I’m going to make this simple. I like Japan more than I like Japanese cars.
Now, that’s not to say I don’t like Japanese cars. I love them. In fact, at the moment, every vehicle I own is from a Japanese manufacturer, and it was Japanese automobiles that got me interested in the country in the first place. But to only look at Japan’s domestic vehicles is to absolutely sell the nation short when it comes to car culture.
Over the years we’ve been able to showcase all sides of Japanese car culture here on Speedhunters, and the more often and deeper you experience these different sides of motoring enthusiasm, the greater appreciation you’ll have for the place.
To be frank, Japan totally kicks ass at cars. I’ve spent most of the last decade trying to figure out why, and I’ve yet to reach a solid conclusion. The evidence though is an undeniable – just look at the country’s incredible hot rod and custom scene for example.
My first real exposure to the world of Japanese traditional customs came about 10 years ago through the pages of magazines like Daytona and Cruisin’. Needless to say, I was impressed with what I saw, and was even more impressed when I had the chance to experience some of these cars first-hand a few years later.
Initially, my reaction to this scene was one of amazement. How could these guys living half a world away from the birthplace of custom culture be so good at it? I mean, most of them didn’t even speak or understand English, and they drove their big American customs down roads that can make a Honda Civic look positively gigantic. They were overcoming some serious barriers.
But with the more cars I’ve seen and the more owners I’ve met, the more I realize that identifying these automobiles by the fact they’re in Japan is not giving them the credit they deserve. The reality is that these cars would be jaw-droppers anywhere on the planet. It’s no real secret that Japanese builders have been creating some of the world’s best custom cars and I recently was able to spend some time with a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad that’s currently one of the hottest and most talked about builds in the country.
Known as Acid ’57, the Nomad is owned by Daichi Shimizu and was built by Fit Kustoms in Saitama – a workshop hidden amongst the industrial landscape on the edges of Tokyo. The story behind the shop is an interesting one, but I’ll save that for another day and just focus on the Nomad for now.New school technique, traditional style
The choice to start with a 1957 Nomad is a very special in itself, as unlike some of the other popular custom base cars, this Chevy model is both extremely rare and very valuable in stock form. Starting with a unique base is always a good step, and it would make this a rare build in the USA – let alone in Japan where you can bet Nomads are even more uncommon.
Since the Nomad is quite an iconic car in itself, it’s not surprising to see that that the custom body work has been kept relatively subtle. There’s no ridiculous roof chop, and the car is still immediately identifiable as a Nomad. Preserving that fact was one the key missions with the project, but it’s not to say that this was an uninvolved build though. The closer you get, the more you realize that this isn’t just a cool old car with nice paint and body work.
Making the car functionally sit on the ground was an important goal and there was a lot of fabrication involved to accomplish this. Beneath the body lies a heavily customized chassis with RideTech StrongArms tubular A-arms up front end a StongArms parallel four-link setup in the rear.
The rear frame was raised by six inches for additional clearance, and the engine mounts, firewall, and floors have also been raised to allow the car to lay-out properly.
The ride height itself is achieved via a RideTech ShockWave air ride setup, allowing for easy transition between cruising height and ground-scraping mode.
A big part of the car’s mild custom look is the use of 15-inch wheels with big bias-ply tires. This was the desired look from the beginning and great care was taken to get the tall tires to fit inside the Nomad’s modified inner fenders. The wheels themselves are original steel pieces with ’57 Cadillac hubcaps to complete the period custom vibe.
One of things that I love about Japanese custom builders is the way they fuse modern and the vintage elements. The styling of the Nomad is very traditional, but when it came time to select a powerplant it was a strong and smooth running LS1 setup with a Holley carburettor conversion that got the nod.
While some pure traditionalists might not like the idea of modern motor in there, the Fit Kustoms crew love to drive their cars and the addition of the powerful and reliable LS motor was a perfect choice in combination with its 4L65E overdrive transmission. Here you can also see the one-off air cleaner setup which was installed due to low clearance from the modified front end.Built to cruise
As I mentioned a moment ago, one of the biggest goals with the build was to preserve the original character of the Nomad and for that reason the custom bodywork is not over the top. However, keen eyes will notice that there’s a lot still going on here. Body panel gaps have been reduced and emblems and door knobs have been shaved for a traditional custom look.
And while the body mods might be simple, the Nomad’s paint job is simply mind-blowing. It’s all the work of Cal Trend – a local Saitama shop responsible for the Liberty Walk Kenmeri Skyline and Merc 9.
The paint consists of House of Kolor Candy Apple Red with subtle scalloping that uses a silver mini-flake. For even more character, the gunmetal base coat fades in towards the roof of the car.
Moving inside, you find that the Nomad’s interior brings the same mixture of traditional styling and modern conveniences – an idea that the Japanese seem to execute oh so well.
For example, the steering wheel is the factory ’57 Nomad piece – albeit painted in the same Candy hue to match the body.
The bucket seats are covered in period-correct tuck n’ roll upholstery, as is the custom center console setup which houses the 4L65E’s tall shifter and the controls for the air suspension.
The fold-down rear bench is finished the same way as the front seats.
As is the tailgate, with the floors covered in matching red carpet. The overall attention to detail here really rivals many show-only builds.
It’s never easy to balance out the modern and the classic without making things look unnatural, but Fit Kustoms has done a great job in that department.
The gauges for example, have all been completely replaced with Dakota Digital displays to keep an eye on the LS1’s vitals. To me, they add just the right amount of modern flash to the cockpit.
The paint and bodywork on the car was completed just in time for last year’s Mooneyes Yokohama Hot Rod & Custom Show, and Fit Kustoms was rewarded for their effort with the Best Custom award. The car also took top prize from the Starlite Rod & Kustom guys, who were over from California as special guests. That’s quite an honor given how much they know about building a proper custom.
But despite the show car level attention to detail, Acid ’57 was built to be driven. Whether it’s taking a ride down to Yokohama with the rest of the Fit Kustoms crew, or a longer road trip to Nagoya to gather with other Japanese custom enthusiasts, Shimizu-san can be found regularly cruising the Nomad down the highways.
With a rare base car, incredible attention to detail and a sense of style that can rival the best of the world’s builders, Acid ’57 is another machine that puts Japan right on top of the custom game. The fact that it gets driven and enjoyed often makes it that much better.
Nissans, Hondas, Toyotas – yeah, they are great. But if you want to truly experience the wonder of Japanese car culture you’ve got to look wider and dig deeper.