My breath hung in the cool air as I pulled out my camera and made my way toward some hot caffeine. The green neon accent lights bordering the roofline of the recently-restored Niles Flying A service shop glowed brighter than the clouded sky.
The familiar sound of our favorite four-bangers – and a few sixes here and there – sliced through the crisp morning silence. An excited murmur spread through the growing crowd each time another car buzzed by; cars which were now filling the overflow lot down the road. Before the sun began to rise above the rolling hills beyond, Niles Boulevard in Fremont, California was already packed with old school Japanese cars.
Riko’s Meeting was well and underway, and it was barely 7:00am.
My camera was pushed beyond its capabilities shooting handheld in the light of dawn, and I couldn’t believe how many people made it up before the sun to get a good spot at the Cars & Coffee-esque gathering. I’m not sure what the exact recipe is for a good event, but Riko’s Meeting had the key ingredients nailed.
The location was well thought-out, with the Niles Flying A providing a fantastic hub for the natural ebb and flow of enthusiasts as they meandered about, grabbing coffee or donuts and catching up with friends. Riko rented out the space for the morning, which is nestled into the historic Niles district in Fremont. Old buildings and homes line the wide sidewalks across the street, and the aesthetic is completed by a couple of vintage American cars parked out back.
Generally this area is inundated with American muscle, but not today. The semi-curated turnout consisted only of Japanese cars, mostly those produced in the pre-2000s (just as advertised in pre-event flyers that made the social media rounds). Riko collaborated with Roger Hernandez, who organizes weekly import-centric Cars & Coffee meets in the nearby city Hayward, to help promote the event and ensure a solid turnout of vintage Japanese metal.
A few nice late-model builds snuck in as well, as did a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. And a food truck, which had delicious tacos and breakfast burritos, though somewhat regrettably I only tried the former later in the day.
There was one other Volkswagen on site as well, a bus-turned-pop-up boba tea shop that was situated out front of the Flying A.
Riko’s AE86 was parked up front and center nearby, featuring his signature gold finish and an ITB-fed 3S-GE behind a Levin nose. The car has already been featured on Speedhunters – as has his matching 993 RWB and IMSA-style 240Z for that matter – so I won’t spend much time on it beyond a few photos to remind you how wild this SEMA Show build is.
With SEMA right around the corner again, it’s great to see that many of these cars do in fact have a life beyond the Las Vegas Convention Center.
While the venue, cars, drinks and food were great, the people are the glue that holds a personable show like this together. Being a local gathering (just a few miles from my front door, actually) there were lots of familiar faces that filled the sidewalks on the east end of Niles Boulevard.
But you know how events like this are. It doesn’t matter if you know someone or not; you can just walk right up and start asking them about their wheels, their suspension, their seats, who rebuilt their carburetors, where they got that Honda sweatshirt, or whatever.
Although things have been rebooted here in the US for a good year or so, I feel like I’m still recovering from more than a year of stagnated events and gatherings due to Covid. Since things have gotten back to normal, I’ve been to a number of Cars & Coffee gatherings, but somehow Riko’s Meeting was extra refreshing.
More than 100 cars – and even more people – came through the meet, which lasted the full four hours from 7:00am to 11:00am, and then some. It was the first time in a long time that I spent more than an hour or two at a meet like this, and it also was the first time in a long time that I found myself shooting far more than I needed to.
There was a bit of everything on display. From completely stock examples to the ultra-modified; from kei cars to off-roading machines; from carbureted inline-fours to twin-turbocharged V8s. It’s amazing how much variation can be found within a single chassis, let alone the many different models from various marques that made it out to Riko’s meeting.
Before things dwindled down and everyone got on with the rest of their weekend, Riko held a raffle full of small items from Japan, including car magazines, an unopened Initial D manga set – that I really wished I had won – and an authentic Japanese nudie mag, among other things. Best of all, tickets were free; you just had to show up.
The raffle – and the whole show for that matter – was Riko’s way of contributing to the community, and to the growing base of JDM enthusiasts. Riko explained that while many others his age have moved on to Lamborghinis or Ferraris, he has stayed true to what he’s always loved: old school Japanese cars.
While I would consider the gathering a smashing success, it’s clear that Riko wants more. He points to events like Pebble Beach or the more recently-formed Velocity Invitational – which took place the same weekend – and notes that there isn’t really a Japanese-centric equivalent in the US.
JCCS in SoCal or marque-specific events like ZCON or NSXPO are the closest that come to mind, but they certainly don’t hold the prestige or cachet of shows like Pebble or The Quail. The Japanese Automotive Invitational – a Pebble Beach sub-event – is a good step in the right direction, and a sign that Japanese cars are finally being appreciated for the gems that they are.
But for Riko, the sky’s the limit, and he wants to do his part in pushing the scene forward in the US. So he’s here, raising his flag for Japanese car culture. What’s next? Only time will tell.
Before heading home, I pulled out a ‘3D’ film camera that I picked up from my good friend John Cirone during Covid times and gave it a try for the first time. I may get reprimanded for uploading such large files (give them a second to load), but enjoy.
I’ll be back soon to shine a spotlight on a couple of my favorite cars from Riko’s Meeting. Thanks to everyone who showed up and made the event what it was.