Project Cars: Introducing The Auto Otaku Garage

Hello. My name is Mike, and I have a problem.

In the 12 years that I’ve had my drivers license, I’ve gone through more cars than most normal people would in several lifetimes. I’m not quite sure why this is, but I think it’s because my mind never really stops thinking about cars. Of course if I wasn’t always thinking about automobiles, I probably wouldn’t be able to have this amazing job. Yet there’s also a bad side to this trait. That’s the fact that I’ve never been able to stick with one car for terribly long.

I’m always taking ideas from the places I visit, the cars I photograph, and the magazines I read. Much to the chagrin of my wife and my pocketbook, my never-ending exposure to cool cars has me constantly scheming about what I want to do with my own vehicles.

Another thing that’s allowed me to have this job is my extremely varied taste in cars. As much as I love the guy that has a collection of 20 Mustangs, 20 Toyotas, or 20 Porsches and knows every possible detail about them – I know I’m never gonna be that guy. I want to try everything. If I’m going to own more than one car, I want them to be as different from each other as possible.

So for most of my life I’ve been “sampling” cars – owning them for a year or so and then moving on to the next. Finally though, I may have found some “keepers”. Or keepers in Mike Garrett terms at least. As we begin to officially roll out the Speedhunters project cars, I thought I’d briefly introduce my pair of projects.

Let’s begin with the newer of the two, and the one that I’ve owned for the longest – a whole seven months! It’s a 2012 Volkswagen GTI base model four-door with the DSG transmission. It’s not just my first Volkswagen, but my first European car ever. Like so many others I was obsessed with the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ, and came very close to picking one up last year, but the GTI won out in the end. The FR-S may win when it comes to the raw fun factor, but what the VW lacks in razor sharp response and tail-out antics, it makes up for by being one of the best all around cars money can buy.

It’s decently quick, it handles well, it’s very good on gas and it’s roomy enough to carry four people in complete comfort. Also, with VW’s great DSG transmission, my manual-opposed wife can also drive it to the grocery store with total ease. Better yet, it eats up highway miles beautifully, which is important given how many Speedhunting road trips I go on.

Since July I”ve put just over 8,000 miles on my VW, and I love it. After living with the car for a while, it’s easy to see why the GTI has become such an icon over the last few decades. I’m not sure if there is another car available right now that offers a better mix of fun, practicality, and affordability. Now though, it’s time to start tweaking this thing a bit.

I’m really looking forward to upgrading this car – making it a little faster, a little lower, and a little cooler. Don’t expect to see any rusted body panels or roof racks here. At the same time, I have no ambition to turn it into a track beast that will roast the tires at the touch of the throttle. You have to remember this my (and my wife’s) daily driver, and a car that’s responsible for getting me up and down the state of California regularly. I’m thinking of a mild approach, trying to amplify all the good qualities that the GTI has from the factory. I’ve thought it might be cool to go with a slightly Japanese-inspired route, but I’m curious to hear if you guys have any cool suggestions.

Now comes the second, and the more unusual of my two project cars – a 1969 MS53 Toyota Crown Custom Wagon. Part of my automotive obsession means I’m always hunting around on classified sites, and when I came across this car I freaked out. While the Toyota Crown is an icon in Japan, it’s easy to forget that it was actually sold in the United States for a short time in the ’60s and early ’70s. With it’s high price and unproven nameplate the Crown never sold especially well in the states, so they are quite rare. The wagon in particular is extremely hard to find. I haven’t been able to find any production numbers showing how many Crown Wagons were actually sold in the US, but I’d literally never seen one for sale before. I called up the seller and essentially agreed to buy the car sight unseen.

I’ve been interested in old Crowns for quite a while, especially after spending time in Japan where they are prized among vintage Crown otaku.

After seeing the restored and customized examples in Japan, I grew to love them. It’s hard this love, but I suppose it’s something about the way they combine Japanese and American traits so well. It blends my enthusiasm for vintage Japanese metal and 1960s American style into a single vehicle.

So there I was on the day before Thanksgiving driving with my dad to the city of Brentwood, located east of San Francisco to pick up the car. It turns out the seller was a Toyota maniac who was liquidating most of his collection. In addition to the wagon, he also a couple other S50 Crowns for sale, including a four-door project car…

…and this amazingly original series II sedan with incredibly low mileage. While I wold have loved to take home all three, we chatted with the seller a bit and then loaded up the wagon for our trip back home.

