Lost In Japan, Lost In The ’50s

Japan is a land known for its lack of space. Tiny apartments, capsule hotel rooms and narrow roads are just a few things that call to mind the scarcity of open areas in the country’s cities – and if you are into cars this can be a tough thing to deal with. Here, sometimes it’s hard enough finding a place to park your car let alone a place to work on it, which is why most custom and modified car owners choose to have their cars built and maintained at a specialist garage. And when it comes to the world of Japanese hot rods and custom cars, there is no shortage of shops putting out fantastic work.


But that’s not to say that every high level custom car build in Japan was turned out by a big shop. This is Shinobu Furutani’s 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, and he almost single-handedly built the old Chevy into a fantastic looking ’50s-style custom with all the right touches.


‘Chevy?’ you might be saying. Furutani-san’s car definitely doesn’t look like your typical ’55 Chevrolet and that’s because he’s actually used side trims from a mid-1950s Ford. Some might consider this cross-manufacturer swapping to be sacrilegious, but in my eye the result is both tasteful and unique.


Aside from the Ford styling bits, other custom work on the ’55’s exterior includes body shaving, a custom front grille and full fender skirts in the rear – all set off by a perfectly-vintage turquoise paint scheme.


A continental kit out the back further adds to the nostalgic style.


Because Furutani-san smoothed over the Chevy’s factory fuel tank door, he relocated the inlet to this trick compartment behind the driver’s side tail lamp.


The ’50s vibe continues to the interior, which has been kept mostly original. Changes include a skull-topped shifter and all the controls to adjust the Bel Air’s ride height.


While many custom cruisers don’t have a whole lot of attention paid to their engine bays, there is no let down when you pop the hood on this ’55. It’s here you’ll find an immaculately-detailed small block topped off by a period-correct Offenhauser intake manifold and a trio of Rochester carbs.


And rounding out the look is a set of chromed steel wheels with custom center caps and big fat white wall Goodyears.


There’s always something special about a homebuilt car, but the fact that Furutani-san has built such a stylish and authentic example of a car that’s 60 years old and half a world removed from its origins, is nothing short of inspiring.

It’s just one more reason why I’ve fallen in love with Japan’s custom scene.

Mike Garrett
Instagram: speedhunters_mike



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I typically hate continental kits but this one is pretty rad.
Japan does it again.


Even the dude with the handlebar "Rollie Fingers" would think that side trim application is trick.


Can we not mount the carb. horns like that :p


Japan wins again


I can see cruisin the strip with this anyday, the fat white walls sold me. 
Didn't Japan had it like that. Great post!


For a Japanese build it's surprisingly restrained and almost period-correct. Nice.


Surely that fuel tank being located next to wiring is dangerous???


not hating but for all that work still looks pretty stock to me....idk.


Damn those Ford side trims look right at home!


LavarBowers It's called a "mild custom" and is a fairly common sort of build. Keep it simple, smooth and refined without going overboard on any particular details.


I love how the modern Japanese who is into Americana seems to comprehend it better than the average modern American. Here its either Rat Rod, Restomod, or Street Rod. Which is all well and good but it gets to be the same thing after a while. Sure you can argue that the Kustoms are the closest thing but they lean more on the Rat Rod side of things now days......


S30_N what could go wrong in your opinion?
The fuel tank is only opened for a very short period of time, and during that time, the ignition is turned off, so I dont see any problem with this:)


jdmRob S30_N Accidentally sprayed petrol resting on the bare wiring waiting for the first brake light to flicker perhaps?


S30_N  Although not factory on this car, but tail light fill is the factory location on the 1956 model of the same car. Very nice period touch


Man I'm telling you the Japanese know what's going on!  They absolutely get it.  This car is one of the best examples of it.  Boys you just got skooled.


Is there custom paintwork on the roof?


