This Is Japanese Hot Rodding
The True Custom Scene

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
Instagram: speedhunters_dino



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Ahhhhhh one of my favorite shows. Dude the pics are worth a ton. Man the Japanese make the world take note. They're into so many oddball cars it just too darn cool


This is why Japan car culture is so great(along with other parts of the far East). They're very open to any form/style. Rest of the world needs to take note with all the ignorance between car subcultures. What is great is that they apply their own details, but not skewing away from the original ideas. I spent a good time in Hong Kong, and my cousin and his friends restore old Mini Coopers. Whilst driving around, met this gentleman with a modified NA2 NSX at a gas station... Even if we both stepped out of 2 completely different vehicles there was still a high amount of respect between both parties. He even invited us to his private garage/storage where he keeps all his toys which was adjacent to the gas station. and well..... he had a few more NSXs and 2 Mugen RRs


Love the opening cover shot!


Wow! So many beautiful builds. That Pantera's exhaust is so pretty, and if the owner of the Raptor is reading this...either fab a skid plate for your front shock reservoirs or mount them up higher in the inner fender. Someone's going to kick up some type of debris and break them shits.


I am loving the wild paint jobs on that van and the two lowriders. Wish I could see them in person to take in the details. My dad was a custom painter back in the "street freak" era and my own car is covered in his airbrush work. Exposure to that community has given me so much respect for the artistic talent of all those painters.


Really great post. I'm loving everything in this article.


Need a full feature on that DeTomaso please! 
That welding is real work of ART.


Agree with you Dino. 1000%
This is the post i look forward to every tear too. One day ill get there, Just like I did TAS a few years ago.
I love that even though you have limited knowledge on with these cars, you have such a deep appereciation for them and their makers.
I'm sure each of these masterpeices has a wonderful story behind them.


Jagdroach Some of the paint jobs I came across really push the boundaries! Crazy stuff!


corbintjansen I'll tell the owner that :)


As beautiful as the work on that Pantera is, I would imagine it needs bigger mufflers. The authorities or neighbours would certainly not be too happy with the level of noise coming out of those pipes every time it drives down the street. And it would probably be so far outside most tracks noise limits that it wouldn't be allowed on.


"If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin" 

-Smokey Yunick


This should get a feature!


please can you do a feature on the datsun b210? i would love to hear more of it :) 

cant find too many articles on b210s maybe this one even has the original engine? or the 1400 version?


wonderful article, always makes me jealous seeing posts like this


Great article. Glad to see that, that specific car scene is thriving.


I love that Mazda REPU, the Roadkill guys recently acquired one, it's not quite stock though:


"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."
Funny you should write that - it's happpening all over London, too, though not due to cars. Developers build flats in interesting areas of the city near clubs and music venues, people move there because of the sort of buzz and atmosphere these places generate but then moan about the noise. It's not the best, and I hope for your sake they don't win.


mrwicksy That sounds pretty silly of them. At leas this is a car show that happens once a year


Wires Yeah saw that. Hilarious!


Trentworth I don't think the owner is too concerned about that...


speedhunters_dino mrwicksy In Poland where we have just a few racing circuits and this is exactly how are they being closed.


Any chance of more photos of the Split Window Bug? I am in love! lol.
Either way, incredible coverage as usual. Yokohama Mooneyes never disappoints!!


With this sentence: 'Fabrication and metal work is one area I’ve always thought the Japanese were lagging behind in' 
I was like: 'Are you f'ing serious'? I instantly thought about the guy who is restoring datsuns, (can't find the link here though) 1 panel at a time, all by hand. Just because you don't know the people, doesn't mean they don't exist. ;)

Great article by the way. I really love all the cars from this post!


Dino, that '65 Chevelle is not a Smokey Yunick race car.  It's a tribute car based on his '67 Chevelle he built for Daytona.  The car was a '67 chassis and body with a '66 Chevelle front clip because it had better aerodynamics.  He also sectioned the front bumper and added about two inches to extend it down to act like an air dam.  The car never passed tech and he drove it away with no fuel tank, as the rumor goes.  Apparently one oh his many tricks was to coil up the fuel line to add an additional gallon of fuel capacity.  He was a genius.  

