Car Show or No-Show?

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Car Show or No-Show?

Be forewarned: Don't go to the Seoul Motor Fair expecting a full-blown international car show a la Tokyo, Detroit or Frankfurt. It doesn't even make the grade as a national motor show since Hyundai and the other local manufacturers have decided to skip this one altogether.

The organizers are luring the crowds with tantalizing promises of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and all manner of exotics. But, lamentably, of the several dozen cars on display, most are used and, in some cases, decades old. On distant shores, this collection would be consigned to a used-car lot but, in Seoul, it is parading itself as a car show.

And there's no pretense. The upper level of the two-floor show is populated by "pre-owned" exotics that are clearly marked "for sale." A sharp-looking white Mercedes S500 Coupe caught my eye but even with the gathering clouds of another "IMF economic crisis" that have made used imports a huge bargain, I didn't bother to ask. In all fairness, this is not a show for the jaundiced eyes of a foreigner. It's meant strictly for local consumption - and locals, particularly young ones, will see these cars in a totally different light.

Eyes will glaze over and jaws will drop at the sight of dreams cars like the Lamborghini Diablo painted in - what else - devilish black. There are race cars (F1 Ferrari and a Cos-worth-powered CART racer), go-carts, performance- tuned versions of Korean production cars like the Tiburon plus a cornucopia of sedans and SUVs.

BMW and Toyota are the only two manufacturers with an official presence and, to their credit, have entered their full Korean model lineup; needless to say, they furrnished all-new examples. If you're smooth enough, you may be able to talk the staff into opening up one of the cars for a cockpit inspection.

Check out the interior of the mind-blowing V-8 powered BMW M5. The 145.2 million won ($121,000) price tag of this autobahn rocket, approximately triple the price of a regular 5-series sedan, will quickly bring you down to earth. But for me, the chance to ogle two roadgoing Ferraris was worth the price of admission. Finished in the classic Ferrari red, the F40 and F50 are icons with an amazing presence.

Driving one of these around Seoul would surely be the textbook definition of relieving frustration. Living here, you become inured to the sight of an endless parade of identical-looking cars. These two curvaceous beauties are truly a sight for sore eyes. One can only imagine the rhapsodic sounds of those engines as they accelerate.

You can't help but wonder about the irony of holding a car show in Seoul's busiest bus terminal: Mobility meets immobility. If you've done COEX Mall, a visit to the Seoul Motor Fair isn't a bad way to spend an afternoon. The show's venue, the Central City Mall, is a part of the sprawling bus terminal complex and offers plenty of good restaurants plus a Cineplex and a Marriott Hotel. . The show runs to Dec. 25 and admission is just 5,000 won for adults. The easiest way to get there is to take the No. 3 subway line to the Express Bus Terminal Station.

by Oles Gadacz

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