It’s sometime before 10:00pm on a very cold Saturday night in Aichi, Japan. I’m sitting in a Honda Step Wagon at a quiet and empty highway parking area waiting for the evening’s activities to begin. But will anything actually happen? That’s the question that’s in my head…
Earlier in the day a good part of the Japanese main island was hit with a big winter snow storm, and though it has since passed the roads are damp and fresh snow can still be found on the side of the highway. Next time, I tell myself, my Japan trip will come at a slightly warmer time of year.
The plan for the night is to meet up with a group of local Kaido Racers who are acquaintances of my friend Toshi from Local Hero Japan, but I’m wondering if the cold and wet weather will put a damper on our late-evening rendezvous.
I grab a sip from the hot can of coffee I just bought from a vending machine and stare out the window. Then I hear it. The sound of engines. Not just any engines though, but the distinct wail of high-revving sixes – and it’s getting louder.
I turn my head and see a long row of lights coming off the expressway and into the parking area. The lights don’t carry the hue of your typical automobile headlights – instead it’s a rainbow of yellows, blues, whites and even pinks and purples. It seems the Kaido Racers have arrived.
They have held true to their promise of coming out in anything short of full blizzard conditions – and why should I have doubted them? These guys might not be your typical Japanese salarymen, but their punctuality is as professional as it gets.
But that’s not what I’m thinking about at the moment. Instead I’m gaping at the line of machinery that has just rolled up and parked near us. It’s not a huge group of cars – only about a dozen or so – but these certainly aren’t your typical automobiles, and they’ve already attracted the attention of everyone at the parking area.
The cars are representing Hamamatsu Racing and Showa Speed – some of the Tokai region’s most well known kyusha clubs. Once the cars had parked up, I walked over to introduce myself and thank these guys for rolling out on such a cold and wet night.
While these types of vehicles might carry a rebellious and outlaw image for many members of the Japanese public, as is often the case I find that this is an easy-going, friendly and talkative bunch. They are simply a group of guys working to keep vintage Japanese street car culture alive.
After exchanging greetings, I begin to look over the machinery. A couple of the cars I recognized from events like the JCCA New Year Meeting, while others I was encountering for the first time. Either way, it was hard to think of a more appropriate bunch to represent the unique style of the Japanese Kaido Racer.The Machinery
Among the group is Toru Aiba’s Celica XX, which in my opinion might just be the finest XX in all of Japan. It’s got a great mix of subtlety and period-correct early ’80s tuning style put together in an extremely tidy package. I simply love this car.
Also joining the fun was Kawaguchi-san’s Showa Speed Hakosuka. These days you don’t see a ton of Hakosukas with the full Kaido Racer treatment, but Kawaguchi’s car is the exception to the rule. The metallic purple Skyline is sporting a legit shakotan ride height, ‘semi-works’ overfenders, a deep set of SSR MkIs and a 330 headlight conversion. Beneath the hood sits a built L-series with a lopey idle that can be heard from across the parking lot.
This 910 Nissan Bluebird is another car that I recognized from other kyusha meets, and being one of the cleanest of its kind in Japan, it’s not an easy car to forget.
There’s just something about classic ADVAN livery isn’t there? Especially when it’s applied to something cool like this long nose GX71. As you are probably beginning to gather, the classic SSR MkI was by far the most popular wheel choice among this group.
The two most outrageous vehicles of the night came from Hamamatsu Racing, with both exuding the extravagant style that Kaido Racers are known for.
The Y30 Nissan Gloria Hardtop is a rare car in any condition these days, and seeing one built like this is even more unusual. I’m of the opinion that the four-door hardtop is one of the coolest and most underrated body styles ever, and I love that the Japanese kept the style alive when most had given up on it. That wrap-around window is also positively awesome.
But of course, this thing is far from stock. Box fender flares, double stacked rear wing, MR2 side vents and a gnarly set of takeyari pipes are just a few things that help transform this bubble-era luxury car into Kaido Racer hero.
And for as crazy as the Gloria was, the Hamamatsu Racing GX71 Mark II has managed to take the style to an even more extreme level. In fact, it looks less like a modified Toyota sedan and more like something that came from outer space!
Besides a long nose conversion with a one-off, multi-scooped hood and a front splitter that extends out for a good couple of feet, the Mark II also has an enormous sloping FRP rear spoiler and a set of takeyari pipes that resemble lightning bolts.
A closer look reveals dozens of crazy details. Why heart-shaped lights? Because Kaido Racer. The style surely isn’t for everyone, but if it doesn’t at least make you smile, there might be something wrong with you. Aside from that, the simple amount of work put into these cars is astounding.
After spending some time looking over the cars and having a chat, we were joined by some additional visitors – officers from the local police department. While some might freak out at the presence of law enforcement, these guys took it in their stride.
The policemen weren’t pushy or rude, they simply asked a few questions and took some notes – all of them related in some way to Japan’s strict shaken vehicle inspections. It’s bound to happen anytime you get group of such heavily modified cars together. But after a few minutes of friendly conversation the police left, and shortly after we figured it was time to hit the road.The Escape
The engines were fired up again, the flashing lights came back to life and the cars formed a perfect line before jumping back on the expressway. The plan was to cruise down the road for several kilometers, grab a few photos and then reconvene at another parking area.
I hopped back in the van and watched as the cars entered the highway in front of us, and soon we were following in pursuit. It wasn’t hard to spot them up ahead with their flashing lights, and a couple of minutes later we had caught up to them.
Even if you weren’t able to see them for some reason, you’d certainly be able to hear them. While the cars weren’t moving terribly fast, there was an absolute orchestra of engine revving and exhaust notes being amplified off the surrounding concrete. I would hate to see the fuel economy figures for this type of driving.
Now, it’s one thing to see these cars parked, but it’s something else to see them in motion on a dark and wet highway. Talk about overwhelming the senses.
Because it was so cold outside, the takeyari on many of the cars were emitting vapor trails in a way that made them look like aircraft, or possibly steam locomotives.
I was grinning like an idiot as I hung outside the van with the icy wind whipping against my face. There was so much fun happening that the cold no longer bothered me.
I’m not sure exactly how many kilometers we cruised for, but the time passed quickly and soon the group was slowing down to exit at the next service area.
Once again, the group of cars rolled in and came to a stop in close formation, with the light show still going.
By this hour of the night, most of the regular travelers were off the highway, and aside from us most of the other patrons were long distance truckers.
Shortly after we arrived, another convoy of very interesting vehicles rolled in to the parking lot. Turns out it was a group of trucks and other military vehicles from the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.
It was definitley a surreal feeling to see the military machines parked alongside the Kaido Racers. Could there be a bigger contrast between two different types of vehicles?
We enjoyed another can of coffee and chatted a bit more before going our separate ways. Our agreement is that we will meet again under slightly more pleasant weather conditions next time, with an even bigger group of cars.
And with that, the night’s adventure had come to an end. I was cold and exhausted but extremely satisfied. On a trip that included everything from early-morning Kanjo runs in Osaka to drifting in the Hiroshima mountains, this little highway meet was another great experience that I won’t soon forget.
Is it time to go back yet?