Heading to Japan for Tokyo Auto Salon earlier this month was something I’d been looking forward to for a while. Any excuse to get along to TAS is a good one, but the 2021 event was going to be a little bit special to me: the 20-year anniversary since my very first visit to Japan – and the Makuhari Messe for everyone’s favourite JDM car tuning and customisation show.
But as you all know, the 2021 Tokyo Auto Salon was cancelled, which was the right call. So making the 11-hour flight from New Zealand to Japan, where no doubt I would have sipped on countless cans of hot BOSS coffee and devoured untold Lawson egg sandwiches (those fish paste ones are pretty good too, if I remember right), and hitting up TAS once again is something that’s just going to have to wait for now. I’m locking in the 2026 event (25 years), but I’m also not sure I can keep away till then.
There were a few catalysts for my trip to Japan in 2001. Firstly, in the 1990s there was a Japanese car boom in New Zealand – specifically used JDM imports. The floodgates were well and truly opened and everyone was spoilt for choice with high-tech late-model cars sporting things like turbochargers, VTEC, 4WD – and air-conditioning. Many of these pre-loved JDM performance cars came modified, but those that weren’t didn’t stay that way for long thanks to the tuning shops that quickly popped up.
Although locally it was pretty much impossible to know what was going on in the Japan scene (these were pre-internet days remember), I can recall being captivated by the Japanese cars that started turning up in Max Power magazine, which was available in New Zealand. To see some of these cars in action in Max Power’s ‘Beasts From The East’ VHS video in 1999 only grew my interest, but when a bunch of famous Japanese tuners landed in the country for the Option (magazine) Speed Trial later that year, I became obsessed.
There wasn’t enough time for me to raise the money for a trip Japan six weeks later for the 2000 Tokyo Auto Salon, but I promised myself that I’d be there the following year.
For this little anniversary of mine, I thought it would be cool to take a look back at the 2001 Tokyo Auto Salon with a gallery post. Of course, you’ll have to excuse some of the images and their quality; these were shot on colour negative film (yep, DSLR cameras were only just coming onto the market at this time and I was still using an SLR), reprinted and then scanned for this feature. Some of the frames were damaged in the original film processing, hence some of the strange crops, while others were unusable due to camera operator error (read: underexposure), and I’m certain some rolls were lost as there are some definite gaps.
So why it’s not a full look at the show, hopefully there are a couple of things that you’ll learn (or be reminded of) from this story: that JDM tuning in the late-’90s and early-’00s was amazing; and that really not a lot has changed in the last 20 years…
That last point is kind of interesting, because if you wind back the clock 20 years from 2001 – to 1981 – the difference is immense.
You could argue that the wheel fitment on the Trial Silvia S15 above isn’t aggressive enough and therefore is outdated, but I think it’s perfect. And if anything, what else would you change? I’d perhaps only swap the colour-matched rear wing for a carbon fibre one.
Since Desmond Regamaster wheels have recently been reissued, the Panspeed RX-7 above looks completely up to date. Classic style is timeless.
On the subject of RX-7s, no TAS is ever complete without an FD3S from RE Amemiya. This one ticks a lot of boxes with its original aero kit complete with carbon-Kevlar splitter, big-single-turbo-converted 13B engine, and RE Amemiya AW7 wheels, also by Desmond.
I’m not exactly sure which Skyline this engine bay is from (Sift and Advance obviously played a role in the build), but from a visual standpoint, can an HKS T51R KAI strapped to the side of an RB26 be beaten?
JUN had a number of demo machines on display, including the Hyper Lemon Evo V – a 4G63 development car – and the Super Lemon Prelude which had been tuned up to 269PS in hardcore NA form.
There were a couple of standouts for me though, first up the JUN Hyper Lemon Silvia S15. The S15 was of course was a current model at the time, so to see one built like this – as a race car (which eventually ran 59-seconds at Tsukuba) but with tuner underpinnings – was pretty exciting.
Even newer than the S15 was the second-gen Subaru Impreza, which had debuted in Japan less than six months before TAS 2001. So of course there were many tuned WRX STI examples on show.
