Year in and year out I am subjected to the most diverse automotive culture you can probably find on the planet. Yes, Japan is a special place.
This is a country where so many things go, so many styles are accepted, so many scenes are thriving and evolving, and where two car guys into anything can meet and become friends for life. This pretty much sums up what my Speedhunting adventure has been all about since early 2009 when I joined the team. Speedhunters has taught me a lot of things, but the most valuable lesson that has come to define the content I provide for you these days comes from me stepping outside of my comfort zone. While I was always aware that so much was happening here, I never really realised how deep it all went. And Japan’s hot rod and custom culture is one of the most exciting and satisfying sides of the country’s automotive lifestyle.
I won’t lie, I’m still very much a novice, but with each show and car I feature or spotlight, I’m learning. It’s through this that I meet people, ask questions and gather knowledge. Stepping back a little and looking at a scene like this may almost prove intimidating, daunting even, but that’s what learning is all about; you do it little by little appreciating each experience that you have.
While my heart will always lie with well set-up machines built to chisel away at lap times and satisfy their driver through pure driving nirvana, it’s impossible not to admire a scene that gives priority to a totally different array of qualities. Style, looks, history and of course performance are what all of the cars that are displayed at the annual Mooneyes Hot Rod & Custom Show emanate.
And it doesn’t matter the age or type of car, the style it’s sporting or the crate engine it’s running – car guys flock to this show in droves. Every year I run into so many people from the JDM car scene as they wander through the rows of custom cars and bikes, and they all tell me the same thing: they’re there for inspiration.
If that doesn’t sum things up nicely, I don’t know what will. It explains why we are all attracted to it, even if we are into something totally different. That said, the Japanese scene always throws some oddball cars into the mix too.
Attention to detail is another thing that the Japanese are terribly good at. And it gets better every year.
I know I’ve said this before, but this event is my favourite show of the year. It’s not only the cars, but the mix of people it brings together in a relaxed atmosphere. On top of this, Shige-san and his Mooneyes crew are so good at taking the same venue and giving it a totally different feel and character each and every year. That can’t be an easy thing to do!
And that’s also the saddest part. Because despite the efforts of the Mooneyes guys, the Yokohama City Hall is still threatening to kill the show, simply due to complaints from people living in the area who are unhappy at the noise bikes and cars make during the weekend. That’s why drastic measures had to be taken this year; blocking off access to the carpark under the Pacifico Exhibition Hall in an effort to not upset anyone living in the high-rise buildings in the area. Fingers crossed that worked as I would hate to see this show move to a less exciting venue.
But let’s talk a bit about the cars… On top of this main show post you can expect to see a bunch of spotlights coming up; it’s the best way for me to share my findings and give the special cars that stood out a little bit more space.
To get you in the mood however, I want to just first bombard you with images of cars that blew me away, and not only for their presentation but also because they are helping push a scene that wasn’t even born or started in Japan.
No wonder the Mooneyes Hot Rod & Custom Show attracts more and more international visitors every year.
From metal work to exquisite paint jobs, there is nothing the Japanese don’t know how to do.Oddball Rides Always In The Mix
Hell, even off-roaders! An F150 Ford Raptor isn’t exactly the first car you would expect to see on the streets of Yokohama, but this one built by The Check Shop for a customer runs serious suspension upgrades.
While Nagoya has always been at the center the hot rod, custom and lowrider scenes in Japan, it’s now became far more spread out with cars being brought to the show from as far away as Hokkaido.
Here’s a good example – a roof-chopped 1950 Ford “Shoebox” Business Coupe from Nagano. Its purple exterior and fully customised white leather interior made it one of the most unique lead-sleds I’ve ever seen in Japan.
Right when I was certain my favourite style for a hot rod is the ratty, rusted-out look, I came across this thing. If you can actually see anything behind the monster blown engine there is one finely restored 1932 Ford, chopped and laid out with what almost look like the stock wheels and skinny tyres. This thing must do the biggest burnouts!
And as I mentioned earlier, these are the worthwhile surprises that make the show so special: Japanese kyusha like this Crown sedan from 1964 sporting a cleaned up exterior, a decent drop and the right set of wheels. It doesn’t take much to make these things look so badass.
When you see a Willys in Japan you know Andy’s Rod Works has had something to do with it. During my visit to the shop earlier this year, I spotted this drag racer sitting under a plastic cover, and since then Andy has brought it back to life and made it very presentable. He also turned up at the show with the Willys 441 panel van in the background.
Here’s some split-window magic for all you air-cooled fans out there.
I think this engine bay is what a lot of car builders outside of the hot rod and custom scene would be looking at for inspiration. Presentation is key in this world and isolating key components like a motor allows those details to speak for themselves. The last thing you want to see is a dusty, oily, poorly looked after engine bay in a nice car, but it’s something I see a lot of in other Japanese car scenes.
As you have probably realised by now, I didn’t visit the event during the actual show day. Every year since 2009 when I first started attending Mooneyes events, I’ve always gone to the Saturday set-up. Aside from the fact that the lack of people allows me to get the shots and angles I need, I actually see and hear the cars drive in and have a bit more time to chat to the owners.
Smokey Yunick’s NASCAR racer? Yes please!
Or how about this for variety… Have you figured out what this truck is yet? This is a mid-’70s Mazda REPU – or Rotary Engine Pick Up – built on the US-market B-series platform.
It ran a 13B rotary engine from the factory, and if you don’t believe me, you’ll see it says so right there on the tailgate.Growing Each Year
Fabrication and metal work is one area I’ve always thought the Japanese were lagging behind in – especially in the tuner-oriented scenes that I usually cover in Japan. Paintwork is something that I’ve never been too impressed with either, but it’s at this show that my faith gets restored.
The skills are there, they just need to be shared or spread from the custom shops to garages that are more used to working out of a catalogue with bolt-on upgrades.
But that’s something that’s already happening. You can see the improvements everywhere, and knowing that I’m not here following a stagnant car culture, but instead one that evolves, gets better and is shared between different schools of thought, makes me happy.
Here’s another example of something I’d love to see more of in time attack cars or big-power street rides. Check out the intake piping on this Impala SS; it’s the usual aluminium piping you see everywhere, but it’s custom bent, polished and then finely brushed for an almost stainless steel appearance.
I really don’t need to say much here, so I’ll let you marvel at this work of art presented inside the engine bay of a DeTomaso Pantera.
Oh, and this is another thing I wanted to share with you… Have you ever seen the interior of a car that is far more comfortable than your average living room? Well, now you have.
I wandered the rows of cars neatly laid out in each theme section of the Pacifico Exhibition Hall for the entire day, watching the show unfold in front of my eyes.
As the doors shut and it was time to head home, I came away refreshed as I always do. Having seen so many cars that are worthy representatives of the Japanese custom culture and meeting so many old faces and getting to know just as many new ones, it’s no wonder this has become my favourite show of the year!
Dino Dalle Carbonare