1,200 dollars later, we were on our way. I was the proud owner of one of the very few MS53s sold in the United States. As I excited as I was on that drive home, I was also wondering to myself “what the hell am I going to do with this thing?”.

To say this car is a project would be a massive understatement. While the chassis actually has very few miles on it, the poor thing has sat outside in the elements since the early ’80s. There’s no major rot in the floors or body, but the years have definitely taken their toll. The body has plenty of dings, small dents and surface rust, and there’s a sizable gash going along the passenger side where a tractor or something scraped against it.

At the moment the car still has the original M-series six under the hood with the Toyoglide automatic trans. The motor is partially dissembled but I’m not worried because I don’t plan on reusing it.

Since I got the car I’ve been doing a lot of research, looking through magazines and browsing the net looking for ideas. I’m still exactly not sure which way I want to go with it. Everything from kyusha style to a Gasser to a lowdown kustom and even vintage NASCAR has crossed my mind.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that the car won’t be getting a full restoration. As nice as that would be, the rarity of parts alone makes this idea pretty unfeasible given my modest budget. I may try to straighten out the body as best I can, or I may just say “screw it” and leave the battered exterior as is.

Since I’m in Japan at the moment, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to dig into the car yet. Before I left I did manage to strip out most of the interior and dispose of the crusty old carpet and other crap which had accumulated inside over the years. I also ripped off the remains of the battered dash cover. Even without it, the bare metal the uncovered metal dash looks pretty cool I thought.

As you can see, at least the floors are solid beneath seats. Thank god for California!

Once I get home my first order of business is to finish cleaning up the car and then pull out the remains of the original motor. Then it’s time find a new powerplant. Again, I’m pretty open on this part. 2JZ? 1UZ? Go small block Chevy and piss off the purists? There are just so many possibilities with this thing. Like with any other project, it’s all a mater of time and budget.

And in case you were wondering, I still have my ’72 Datsun 240Z at the moment but to be honest I’m so excited by the Crown that I may end up parting ways with it and devoting all my classic car energy to the wagon. If I can convince the, wife maybe I’ll replace the Z with a Miata, S13, or some other cheap toy to bum around town in? Oh no, there I go again…

Anyway, there you have it. My new project cars for 2013. I’m really curious to hear your suggestions as to what I should do with these things!

-Mike


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109 comments
DizkoParty
DizkoParty

 @Mike Garrett For the Crown, why not go the 3S-GE route? +1 for Boso and leaving patina and body as is also.

 

Jake d
Jake d

Gasser with a big fat 2jz, that's the way, make the, have high profile tires with nicest rims, make me stick out a bit. Keep the exterior the same but make the interior clean but stripped to metal, my suggestion.

Gvk
Gvk

I'd say keep the exterior clean like that faded-blue example up there. The interior is up to you. I love the 2JZ but in a wagon maybe the sound of a 1UZ would fit better.

 

As for the GTI, all I can think of is a change of rims.

yanesnyawai
yanesnyawai

Black Smoke Racing. At least the diesel powerplant. XD

Joshua Mead
Joshua Mead

Mike,

I love the wagon, you featured my 73 mitsu wagon back in december, so believe me, I share your love for them. The patina exterior on your car is everything I have ever hoped for in a vintage ride! I hope you choose to keep it rough around the edges. I look forward to seeing progress on the project, i found my wagon just outside of san francisco too!

Phishy
Phishy

I will toss in a random wheel consideration for Compomotive Type MO 5 spokes. A bit small at 17X8 but gets you a "cushy" ride paired with good coilovers cranked down, and a nice classic/uncommon full face look. I love lip but no lip can be just as interesting. Not light but built like a tank . 1552 appreciatively copied this wheel, if you want something bigger with similar style they are a great option.

