EVENT: Taste Of Japan 2019

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Every once in a while there is an event that just comes out of left field and just blows you away. It seems that this is becoming increasingly rare in our age of constant updates and the hype-train clearance sale that I apparently missed but there was one event that blew me away beyond anything else that I experienced in Minnesota in 2019, that was Taste Of Japan at United Noodles.

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Taste of Japan was extremely late in the year and was held as an open house for an Asian grocery store called United Noodles. The location of the show itself was a small uneven loading bay in the back of a warehouse where the cars were jammed so tight that you could barely walk between them. A first time show in an overcrowded tiny lot is a recipe for failure. Refreshingly Taste of Japan was exciting and flavorful, the Street Lust team brought us to Flavortown. This show was unlike anything else I had ever seen before and it couldn’t have been any better.

R32 GTR Equips Far

It is refreshing to have new events that are more than just sweaty parking lot gatherings, Taste of Japan was one of the rare events that had an electric feeling behind it, the expectations were nil and the show was just as good as the Phở at the deli. That aforementioned Phở had at least a 20 person line for the entirety of the show, if you’re in Minneapolis, you have to check it out.

Red Honda CRX

The selection of the cars was honestly better curated than HIN was and it was first come first serve. Cars like Alex Nelson’s AF5 CRX were exactly what Taste of Japan was about, quality, not quantity. His car may not seem like much to the layman but the Mugen CF-48s with aerodiscs and the only set of Yokohama Advan HF Type-D rubber in the country set it apart from the rest of the vintage Honda crowd in Minnesota and Alex is slowly building up a collection of Mugen parts for this rare little Honda.

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Toulong’s Levin is by far the best AE86 in Minnesota and honestly it is world class. Across the board it ticks all the boxes. Rare parts, attention to detail, fitment, everything is well executed, there are some small touches that Toulong plans to address over winter but this is overall one of the best AE86 builds of 2019. During our coverage of JCCS, I tried to find a car at the show that was more complete than this car and I found myself at a loss, this is my favorite AE86 in the world right now.

Black Mk3 Supra

A clean Mk III Supra always blows me away since these cars were considered disposable for ages. However the slick black paint, modern wheels and JZ swap make a strong argument that the Mk III Supra is a very capable chassis after all. While Mark IV Supras are busy pushing or exceeding the six figure mark for sale price, you can still get the worlds best Mk III for under $30,000, for now at least.

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Say what you will about modern steering wheels, I have never seen a modern Tacoma steering wheel in a classic Toyota until now but it seems to fit rather well. It all flows with the interior’s sharp edges and the materials even match up.

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This EG Civic threw me through a loop, it wasn’t a USDM model, it had an odd paint color and a strange collection of options. It is in fact a mega rare Forest Edition Civic. These were European market exclusive run of 250 cars based off the existing Silverstone edition Civic meaning that it came equipped with the 90 HP D15B2 engine, 14 inch wheels and a single piece spoiler on the back. The biggest difference between this is the color, Forest Green, and the production badge. The owners modifications include a Spoon exhaust, Desmond Regamaster wheels, B16 engine and an Abbey Road Company Intake. EG Civics in this condition aren’t a regular occurrence anymore and it’s always a treat to see one in the flesh.

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Here is a close up of the production sticker off of that Forest Edition Civic, the font might be one of the most 90’s fonts I have ever seen. At first glance I thought it was something that the owner made but it was too weird of a sticker for even the foremost hipster to come up with. It’s a rare thing when a Honda stumps me but I love it when it happens.

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Josh from Drive Cartel finally had the clutch back in his car after spending half the year driving around in his Escalade. That’s a good thing because his Golf is one of the best Volkswagens in Minnesota and could hold it’s own nationally.

Hubert Tulazon Sienna1

Hubert Tulazon arrived late to the party with his Sienna complete with City Kruiser body kit and bespoke wheels. It’s one thing to build a car that shuts down a car show, it’s another thing when you do that in a minivan then drive home with a trunk full of groceries.

Red Celica

The A40 generation Celica is always slept on as a generation, yes the pre-facelift cars looked tragic but these later model coupes look downright great. The owner of this car has had it for years and he rarely brings it out but when it does show up, it’s hard to get people away from it.

Riko Integra Spoon

Riko’s Spoon Integra is one of the best DC chassis Integras that I’ve ever seen, not just in Minnesota but as a whole. This car is batting 1000 and Riko only has plans for improvement with it. The car is a Spoon catalog car with expert quality fit and finish.

Toyota Pickup

This is absolutely the best Toyota Pickup in Minnesota. No rust, solid front axle, tubular rear bumper. This truck represents everything that we love about the old Toyota pickup truck and is what everyone driving a CUV is aspiring to own.

Gold MX83 Cressida

Not knowing the Street Lust team, I was rather surprised when I saw more MX83 Cressidas at Taste of Japan than I had previously seen in any event in my life. Unbeknownst to me, Street Lust was actually ending the show with a drift demo and further unbeknownst to me, this drift demo was completely planned.

