Certain cars carry a sense of character that you can really only appreciate by owning and driving them.
This plays out in different ways: exhaust note, rare parts, horsepower, driving experience, suspension dynamics, aesthetics, car history, or one of many other aspects. Ultimately, it boils down to what makes the car enjoyable and meaningful to the owner, and preferences vary from person to person.
Over the years I’ve often found that certain car builders simply create for hype — surprise — and just buy or build something “because it’s cool.” It’s great that we live in a day and age where someone’s work can immediately be shared and appreciated by thousands, but it’s very much a curse at the same time.
There are so many cars being modified at a surface level, at least from a philosophical standpoint, that it’s often hard to find the ones that really hit home. The cars whose owners truly understand them, the cars whose owners love them for what they represent.
When Sara showed me Kenny Chow’s X6 Cressida, I knew it was one those cars, the ones where the owner is building it entirely for himself. The car is not without its flaws, it’s not a car which has had a huge budget thrown at it, and it hasn’t been built by a prolific shop.
Instead the Toyota has meaning, it has personality.
The X6 is largely stock, with a small number of choice modifications which convey a larger message. Each time Kenny gets behind the wheel, the Cressida tells Kenny a very specific story — but the story the car tells depends entirely on the driver.
Kenny was born in Oakland, California and says he loves how rough around the edges the city is. He’s enjoyed cars and the culture around them since he was a young kid — evidenced by the choice he made when he went to purchase his first car, an AE86.
Since, Kenny has amassed a small but eclectic collection which crosses borders and mixes themes: a ’63 Ford Ranchero, a Corolla wagon, a 2005 Subaru GT, and a 2003 Harley Sportster hardtail.
And, of course, this 1983 Cressida.
When I first got home and looked through my photos I was a bit disappointed; I felt my shots lacked a certain grittiness that the Cressida conveyed in person. The photos didn’t quite line up with the stories that Kenny was telling me, they didn’t have the character I was trying to capture. Then, I got a phone call from Bay Photo Lab outside Santa Cruz, California.
My 35mm roll of expired Kodak Gold 200 was ready for pick up.Analog Feels
Peering through the negatives, this is when I finally got excited about what I shot with Kenny that day a couple weeks back in and around Oakland. Seeing the car on film the stories made sense again, and I remembered Kenny’s excitement when he told me about one of his annual visits to Japan.
During a certain trip a few years back Kenny was visiting one of his best friends in Tokyo and had the opportunity to drive a modified X6 through town. Recalling the account he laughs and looks into the distance, trying to put into words how people on the streets were looking at him “like he was a gangster.”
He says he just automatically felt cool driving the old Cressida in Tokyo, and that nostalgic experience isn’t something that Kenny has forgotten.
Instead, even though he doesn’t get the same furtive glances here in the States when he drives his 36-year-old Cressida through Oakland, he still gets that same feeling from his X6 as when he drove his buddy’s in Japan.
His favorite thing about this car is that feeling. It’s something deeply personal, something impossible to entirely convey.
Beyond the memories of his cruise, Kenny has been able to bring physical items back from his trips to Japan as well. One of the most meaningful are his coveralls which were gifted to him by Japanese drifter Manabu Mitsu; others include various car parts and questionable magazines.
The setup on the Cressida is simple, but it’s a perfect example where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s far from perfect but, frankly, it’s a cool, crisp blast of fresh air in a world full of the opposite.Spirit Through Modification
The few changes that Kenny has made to the car have been carefully thought out and, cost of entry included, make the car accessible to any enthusiast. This car was previously owned by an older gentleman in Los Angeles, but when it comes to enthusiasts Kenny admits that most associate Cressidas with drifting.
However, he recognized that this connotation mostly extends to the X7, whereas the X6a are a bit harder to find and more coveted. And, in Japan, the X6 chassis are the cruisers, the cars favored by a rougher crowd. While Kenny’s own interest in cars initially centered around drifting, his taste shifted more to the kaido racer style over time.
After his drive in an early eighties model there, Kenny set off on the search for a matching one here which he could modify to his taste.
Further distancing itself from the X7, his ’83 Cressida features angular styling and a classic brown-gold two tone. Aesthetically Kenny says he wanted to mimic the Japanese GX61 style while keeping certain key American-market elements like the long bumpers.
You’ll notice this in the GX61 front chin spoiler and fender mirrors, as well as items like the front corner lights which have been swapped to a JDM set.
Giving the car that low-down kaido-inspired stance is a set of BC coilovers paired with 14kg Swift springs in the front and an 8kg set in the rear. Kenny also made use of Techno Toy Tuning negative camber roll center adjusters to help keep the geometry happy at the new ride height.
Wheels can make all the difference in a build and the raw silver-faced SSR MKIIIs measuring 14-inches in diameter are a perfect fit for this ’80s Toyota. The wheels measure 9-inches wide in the front, but the 10.5-inch rears required the rear quarter panels to be reworked to accommodate the extra girth.
Under the hood, Kenny has chosen to maintain rather than to modify, but a custom 1.5-inch straight pipe gives you a taste of kaido buzz from the factory 5M-GE. Click play to hear it echoing around the streets of Oakland for yourself.
Inside the car the cushy armchair-esque seats remain, as does the mix of analog and digital equipment throughout. The only notable additions are the small-diameter O.B.A. steering wheel and old-school Pioneer TS-X66 speakers in the rear window.
Other aesthetic items are littered around the car, inside and out, to complete the feel. Sporting his Advan jumpsuit and cruising around downtown Oakland — to quote Sara — “Kenny is as effortlessly cool as his car.”
The subtle mix of US-only parts and Japanese-market additions flow seamlessly to do the style justice rather than being overdone; from start to finish this car makes sense. The Cressida is simple, yet interesting. It’s an honest build that does what it’s supposed to do, transporting the driver into a different atmosphere.
I love cars like this, so much in fact that Sara and I will be driving back to California this weekend to see Kenny again along with a whole lot more at the Golden Week Kyusha Festival. If you’re local to the Bay Area — or enjoy old-school JDM builds enough to drive 12 hours each way like we are — come out to The Craneway Pavilion in Richmond this Saturday.
We hope to see you there!Digital Style