, I am truly grateful for the opportunity Lexus has given to us: taking part in the evolution of the brand, creating exciting dynamic and engaging vehicles, and helping to change people’s perception of the Lexus brand.
 Ratings achieved using the required premium unleaded gasoline with an octane rating of 91 or higher. If premium fuel is not used, performance will decrease.
Vehicle shown is a special project car, modified with non-Genuine Lexus parts and accessories. Modification with these non-Genuine Lexus parts or accessories will void the Lexus warranty, may negatively impact vehicle performance and safety, and may not be street legal.