Unveiled early this year at the Manila International Autoshow, Hyundai’s H350 is a luxury 14-seater van that aims to lock horns with the Mercedes Benz Sprinter and the Volkswagen Crafter. Initially developed by Hyundai as its first LCV for the European market which is largely based on a flexible platform designed to support three body styles; a cargo van, flatbed truck and a minibus, which is the one available in the local market. The exterior styling borrows Hyundai’s design philosophy, featuring a hexagonal grille that flows seamlessly into wraparound headlights. There are LED daytime running lights as well, plus sculpted flanks designed to segment the van’s high-rising side panels. Inside, the three-seat front cabin layout is paired to a multifunction, four-spoke steering wheel, with a large center console that emphasizes the car-like pretensions of this massive vehicle.
Now, if you are the King of custom rides like Atoy Llave, the man behind ‘Manila Proofed”, having a stock H350 just won’t cut it. “This mini bus is perfect for the mobile home concept,” says Llave who worked on this customized H350. Owned by celebrity Kim Chiu, this H350 underwent an extensive interior modification process that took 30 days to complete. According to Llave, the planning process alone and the drafting of designs took him a week to highlight the wish list of Chiu, who is a regular customer of Atoy’s custom shop along West Avenue in Quezon City. “This is her second vehicle which I customized for her,” adds Atoy.
The term “Manila proofed” was borne out of the frustration with Metro Manila traffic. For daily commuters, going to work is a daily ordeal that will really test one’s patience and fortitude. “What it really means is that I will customize your interiors for it to comfortable and pleasant to the point that the owner of a Manila Proofed vehicle will not be bothered by the chaos of rush hour traffic. I will transform your mini bus or van into a mobile home/office on wheels,” reveals Atoy. Established in 2008, the King of custom rides has transformed countless vans and mini buses of celebrities, politicians and businessmen who want to travel in comfort and style. “My biggest break is when Kris Aquino commissioned me to customize her Hyundai bus into a mobile home. I have done countless custom jobs for her and I owe her a lot,” says Atoy who has also ‘Manila Proofed” the vans of Batangas Governor and legendary actress Vilma Santos and power broker Chavit Singson.
Kim Chiu’s H350 is like a hotel room on wheels. The whole interior was ripped out and replaced with comfort features and amenities fit for a celebrity. The rear boasts of a three Captain’s chairs and a plush five feet and eight inches sofa bed for Chiu. It also has a Focal audio and video cinematic system that enables the star to watch her favorite movies while in traffic or during breaks from movie shoots. “Its really what I wish for, everything I require was incorporated into the design of my H350. I love the curtains which is very important for my privacy,” relates Chiu.
Using lightweight and composite materials, Atoy no longer tweaks the suspension because most mini buses were built to carry heavy loads. For vans such as the Toyota Grandia, a suspension replacement is required to make the ride more comfortable. “I replace the stock shock absorbers with specially designed Bilstein springs which I requested to be developed for my Manila Proofed vehicles,” he adds.
At present, Atoy’s custom shop is a beehive of activity with 20 custom mini buses and vans being worked on six days a week. Plans are in the pipeline for a custom van with a mobile gym and the King of custom is currently working on a design to manufacture an affordable wheelchair lift system. “The price for a wheelchair lift system is P500k and my design will hopefully bring it down to below P100k,” says the man, who has remained humble despite his popularity.