Both out on the streets of Tokyo and within the halls of the Makurahi Messe, I was intrigued by modifying styles that at this point in time were totally unique to Japan – I’m talking VIP machines and van tuning. I can remember being quite interested in this Blitz supercharged Toyota bB.
But cars like this Nismo BNR34 GT-R just left me in awe. If only we knew then about how valuable any Skyline GT-R would become….
Around 2001, drifting was big in Japan, so naturally the Tokyo Auto Salon followed suit. G Corporation had a nice set of S-chassis cars, all finished with the same silver paint/carbon fibre bonnet/red Bride seat combo.
And the S-chassis drift builds kept coming…
GP Sports’ pairing exemplified clean, performance-focussed style.
Just to prove that it wasn’t all S-chassis though, here’s the Missile Toyota Aristo and ORC Nissan Skyline.
Cat-inspired promotional model attire is something that seems to have transcended time at Tokyo Auto Salon, but check out the blast from the past that is the Phoenix’s Power Pulsar GTiR. Crazy rear aero aside, this car showcased Garage Fukui SPL’s wild turbo kit that positioned a large A’PEX RX6 in the front left-hand corner of the engine bay.
Two more cars from the Phoenix’s Power/Garage Fukui SPL stable – this time of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution variety. Just over a year prior to TAS 2001, I had watched the black Evo III fly down a country road back home when it competed in the aforementioned Option Speed Trials.
In 2001, the Japanese drag scene was alive and well, perhaps spurred on by the stateside import racing scene. Pictured is HKS’s iconic Drag GT-R (which also made its way to New Zealand at one time), the APEXi V-MAX GT-R, and the Blitz/Scorch Racing RX-7. I know the A’PEXi BCNR33 raced in the US, but what about the other two?
Although I couldn’t find a photo, HKS’s drawcard reveal at this event was their drag Supra, which featured the best of JDM tuning – a 4.3L 3UZ-FE V8 with twin turbos – married to what I believe was a Jerry Bickel Race Cars chassis. Again, this car was destined to race in America.
Meanwhile, Trust/GReddy showcased its latest performance upgrades for the SXE10 Toyota Altezza, BNR34 Skyline GT-R, and EK Honda Civic.
I’m not sure what ever became of Auto Craft Agasthiya, but their DTM-inspired RPS13 kit was awesome.
Bright pink cars can only lead to one tuner – Yashio Factory – which at TAS 2001 had a set of Silvias on display. That S13 is perfect in every way.
And then there’s gold, which can only mean Top Secret and lots of horsepower. But it wasn’t all 1,000+hp stuff…
As a small car fan, it was Top Secret’s Fusion Vitz that really piqued my interest. This appears to be an SCP10 variant, meaning there was a 997cc 1SZ engine at the heart of the HKS turbo kit-equipped build.
You can’t talk about turn of the millennium JDM tuning without mentioning Top Fuel – the Honda specialist tuner based in Mie Prefecture. VTEC + turbo has proven to be such a good combination, but long before Honda themselves got in on the act, tuners like Top Fuel were exploiting the potential through B-series-based projects like their Civic Type RR and CR-X Del Sol RR.
At the time I attended this event I was driving an AE101 Toyota Levin GT-Z, so this JGTC GT300 build from Bomex struck a chord. I wonder what ever happened to this car? I know there was a ‘Street Version’ built featuring a 450PS 3S-GTE engine that looked very similar, but I don’t believe that was an evolution of the race car.
You can always count on Tokyo Auto Salon for the latest and greatest JGTC (now SuperGT) hardware too. How cool was the Daishin Silvia S15 GT300?!
Six months after TAS 2001, import car culture made its way to big screens around the world in The Fast and the Furious. JDM tuning ruled at the Tokyo show, but US modifying influences were certainly there in a few builds. I’m pretty sure Bomex was playing the F&F trailer ahead of the movie release.
Looking back at all these images, I stand by statement that not a lot has changed in 20 years. Sure, there was barely an overfender in sight at Tokyo Auto Salon 2001 – certainly none applied for aesthetic reasons alone – but overall the Japanese tuning methodology remains. You’ll even find some of the same cars there today, although now they’re well and truly classics.
I feel lucky to have visited TAS in what many people would consider a golden era of JDM tuning, but as excited as I was back then, I’m just as excited to return again one day soon.