Phishy
Phishy

First off love the wagon. I love wagons and that thing is well off the beaten path. As a recent scooby convert but longtime VDub hack, I can honestly say stay stick with what works for the GTI. APR for software, H&R, Bilstein, KW, QUALITY etc for suspension. Techtonics for exhaust and miscellaneous parts and friendly "smart" people. Dip into the euro OEM catalog for some "doodads" that "make" the car and always work/fit/perform as advertised. Wheels and stance are the place to find your own way and I'm sure you will. They are fantastic cars when you add what you "need" but have the restraint to not fix what ain't broke. If you haven't noticed driving the Golf stock, most of the car "ain't broke". Have fun in SoCal, you have a bunch of great VW shops and resources at you disposal. Can't wait to see what you do with both, great cars. Just hold onto them long enough to "love" or "hate" them. :)

jmanmd
jmanmd

If I had one of those wagons I would lower it and do a 2jz swap or something like that (make it a drift wagon). Form+function is the way to go in my mind

tenpennyjimmy
tenpennyjimmy

It might be a bit obv, but i reckon your Golf would look fat with a set of CE28Ns in bronze.

 

You already know what i think you should do with the wagon! ...Then again your Mania Cruise coverage had all those cool wagons on Astros and Slots...

Corey K
Corey K

Oh my. I would never have the stones to take on a project like that crown. Actually, there's been a few times when I thought I would. But after getting the mess home, I said "f**k it" and ran away from the projects screaming. All I can say is, "good luck!" (you're gonna need it)

Talal
Talal

I wanna make my Corolla 1972 as you made. 

Good work keep it up (Y)

Nikhil_P
Nikhil_P

some cool ideas floating about! i think for the crown you should keep it classy...a nice drop, a nice engine with itb's and some period wheels!

 

im thinking of doing a little project car with my mate, thinking of a Volvo P1800...

aussieANON
aussieANON

1UZ for the crown, make it an easy street cruiser.

LouisYio
LouisYio

How much for the Z? Just curious.

Jeff
Jeff

For the GTI, I would keep it extremely simple.  Springs, sways, and bushings are all the car needs to handle far out of it's price range.  I personally love the intake on my 1.8t jetta, 99% for the improvement in sound.  I would leave the stock exhaust on though since the wife will be driving it a lot.  Maybe just a tune and intake.For the Crown, there's so many options out there it isn't even funny these days.  If money were no object I would suggest a N/A RB26 with ITB's and all that fun stuff, but that's kinda unrealistic.  What about an F20c?  I don't know how much the toyota weighs, but I bet a supercharged F20 would be more than enough grunt to get it moving, and no one has ever complained about 9000rpm.  Other cool swaps... maybe an SR or K series Nissian engine?  More parts than you know what to do with and your power goals are really only limited by your imagination.  The other really really cool one that comes to mind would be the L28 (I think that's the code...) out of an S30 Z?  The parts to make them quick aren't that expensive, and it would be period correct to have a carb'd inline 6 in there.

zephoto
zephoto

Fun article Mike... should be an interesting build whichever way you go with it.

Albert K
Albert K

Since you are open to adding jdm flavor to your GTI... i will toss in my 2 cents by saying RE30 on that body is just winwinwin!

rook56
rook56

I got a GTI for the same reasons you did. Its hard to make changes though cause you dont want to lose the all-rounder-ness of it. Ride or handling? Even cheap wins like opening the air filter might cost mpg. VW parts bin should have something you'll like. Anyway, Id be interested to hear how you go.

AlexG
AlexG

A ECU tune for the GTI is not too much, but a day and night difference. As for looks wise, Golf R tails and OEM lip make a great change, the tail lights are a must have and on candy white I think the Cherry finish looks better. Got mine from BKS back in the day. As for wheels, something good daily with a good tire setup for the wifey, I'd say something like 18x8.5et45 all around.

FunctionFirst
FunctionFirst

VW: Call your hookups at a nearby wheel company, have them build a 1-off set of MK1 or Mk2 tribute wheels, re-imagined and stylized for the new era. VW's already wear just about every shoe imaginable, but this would be unique and a nod to the GTI heritage. Airbags are a necessity to strike that balance between ride comfort for the wife and the style you want.

 

Crown: Someone said it before, Bosozoku. I think it's entirely possible to emulate this style, but add your SoCal roots and style to it. Flashy, but not too in-your-face, more "I'm inventive and unique, but totally chill". Whatever motor you go with has to be N/A. You really need to work the octopus legs manifold and ITB's into the style, add a little art to the engine bay.

