On the southern edge of the Mission between 26th and Mission streets, a glossy black compact car rumbles over the battered pavement. Its loud exhaust notes carry the tones belonging to a turbo-charged engine but a manual transmission dictates the pace at which all 215 horsepower drives the car forward. Further down the road its driver pulls over, steps inside a Honduran restaurant and orders pollo catracho, a fried chicken dish.
Brayan Torres never had access to fast cars like this in his native Honduras – gas was $5 a gallon and cars too expensive.
“Life was hard there. If you don’t want to listen to the gangs you usually end up dead,” Torres said.
Seven years after migrating to San Francisco, Torres now rents a tiny apartment near Brisbane, and spends his time working two jobs. But whenever he’s not working, he hops in his 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth, which he bought for $18,000 two years ago and has modified many times, and goes for a drive.
His car is the sporty edition of the Fiat 500 and Torres has spent thousands on modifications like a stiffer suspension and modifications to push the vehicle to 215 horsepower with 325 pound-feet of torque. Fully loaded, the car weighs only 1,800 pounds and the modifications have turned the tiny Fiat into a sleeper, an average looking car few expect to be fast.
“I wanted to get something different, not just any Honda, but something fun and that my budget could accommodate,” Torres said.
Some of the modifications aren’t street legal, so he drives the turbocharged Fiat on his days off or with a car club. The car enthusiast group keeps him busy, Torres said, and away from unproductive things.
The friendships he’s gained during his tenure as a car enthusiast have made him feel like part of a community. His closest family member in the country lives in Ohio.
“We’re like a family, a group of Latino car enthusiasts just trying to get ahead in life,” he said.