Maybe Speedhunters should do a monthly article showcasing early car builders and from around the world.  Those guys were creative pioneers doing things that hadn't been done yet.  A lot of young car enthusiast do not know where these trends and automotive styles come from.  

Yokohama is cool and the Japanese get so much praise, but I grew up going to the Oakland Roadster Show back in the '80's and it has a way earlier history than I even know.  Too bad that show is now defunct.  Japan is not doing anything original or amazing.  They are the best at copycatting and no one can argue that.

Now that is the real deal!


one day...


Great articel. Love seeing the variety of cars in Japan!

One correction though...that "finely restored 1932 Ford" is actually a '28-'29 Model A Tudor sporting a '32 grill shell, and a '32 frame. It's almost exactly the hot rod I've always wanted. I prefer the '30-'31 style cowl a little more though. It flows into the body instead having that 'step'.


please, please, please be a feature on that Pantera...


RicardoSmits easy bud, he didnt say "metalworking in japan doesnt exist", he said its lagging behind, probably referring to the US. 

the US has a reputation for old hot rods/street rods/60s metal which almost always requires a high level of metalwork and fab skill, so the thought Dino brings out here is definitely warranted


Pretty cool to see a '65 Chevelle done up like Smokey's '66/'67 car! Any more shots of that car, like side profile or interior? Filing them away for a future project.

Thanks for the great coverage, as always!


Trentworth Do you realise what site you're on..?


no motorcycle photos?!?!?!?


I was there this year, but totally unprepared for the huge crowds and there just wasn't enough time to take it all in. One thing i love about this culture was how "into" it the people are, all dressing up for the show. Awesome atmosphere. Will love to attend again next year! (More prepared!)


Youre probably referring to retro car kings, Dino is in it


@Dom I realise this isn't; it's just if you drive a car, you share the road with other road users at least be considerate of them and the laws around you. Here, engines 5.1L + are limited to 110dB @ 5000rpm which is pretty loud even for the driver in the car but not too loud as to be nonsense.


speedhunters_dino You know, I kinda got that impression....


My kind of show!!! Mooneyes Hot Rod and Custom show, is it based anywhere near in terms of geography and time to the Nostalgic 2 days show?? I want to go to Japan, slowly building up a list of must-see events :)


I would love to see an article on Kei Hasegawa's yellow split window beetle. That car is amazing.


TerrorSwain I want to see more pictures of the split window too!


the car was very good 
really really like to see the car that shiny new car fits like made ​​for walking trailsthe car was very good" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> and very fast" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> mix of colors" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> from which to" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> make want pobud see hatnya" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> kecepatanya" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> was very nice ," rel="dofollow" target="_blank">  suitable for a "" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> sharp bend or not sharp I guess motorists like this is" very skilled in the speed I hope I can membilinya someday will whether there are new cars are better I" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> 'll wait for it , with a stylish car classic" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> style I" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> also like" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> to see would be whether there is a" rel="dofollow" target="_blank"> car that is as fast and forius like in the " movie , the car very good car designed a way apparently hopefully there will be new cars more good and the price is quite pantastis then chances are I can membilinya the same as you have at this time

Gary constable

Great great eight up love the stuff they are doing oh Japan Brilliant stuff I have been doing HOT ROD etc an airbrushing designed a car for Boyd way back whatthehay an did murals for George pottet..i am 56 an doing this for about 28 years in now back in England and my son an me plan to go to Japan By the time I am 60 an like to. Start making contacts in Japan?? My son Narayan is 18 an very very into all the things in Japan an is a blacksmith an atvthis time is making 2 Japanese swords out of car leaf springs so be great if you can help making great contacts in Japan an I plan to start a line of MuTaNt Designs Japanese HOT ROD T-shirt design's