Car Culture and Events - Big Island Hawaii (Classic Cars, VWs, Trucks, Drag Racing, Autocross and More!)


Taken from Lanihau Website

We recently got to spend a great 9 days on the Big Island of Hawaii; of course the whole time I was trying to pick up on what was going on in terms of car culture.  I’d lived in Kona 5 years ago but at the time I was more into building motorcycles than cars.  This was an opportunity for me to see if I’d been missing out on a great car culture when I lived here, or if there wasn’t a whole lot going on because of the fabled Hawaiian rust that eats cars, roofs, rebar in concrete and just about anything vaguely resembling processed iron.

I’ve got lots of stories but as some of you may be reading this to find car events on the Big Island, I’ll jump straight to the events and then bring it back around to “talk story” as the Hawaiians put it.

We flew in on Saturday and within a couple hours we stumbled on a car show while driving around downtown Kona.  We’d come across the Lanihau Center Cruise Night.


The Lanihau Center Cruise Night has great cars, and is quite the community event.  I saw all types of cars, from vintage mini-coopers and rat rods, to modern Corvettes, Lightnings and custom Chargers.  Also, I’d been in the parking lot 5 minutes when several families from my church of 5 years ago recognized me and came up and said a warm hello.  To highlight what a community event this cruise in is, the high school robotics teams were also on sight showing off their creations.  There was a buzz to the event that went beyond cars. The Lanihau Center Cruise Night is one of those car events that goes really well because it engages the community.


The Lanihau Center Cruise Night appears to be a once a month event happening on Saturdays for the first six months of the years.  The night we went the cars filled the bank parking lot. Info can be found here - http://lanihau.com/Events.html


 Sunday I sat down with my computer looking for more events, my expectations high from stumbling across the Cruise In.  Here’s what I found-
  • Looks like the SCCA just recently started sanctioning the local autocross events!  On top of that, it looks like it’s ran on a Kart track!  How fun is that?  If I had more guts, I’d take the rental car out.  Props to any of you that try that.  I’ve heard legends about guys that would take the mustangs from the rental places and drag race them in the 60s. Here’s the link to the SCCA website -http://www.bigislandscca.org/ 
Picture Taken from Web
  • I’d heard quite a bit about the drags here on island when I’d chatted with our equipment manager (CAT mechanic) back when I worked here in construction.  He told me he’d joined the VW 200 mph club (more on VWs later).  Looks like two groups rent the Hilo drag strip and the Big Island Auto Club keeps the best website up.  Find events here - http://www.bigislandautoclub.com/
Taken from Website
  • Turns out every 3 years there’s quite a car show.  A bunch of Hawaii ex-pats and rich Californians send their cars to the big island from the mainland to cruise around.  The cars obviously must reflect the wallets that can ship them overseas for a week of fun.  Find out more about the Cruise Paradise event here - http://hawaiiclassiccruisers.com/cruise-paradise-2012/
  • When I lived here I enjoyed the Waikaloa Lions Club’s car show.  You can find information about that event at the Lions Club’s website - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Waikoloa-Lions-Club/
Taken from Website
  • There also appears to be a Show and Shine which may align with a Bug-In (as in the VW kind) and the Cruise Paradise on the years it occurs.  It looks like the Big Island Auto Club (see 2 above) and the Hawaii Motorhead Magazine sponsor this event.
Taken from Website
    On that note, the Hawaii Motorhead Magazine is a great read to know what’s happened.  Unfortunately I read through the newest issue and it doesn’t seem to have a great upcoming events calendar but it’s still worth a read, especially since they post the whole magazine online. http://www.hawaiimotorhead.com/current-issue/

    I probably have a soft spot for this magazine because after a tough Mauna Kea 500 my name made it into it once… this one time… for being mid-pack.  Yeah, they listed everyone.  But to my defense, I think I was the only one riding a street legal old air cooled XR!
    I'm on the left

    In terms of cars, there is some interesting stuff running around the island and yes, not everything old has rotted away.  Some has though.  For example, back home one of my many drivers is a 71 Ford F250.  I came across a similar vintage Ford on the North Coast that was quickly becoming nutrients for a banana plant or Plumeria bush (this would probably make my wife happy if it happened to mine).


    Even before I came out, one of my old friends from my time here had sent me a picture of some cars one of his friends was looking to sell (he knows I also operate a car finding service).  One of the cars was a 50s vette.  True, fiberglass doesn’t rust and the running gear could have serious issues but I love those cars and would be very tempted to buy it  if I lived on island (and money helps).


