Retrospective>>"big In Japan" 2008

Over the past days we've made a number of posts looking back at the year in various racing series around the world, and I want to continue on that theme with this post. Since Japanese tuning culture is a big part of Speedhunters, I figured I'd put together a post looking back at some of the tuning trends and breakthroughs seen in Japan over the past year. Like most other countries, 2008 has been a tough year for Japan economically, but there was still a lot to talk about in the world of car JDM car tuning.

First up, 2008 saw the debut of new versions of the Evo and Impreza, and of course the return of the GT-R. Within days of these cars hitting dealers, parts were already being developed, and the big tuners were finding ways to improve on the already capable cars. The GT-R in particular was interesting to watch, given Nissan's official "no-tuning" stance on the car.

None of the tuners seemed to listen to Nissan's wishes, and in no time they were shaving seconds off the stock GT-R's lap times, which were already incredibly fast. The most impressive of the tuned R35's would probably be the Amuse Phantom GT-R. Built and driven by the late Hideki Tanabe, the car nearly broke into the 58 second range at Tsukuba this spring. Now, just over a year since the car was released, there are dozens of companies selling aftermarket parts for the GT-R.

I'd bet that R35 tuning will get even more interesting in 2009. You may have heard about the GT-R twincharge kit that Power Enterprise just came out with. Personally, I'm waiting to see someone take the GT-R motor and jam it into something lighter like a 370Z. Cough…Smokey Nagata….cough….

On the Evo and Impreza side of things, one of the most notable new cars was the Evo X tuned by JUN Auto. This car proved the potential of both the Evo X chassis and the new 4B11 engine, lapping Tsukuba Circuit in just one minute and one second. Both the Evo and the Impreza are guaranteed to be popular in 2009 as well. Kumakubo's new Evo X-based drift car is scheduled to appear during the D1 demo run at Auto Salon next month.

While on the subject of drifting, although there haven't really been any new drifting platforms released on the Japanese car market, drifters continue to do new things with old favorites. Car builders are taking popular platforms like the Silvia and the Toyota JZX to new levels both performance and style-wise. The JZX100 Chaser from Team Spirant is a not only a  fine example of 2008 street drift style, but in my opinion one of the hottest JZX's of all time. The Spirant Chaser perfectly integrates classic and modern styling elements into one kick ass package.

Like it or not, American-inspired "luxury" style seems to be getting more and more popular in Japan. When I'm at the bookstore I think I see more people reading magzines like "LS" and "J-LUG" then "Option" or "VIP Style". This 180SX with 20" wheels is a good example of this style applied to an older, non traditonal platform. I have also seen "J-Donks" made from cars like Soarers or Crowns…

The popularity of compact cars like the Honda FIt, Suzuki Swift, and Mazda Demio shows no signs of stopping. These are always the best selling cars in Japan, so it's natural that they have a big following among tuners and enthusiasts. Given the current economic conditions, more people are looking to get their kicks from these cheap and practical compacts. As cool as they are, you don't really need a 400hp GT-R or RX7 to have fun at the circuit.

Classic cars continued to be popular in 2008, particularly the "resto-modded" cars from shops like Rocky Auto, Star Road, and C&Y Sports. C&Y's 2JZ-powered Hakosuka was one of the notable vintage car builds that debuted this year. I can't really see the classic car "boom" in Japan ever fading, considering these cars will only become more expensive and harder to find as the years go on.

European cars also seemed to really big this year. Both the high end late models and the older models seem to be getting a large following among tuners in Japan. The BMW M3 in particular is a favorite, and cars like the E92's from Ericsson and Sunbeam were standouts this year. Strange engine swaps have always been big in Japan and there is no shortage of older BMW's and Benz's rolling around with engines like Toyota 1JZ's and Honda F20C's. There is also Takahiro Ueno's upcoming BMW drift car, which is sure to make waves next year.

And finally, occupying a place somewhere between the compact cars and the high end turbo cars is the FD2 Honda Civic Type R. The FD2 has only been on the market for a year and a half, but it already seems more popular than any Type R model in past. As you read in my Revspeed articles, Feel's is getting close to breaking the one minute barrier at Tsukuba with their FD2 time attack car. Hondas in general seemed to be big in 2008, and the "I Heart Honda!!" event at Tsukuba showed just how high the enthusiasm is for these cars.

I can't wait unitl Speedhunters Honda Month in '09!

So, what were your favorite Japanese tuner cars this year? Also, what kind of trends do you think we will be seeing in '09?

-Mike Garrett



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The reason why the FD2 is more popular than any other type R model ever is because honda killed al the other type R's.


Great article, roll on Honda month!!!! :)


I hope to be proven wrong but I think 2009 is going to be a slow year in the automotive world as far as new innovations and big money builds. For this reason I think we are going to be seeing more people falling back to older cheaper platforms from the 90s and modifying them with more modern parts. I think the modifying of the EvoX and new STI are going to stagnate for a while because of the cost of ownership and the higher cost of mods.


great article, that first pic with the STI is sick


180's tucking 20's is the best thing ever.


great article but is sad see the Amuse R35...

But I can't wait the next sema and what will be the news.

Happy New Year!


J-Donks? Say it aint so!


I hope to see some B-Segment and Kei car tuning come back.

One of the reasons that I fell out of JDM tuning for a while is I though that more people were attempting to overbuild cars and focus less on actual driving technique. I love Kei cars, because you actually have to be able to know what you're doing to pull out a decent time from them. Plus the average driver can throw them around like toys, rather than a 600hp Skyline.


Nice post :)

VIP's have probably been my fave this year, there's been som really clean new platforms out, and some brilliant wheel fitments etc.

Hopefully we'll see more Kei cars next year though, and I imagine we will considering the whole credit crunch ordeal. Would love to see some of these more practical and affordable cars posted on Speedhunters..


I think you should just build what you like... Instead of hoping something comes back in style just build what you like and enjoy it.... I was looking at some pics of my first "tuner" car and realized that even though I think it is so wack now.. it made me the happiest back in 98.

I posted some pics of it on my blog...


I want a chaser.



that 180 breaks my heart, how could you make such a great car so impractical and ugly, i hope the american scene isnt growing in japan, that is why i love the country and it's car scene so much, it's different, not big american cars, but little miata's, and in my opinion, there shouldnt be any donk's in japan.


Damn, i have never liked Jap cars with rediculously big wheels, but that 180 just looks awesome!


omgomg give us the first 4 pics and the hakosuka as wallpapers!!! best pics ever.


moi aussi i want a chaser


Boso style drift cars in '09...

look out for it


the jun cover on evo x would be to see more evo with the CT and CZ chasis...but overall, everything just beautiful...can't wait for the HONDA month..cheers....


Eveyone has there own opnion:>> Matej said: "180's tucking 20's is the best thing ever." I think Ole-M and ben will agree with me when I say IMO "180's tucking 20's is the WORST thing ever!"


So how about a blog of Jazz/Fit's,Swift's and Demio's? I own a Demio (Mazda2 here in Australia) that i take to the track. Mine is one of 2 that i know in Sydney alone. I'd love to see more on them!


... can't wait until the HONDA month !!!