Auto Salon Showcases Modified Cars

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Some car owners just aren’t satisfied with the vehicle they bought.

Those owners use imagination, paint, new wheels and a variety of techniques and tools to create vehicles that reflect their personal taste, customized with flair that appeals to a younger generation. As many as 100 examples of modified cars will be exhibited in the Esplanade Ballroom at The San Francisco Chronicle 59th annual International Auto Show, which opens Nov. 19 at the Moscone Convention Center.

“Starting in 2010, we wanted to supplement the new production cars in the show with after-market and modified cars,” recalls Scott Diamond, Auto Show Assistant Manager. “But I quickly learned it was a tight-knit community and it was hard to get a foot in the door.”

He found the key when he contacted John Liwanag, a Southern California transplant to the Bay Area who had modified his 1997 Honda when he was only 19.

“It was evident that he was well connected with the people who had the cars we wanted to include in the show,” Diamond said. “John had some reservations, but agreed to help us out.”

Modified cars were first exhibited in what was called the After-Market Alley.

Liwanag recalls providing four modified vehicles the first year, along with some race cars and a “mixed bag” of other vehicles. He brought more vehicles in each of the following two years.

“By that time, I wanted a bigger after-market space that would appeal to a younger demographic,” Diamond said.

The plan was to give them something special they would relate to, different from the manufacturers’ production vehicles or the Academy of Art exhibit of beautiful classic cars they couldn’t afford.

“(Liwanag) asked me if he could make a proposal,” Diamond said. “I was kind of surprised he wanted to get involved.”

The modified car exhibit was moved four years ago to the Esplanade Ballroom. There was one little roadblock. The ballroom is on an upper level of the center. Cars must be transported to the ballroom one-by-one in the freight elevator. Liwanag directs traffic.

Dubbed the San Francisco Auto Salon, the larger exhibit space is viewed by Liwanag as an opportunity to create the kind of modified-car show of which he had always dreamed: An exhibit of the specialized cars that would reach folks that might not go to an after-market-only show.

“The show is an avenue for our cars to be seen outside our normal genre and by a much larger audience,” Liwanag said. “I am not surprised it became popular. What surprises me is how it became almost prestigious for owners to display their modified cars. The show became the place to be. People are coming and asking to be in it. The biggest thing for them is the diversity of the cars and diversity of owners that may not see each other for months. They get to interact and talk about cars.”

Liwanag said the hardest part for the owners is leaving their cars for the full run of the show.

This year, Liwanag expects to get at least 90 modified cars for the exhibit, with the goal of 50 percent domestic and 50 percent imports, although it rarely works out that way, he said.

“Fifty eight years ago, this was the Import Car Show, then the domestic vehicles joined us,” said show Director Kevin Diamond. “The salon’s modified cars and the Art Academy’s classic cars add a different dimension to the experience for the folks who come to the show.”

The San Francisco Chronicle 59th annual International Show

Pick up a guide to the

International Auto Show in The Chronicle this Sunday.

Adult tickets are $10. Children 12-years and under are free when accompanied by an adult. For more information or to order tickets, visit

This article originally appeared on

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