    One thing I knew was that the VW culture is large here but this week just confirmed that.  I saw tons of busses running around.  The car show included some great examples including an early body (round rear window with flip up turn indicators).  The above listed Hilo car show called a Bug-In is also a great example of the popularity of these Bavarian built beauties over on the Big Island.


    Even at the used book store we stopped in, the autos section was filled with VW books.  One of my favorites was an early “for idiots” manual for VW repair.


    Another interesting sub-culture was down in the Puna district.  Puna is famous for being something of a lawless area where anything grows… I mean goes.  No, actually grows works well.

    We cruised down to Puna to see the flowing lava which occasionally eats a house.  Randomly we wound up at a community market filled with people that wandered about with a half baked smile wearing clothes that resembled home-made.  Parked dominantly at the front of the parking lot to the community “farmers” market was a massive military people carrier.  The truck seemed to say, yes, we seem peaceful now but try and take away our crops… we’ve got military grade equipment for our farms.


    I did spot a non-military classic in the parking lot too.  The grille was painted and I imagine that probably helps keep the rust at bay.


    And speaking of trucks, it seems that if you’re Hawaiian the thing to do is to put a $15k dollar lift on your $40k dollar diesel work truck.  They’re everywhere!  I can’t help but wonder how many of these early 20s guys are still living at home while they pay close to a grand a month for their truck, wheels and lift kits (all of which are on credit).  Hope they love it and it gets them into some epic surf spots.  There are some places to use these trucks on island, but not many of them.  When I lived here I sported a $1500 dollar 1988 F-150 with a lift and it got me into everywhere I wanted to go (and the ’88 5.0 litre Ford motor is a great motor even when the rest of the truck is rotting off!).


    The other interesting car activity on the big island is rental car perusing.  I can understand if you don’t see any reason why rental cars would be interesting but let me enlighten you.  I’m assuming that, like my family, you must have some boring blasé daily driver that’s generally referred to as the “family car”.  You make this concession because for some reason these “family car”s seem to mock your project cars suspect reliability even after you’ve replaced the whole car.  Well, here in Hawaii you get to check them all out as they go down the street.  The rental car companies seem to buy every boring car that rolls off the factory line.  We somehow ended up with a new Focus with a spoiler and it seems to be the only one I’ve seen on the island with a spoiler!  I’m sure I put that downforce to good work this week (sarcasm).


    Actually, I did notice as I eyed the rental cars, that the front end of the new Ford Fusion has a great looking front grille.  Now if only they could improve the side profile, rear end and top it’d be a great looking car!

    Picture Taken from Web

    When we hiked down into the valleys on the North side of the island I found an interesting tire/wheel that looked like it was made for mud and the rims might have had bead locks.  I really wish I knew more about tires, there’s been more than one time when I would have used that knowledge to date things.  This is a perfect example, or with my current project car (www.budgetmga.blogspot.com) I’d have a better idea when it was last on the road.


    On some of the back roads of the Big Island we came across some interesting art-deco buildings.  The storefront on one gas station seemed quintessential gas station in shape although the store’s owners had not chosen to capitalize on it with a paint job that matches it’s vintage.


    At one of the local coffee farms, Greenwell farms, I noticed the trailer they were using to haul around some of their wood had a peculiar vintage.  I’d guess this is either ex-military ware or re-purposed railroad equipment (based on the skinny wheels; there used to be a railroad for hauling the sugar cane but that is a long and distant history now).


    I really enjoyed the minimum 40 mph road signs you’ll find on the Big Island.  We need more of those on the mainland!  Of course following that sign was a 25 mph construction zone for 30 miles without a touch of construction.  I was so bored I considered dropping the wheels off into the ditch beside the road just to make it more interesting and keep me awake.


    Speaking of signs, although not car related, the sign at the beach just South of the Kona airport cracked me up: “Low Flying Aircraft, No Kite Flying”.


    All in all, the Big Island seems to have a decent car culture.  Massive 4x4s and VW bugs are en vogue and there’s occasional events that are worth heading out to.  And there is a bit of randomness to the cars you’ll see on the big island; from military trucks in Puna to Citroen 2 CVs parked in the Volcano National Park’s parking lot.  If you're here and catch an event, enjoy it; being able to go to car shows in paradise doesn't happen that often… unless you live in Hawaii. Hmmm…..


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