 

Hopefully this is one you'll stick with. As someone with the same disease as you I understand what it's like to be a 'sampler'. I'm on my 4th car in as many years. Though this time I've been given an order from the wife to see this one through... though there's a FD3S for sale locally which would be pretty cool... or that swapped s14... or that WRB wrx... or that ....

Muzaffar Musa
Muzaffar Musa

Hey Mike, not sure if you remembered me here... but I do used to read and comment on your Auto-Otaku blog from time to time. Kinda surprised at how many cars you've owned since you were at Speedhunters! You sold off the AE86 and the Mustang and gotten this!!!? Haha... its okay, I'm not gonna blame ya on that. Anyhow, I think I've got several ideas about you car. The Golf could be done something similar to this: http://www.ssr-wheels.com/gallery/image.axd?picture=2012%2F7%2Fthumb_vdub_sp1_04.jpg SSR Professor + AccuAir or coilovers if you prefer. As for the Crown, just fix the rust and body damage... and maybe do something totally different with the engine. As crazy as it might sound, maybe try dropping a Toyota VD instead? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_VD_engine Or any Diesel engine for that matter..

ATheadWins
ATheadWins

I second the rotary Crown idea! Would maintain Japanese heritage and still be a conversation starter.

LTDScott
LTDScott

I love this wagon and hope to see it at the JCCS one day. Sadly, the only other Crown wagon I have seen in the US was a later S50 that I found in a Pick-Your-Part yard in San Diego about 10 years ago.

Skiptaylor
Skiptaylor

Your golf needs what every golf (from mk1 to mk6 inclusive) Needs: a set of bbs deep dishes and to be bagged. "Low and Wide wins every time".

Good luck with the crown.

 

 

 

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett moderator

 @Phishy Yeah I do like the slightly retro '90s look of those things, and going down an inch in diameter is something I''ve certainly considered.

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett moderator

 @Phishy Thanks Phishy! I've been a wagon nut for a long time. Goes back to my first car - a '72 Ford Torino Wagon that I bought for $600 and drove to high school. I also owned a '94 Honda Accord Wagon which I quite liked as well!

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett moderator

 @tenpennyjimmy Yeah choosing wheels for the Crown (or the VW for that matter) will probably be the toughest part. I'm sure I'll end up with multiple sets.

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett moderator

Yeah, this is by far the most ambitious project car I've ever tempted! I know there will be some hurdles, but I suppose that's all part of the fun. Haha.

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett moderator

 @Nikhil_P Oh yes, an old Volvo could be very cool. So much potential there.

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett moderator

Yeah, a proper set of coilovers are first on list for the VW! L28 in the Crown? Interesting. I actually have a spare L28 sitting in my garage although it needs quite a bit...

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett moderator

 @BryanEW710 Yeah that was actually the first car I bought when I came back from Japan in 2009.

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett moderator

 @FunctionFirst I'm thinking in the end the Crown will end up using a certain mix of different styles. And yes, I drive my wife nuts with my car obsession!

SaudQureshi
SaudQureshi

fifteen52 does amazing snowflake and teardrop reimaginings, I'd love to see the teardrops on a B2 Passat! 

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett moderator

 @ATheadWins Indeed it would be!  Could be cool even though I don't have a whole lot of experience with rotaries myself.

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett moderator

 @LTDScott Yeah JCCS is certainly on my list, hopefully this year but we'll see how that goes. Toyotafest would also be cool, but I don't think I'll have it up and running before early May!

Ryanfels
Ryanfels

@Skiptaylor The last thing he needs is to look like a sheep

Phishy
Phishy

@Mike Garrett I had a set of 16" MO's on a MKII VR and can vouch for their quality and toughness. No worries about slowin' down for the potholes and RR tracks with those things. "Wife friendly" I like to call it.

RodChong
RodChong moderator

@Mike Garrett @muethbooth very cool

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett moderator

 @grandtouring  @LouisYio I haven't even thought about it actually. I'll figure out what I'm gonna do with the car once I get home from Japan.

LouisYio
LouisYio

 @Mike Garrett  @grandtouring Mike, I have plans! I have great plans! I have plans that would require me to own the Datsun 240z! I have plans of painting a 240z! Midnight Blue seems like a great color! I also like the Anime/Manga that we all love and know as Wangan Midnight. You and I both know where this is going! Devil Z!


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