Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls-Royce in Chinatown, oh my!—Cars build communities

Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls-Royce in Chinatown, oh my!—Cars build communities

By Assunta Ng

Most people have preconceived notions about cars. It’s a guy’s hobby. And the automobile industry is a major player in the US economy that has contributed “3–3.5% to the overall Gross Domestic Product, according to the Center for Automobile Research.

One assumption is right, and the other one is wrong.

(Photo by Assunta Ng)

Namsayin, a multi-million-dollar car show was held for the first time in Chinatown on July 30. You could see Ferraris, BMWs, Lotuses, Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, Porsches, Datsuns, Toyotas, Hondas, Mazadas, Chevrolets, Fords , and more lining up side by side, around Bank of America’s parking lot outside and inside.

(Photo by Assunta Ng)

If you think a car is just for driving and transporting goods, this show can redefine how you can have fun with cars in our lives. It isn’t just a status symbol or someone’s toy. The meaning of the annual Chinatown-International District (CID)’s 55-car show will enrich your imagination.

(Photo by Assunta Ng)

Cars are reflections of your philosophy of life, according to car enthusiasts. It is about passion, creativity, design, community, excitement, entertainment, bringing people together, and, best of all, supporting the CID.

Why the CID?

The car show was part of the CID Celebration program organized by the Hong Kong Business Association of Washington.

Thach Nguyen’s Ferrari with customized seats and steering wheel (Photo by Assunta Ng)

Thach Nguyen, a real estate investor, said he received a call from the association on how to bring more young people to the CID Celebration. Nguyen, an enthusiast of luxury cars, said the association should have a car show.

Thach Nguyen’s Ferrari with customized steering wheel (Photo by Assunta Ng)

Thach Nguyen’s Ferrari with customized seats (Photo by Assunta Ng)

Nguyen owns a Ferrari, Bentley, and two Rolls-Royces, and is connected to Walter Franco, who organizes car shows and gatherings.

“Our model is community over cars,” Franco said. “We put people first over cars.”

The Franco family. From left, back row: Al-Michael Franco, brother/co-founder, Walter Franco, father Albert, mother Lydia. From left, front row: Maria Franco and Cheryl Florendo. (Photo by Assunta Ng)

The group also creates more awareness about car cultures and educates how cars are dedicated to different lifestyles. The show was also a contest for the 55 exhibiting cars. It brought car-related-industry people and car enthusiasts together at the show. Judging took place in the late afternoon and 15 awards were presented.

Franco’s goal was to promote and enhance awareness of the rich cultures in CID.

“The group will choose a designated route, sometimes on a freeway or sometimes shorter. But we make it a purpose to end in Chinatown, primarily to help all the small businesses…It’s about sharing the camaraderie of building cars.”

Franco’s love of cars began in the CID when he was a child dining in the neighborhood, watching unique cars driving by.

(Photo by Assunta Ng)

“This place has so much history. Tai Tung was Bruce Lee’s most favorite restaurant. For people in our community who don’t know that, it’s quite a dishonor. We want to honor those kinds of stories. In addition, we want to tell the stories of cars. It’s not just about fixing cars or making them cool, it’s really about brotherhood, sisterhood, families to come out and enjoy cars.“

The group has one cruise and one gathering. So far, it has held 50 gatherings at the old Uwajimaya parking lot.

“We want to bring new energy into the district. It’s not about making money,” said Franco. “This is a free car show. We want people to be aware of the amazing food here (CID).”

How to have fun with cars

(Photo by Assunta Ng)

Build your own car. Que!? And it is. All the cars at the show were customized. You wouldn’t be able to recognize it as a Honda or Toyota. They have all been modified and transformed. It’s just like building your own house, designing your tree house and landscape for your garden, remodeling your kitchen, and sewing your special wedding dress. If you have joy and pleasure designing and making things, envisioning how your projects turned into reality, building your own model might be a great fit.

That’s exactly what Franco did. Naming his car from him and the same as the car show, Namsayin (you know what I’m saying), he designed his own car from scratch by combining a Toyota and Subaru, a collaborative effort built in Japan. That’s Franco’s passion for him. As an illustrator, artist, and car designer, he is the contractor for building cars. How come I have never thought about combining models as an option when buying my car? I thought the only option was to go to a car dealer.

(Photo by Assunta Ng)

“The mindset of building a car is reflective of any facet of your life,” said Franco, who is also helping small businesses in telling stories and marketing needs. One important issue is that Franco said he follows rules by the book and doesn’t advise people to cut corners, especially when building their own cars.

Nguyen said he enjoys not only driving expensive cars, it’s also an investment. A Ferrari would cost about $400,000, he said. “You can’t buy a Ferrari because there’s a long waiting list,” he said. If you haven’t bought a Ferrari before, the manufacturer won’t sell it to you. So you have to buy it from some other owners. So Nguyen would sell it to a new owner for $500,000. Then, he would buy another one and build it to his liking it. After a while, he would sell it again. Each of his cars is customized. The road was closed for Nguyen’s vehicles and others outside of the Bank of America.

a guy thing?

(Photo by Assunta Ng)

The Northwest Asian Weekly saw no female car enthusiasts participating in the car show. Franco said the reason was they were given a short notice—about three weeks. About 10% of the participants were females in the past shows.

Women tend to care less about high horsepower, and more about design and elegance.

“We gain inspiration from our female counterparts,” Franco said. “Maybe pull back some of the masculinity in the car. In the future, we would like to welcome more female builders.”

(Photo by Assunta Ng)

Each of these automobiles are not the typical models you find in car dealerships. Of the 30,000 parts, you can personalize and modify your car with hundreds of features, from engines to paint, frames, windows, carpets, bumper, ties, paint, seats, engraving, graphics, steering wheels, and more. Even the car manufacturer logo can be customized like placing the car emblem where you want it. One familiar modification is how car owners turn a truck into a traveling vehicle, turning the back part into a sleeping area and kitchenette.

Already, fans have requested the CID car show to come back next year at the Seattle Center and also be part of the Seafair Chinatown Parade, Nguyen said. Next time, the show will expand to include the old Uwajimaya parking lot, as well as two more rows on the street, he said.

Organizers and winners of the car show contest. (Photo by Assunta Ng)

The power of cars cannot be underestimated. Aside from boosting the economy, the CID car show helps us understand how it can build communities by connecting diverse like-minded people from all walks of life, providing entertainment and friendship. Each car show is building community, one at a time. Only this time, it began in an unlikely part of the city, in Chinatown.

Assunta can be reached at

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