Star-Bulletin Features

More than 500 vehicles are on display at the First Hawaiian Auto Show at the Hawaii Convention Center. In the foreground above is a Dodge Viper GTS.

Jack and Gail Hiraishi in his 1957 Chevy BelAir,
part of an exhibition of vintage cars.

Auto enthusiasts race to see their
dreams come to life at a show
at the Convention Center

By Shawn "Speedy" Lopes

Oh, that's so me," cooed Aina Haina auto enthusiast Evan Morimoto, chin in hand, as he gazed adoringly at a fetching white Audi TT Roadster. Leaning over to inspect the car's price tag, his wife Becky lets out a huff. "Yeah right," she says, with a quick giggle. "Enjoy it now while you can still touch one."

This Lamborghini V12, 6.2 L Murciélago can go from 0 to 60 in 3.3 seconds with a top speed of 205 mph. At that speed, would it be a blur to van cams?

Dreaming is encouraged at the 2002 First Hawaiian International Auto Show. As a matter of fact, many of the models on display now at the Hawai'i Convention Center are available to touch, inspect and even sit in.

Even commuters rounding Kapiolani Boulevard onto Kalakaua Avenue can catch a quick glimpse of the expo's exotic car display, where utterly unattainable dream machines like the Lamborghini Murciélago, Ferrari 380 Spyder and Lotus Esprit are cordoned off but within feet of window shoppers.

What began in 1977 with 60 cars from 15 dealerships has turned into an impressive showcase featuring more than 500 cars, trucks, minivans, SUVs and motorcycles.

The Lamborghini V12, 6.2 L Murciélago runs on these tires.

In lieu of pushy salespeople, attendees are greeted by informed representatives whose duty it is to fill in curious onlookers with details on their company's show cars.

"A lot of people like the vintage look and the versatility of this model," explains sales professional Jeff Annis, as he gives a tour of the popular Chrysler PT Cruiser. He folds the front passenger seat over itself for emphasis. "A surfboard can fit right in there, no problem. Pretty cool, huh?"

One Saturn representative beckons passersby over a PA system with a demonstration of the Saturn VUE's hardiness and durability by pounding on its side panels with a closed fist. "I'll probably hurt my hand before I do any damage to the car," she ventures.

Charlie Souza shines a spot on his 1957 Chevy Coupe at the First Hawaiian International Auto Show.

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the floor, a crowd has gathered around the new future-retro Thunderbird (about $45,000), where a Ford rep breezes through its features, from its comely colors (it's available in "whisper white," "inspiration yellow," "torch red" and "Thunderbird blue") and leather-trimmed interior, to its impressive mechanical features.

2002 International Auto Show

When: Noon to 10:30 p.m. today, 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. tomorrow, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday
Place: Hawai'i Convention Center
Parking: Ala Moana Center, lower level
Admission: $6 general admission, $4 ages 62 and up or military, $3 children, free for age 6 and under; discount coupons available at car dealerships, First Hawaiian Bank Oahu branches and the Web site,

Call: 943-3500

The stunning Chevrolet SSR (Super Sport Roadster) is a definite show-stopper, with its unique combination of top-down roadster chic with the utility and size of a pickup truck. It takes center stage on a revolving platform, amidst a hail of flashbulbs. It's expected to be priced at about $40,000 when it hits dealer showrooms later this year.

Volkswagen seems to have scored the most fun points at this year's convention with models like the Cabrio, Beetle GLS and Eurovan MV. "A lot of people have connected with us," said VW district manager Jim Ryan. "They've found that our drivers are young at heart and active people with active lifestyles."

Taylor Shimomura, 11, gets behind the wheel of a Toyota Matrix with mom Carol Shimomura at his side and dad Calvin as backseat driver.

The hot, stylish Pontiac Vibe sport wagon (about $18,000 to $21,000), a car/truck crossover about the size of a PT Cruiser -- outfitted with a surfboard and cool tropical fauna trim just for the Hawaii show -- attracts many admirers. Its promotional campaign however, is the work of a pair of UCLA film students who betray their generation by employing such clumsy adjectives as "punked" and "Cyber Freak" to describe the vehicle and its intended target demo of young adults ("free" + "spirit" = peppy cheerleader, get it?).

A surf rat, watching the commercial playing on a nearby monitor grimaced. "Aw dude," he told his buddy. "I was so totally getting into this car."

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