TheDude69 The Japanese can look at Americana with an impartial eye, and without having to consider current stateside trends. It's like being into Rock 'n Roll - nowadays you can like anything from the '50s-'80s and be a "rock 'n roller", but if you were in 1983, then you'd be a has-been for listening to Elvis if all your pals were listening to Black Sabbath.

Even though we're working with vintage steel in the rod and custom hobby/industry, we have so much steel still laying around to play with in the United States that trends are still developing quickly. It's perfectly aligned with every other facet of entertainment to be persuaded into wanting whatever is hip for the day... And here we have the opportunity to do that a lot. 
In the case of Japanese rod and custom folk, I would argue that they are in fact conservative in their approach, and therefore reflect the bygone "golden age" (c. 1950s-1960s) in much that they accomplish. A lot of it comes off as being old news in the US, but in fact the Japanese are well aware of all of the current trends and have established a strange foothold based on their own cultural influences and preferences (strongly bent towards nostalgia in oh, so many ways), and for those willing to look... They put a fresh spin on an aging scene.


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Gorgeous. Is it me or do you not often see this style of treatment on 55's? Seems like they usually end up as gassers, period customs with scalloped paint or those sort of big wheeled, pro touring-style builds?


HLB Yeah you are right. There really aren't a whole lot of retro custom tri-fives. Lots of '49 to '54s though!


Emptypie Yep, some cool two tone patterns.


gliebau TheDude69 I think a lot of has to come with the relative difficulty and expense of this stuff. There are some amazing customs here in the states, but also a lot of half assed stuff because its cheap and plentiful. In Japan you don't see so much of the latter.


jay8393 Agreed. Amazing how natural how it looks.


kphillips9936 I love tall white walls!




DaveT Agreed. I've never been big on them either, but it works very well here.


Mike Garrett TheDude69 Indeed Mike! As I said, we just have a ton of steel to play around with in these parts. I think that this is a fact that goes hand in hand with the nostalgic nature of many Japanese builds.Here in the states we see new street rods and customs keeping pace with the more expensive, modern builds when it comes to selection of wheels, engines (Chevy LS blocks are very popular in street rods right now), interior creature comforts, sound systems, LED lighting, etc... This is all available to the Japanese, but the precious cars and the sentimentality which vintage-style builds possess seems to lead many Japanese builders down a conservative path that is almost lost in stateside except among folks that would prefer to be called "restorers" rather than "hot rodders."
Some examples from respect Speedhunters articles, so that folks can access them easily... I contend that some of the most outrageous and inspiring Japanese builds I've seen lately are more like blasts from the past than in keeping with current trends. Take the '62 "Impala Ichiban" featured last November... It could nearly be a lowrider right out of the '70s, down to the details. The more extreme "Kudzzilla" Toyota Crown build that you covered in October. Even though you said it went "far beyond" the 1960s style builds that are popular in Japan, it still screams of nostalgia on the American scene... The impressive body modifications are reminiscent of Rick Dore's totally customized 1960s cars built in the '90s and early '2000s, and the retention of classic interior design and use of many stock parts from other classic vehicles being stuck onto the exterior, as it were, is one of the most classic queues for custom cars. Finally, the Galaxian: no need to go into details on that build. It is one of the most awesome modern hot rods I've seen, yet it is absolutely inspired by the wild hot rods shown off on the floors of prestigious events like the Oakland Roadster Show and the Grand National Roadster Show throughout the mid-late 1960s.
Less extreme but equally "classic" examples reside all over the floors of Japanese events like the Mooneyes indoor show, and the retro-aspect of most street going rods that are featured at most Japanese drive-in shows on here or in magazines that I've seen over the past decade all scream "conservative" to me. I think it's a good thing, and I'm fascinated by it... Which is why I don't mind spending some time writing about it. :)


Mike Garrett HLB  And to boot it didn't come across as a Tri Five Chevy at first.  I really thought it was a Ford, which is more common to be a custom.  But man this car really nails the simple clean custom look.  Though it is a little more lowrider to me.  But the Japanese really pull the lowrider look off as well.  So either way this car could swing.