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While they we’re setting up, I’m standing with Brian Jannusch saying “this looks like a profoundly dumbass idea.” Of course, everything was permitted and approved with the land owner of the building. There is something to be said about appearing as if you don’t actually know what you’re doing but being fully prepared and professional. Street Lust kept the drift expo low key and even some of the drifters didn’t know it was going down.

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Hiep was eating ramen when he got the phone call that there was drifting so he jumped in his car as fast as he could. Hiep absolutely killed it, especially given that he only picked up drifting at the end of 2018. It’s exciting to watch his skill develop in real time.

Here is a video of Hiep drifting with another friend of mine, Kurt Thomas. Both have developed their skill drastically in 2019 and I am excited to see where they can take it.

The end of the show came with a surprise Kyle Nelson burnout in his S10 with a Gen V Chevy small block. There was no question that, this was the best burnout in Minnesota during 2019. I had to get a video instead of just a picture so enjoy.

R33 GTR

Samer’s R33 is going to round us out for this show. 2019 was a stellar year for the Minnesota car scene. I am endlessly proud that I live in such a great community. What Minnesota achieves is proof that the car community in America is stronger than anyone else says. We are not a dying breed, our community is continuing to grow and is healthier than ever.

EVENT: Japanese Classic Car Show 2019 Part 2

Datsun 510 Front

In part 1 we discussed how JCCS is a prime example of balancing exclusivity and size. The cars are just as important though, the selection of classic Japanese cars at JCCS is second to none. There have been fears that Toyota’s pull out from the California automotive world would be detrimental for the show. While Toyota’s rare gems from it’s collection were missed, as we will see, the term detrimental is relative. The show was still like no other, with or without Toyota’s official presence.

Wild Cards Starlet

To start that off, I have for you Tommy Dolormente’s KP61 Toyota Starlet. With a curb weight of barely a ton soaking wet with a portly driver, rear wheel drive and a staggeringly high manual transmission take rate, this is possibly one of the greatest hatchbacks ever produced. The only reason this car is not on the tip of every car enthusiasts tongue is their survival rate, which is akin to that of Northern White Rhino. That being said, if you can find a good KP61 Starlet, they’re absolutely amazing vehicles and can deliver more fun with under 100 HP than most cars can do with 300 HP today. Even the smallest power increase can turn one of these cars into quite the pocket rocket.

Green DA Integra

Anthony Keuth’s Jasper Green Metallic DA9 Integra with a factory optional front lip and 16″ Mugen M7s is a timeless look. Technically, aside from the suspension work, everything you see on this car is an OEM part or a dealer optional part. The final piece that I want to point out is the color, Jasper Green Metallic, which is all too often forgotten about in lieu of the much more well known Aztec Green Pearl but is just as fantastic of a green hue.

Beige Tercel

This Tercel owned by Edgar Briones has won best in show at shows across California and the owner competes in speed, distance, time classic car road rallies with it. While the car doesn’t have the pedigree of a Supra or an MR2 or, for that matter, even the pedigree of a Toyota Paseo, the originality of this Tercel is it’s charm. Edgar bought the car from the family of a grandma that drove it barely 10,000 miles and kept it meticulously original. The car represents possibly the most unloved Toyota chassis but is still able to turn more heads than the hot boy AE86 across the walkway from it.

blue corolla

This 1980 Toyota Corolla owned by Patrick De Lein is a rare example of one of my favorite generations of Corolla, the AE71 Liftback, modified in period correct kit. While a show worthy AE86 with under 100,000 miles would demand well over $15,000, an E71 in equivalent condition might be able to touch the $10,000 mark if it was exceptionally well equipped and in a rare color. Given their mechanical similarity, if you’re in the market for an AE86, you might be better off just going with an AE71.

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Speaking of AE86s though, Janet Fujimoto’s red GT-S on SSR Longchamps is quite possibly the best example of a USDM AE86 in the wild. With only minimal modifications, it stays true to the original appeal of the AE86. There is a completely misguided urban legend that they’re overpowered sleeper monster cars, instantly great drift cars and cure cancer. While they are rather great, they’re more like an E30, just a very well balanced car that, while slow, are very responsive and make you a better driver. While some may disagree on what the actual value of a perfect AE86 should be, we can all agree that they are much more than just the sum of their parts.

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This Honda Life Step Van looks like it is the result of some tilt shift camera trickery to make it look smaller than it’s surroundings but it really is this small. The van looks perfectly proportionate sitting on very small SSR Meshes, in fact they’re only 10″ in diameter. Despite the diminutive size of the kei van, I can fit in it with ample headroom. The van even has a manual transmission, the awesome per square inch of this beige van is off the charts.

Datsun 510 Side

The Datsun 510 that has the honor of being the featured picture on this post is handily the best 510 build I have seen in person. The S.E.V. Marchal headlamps are a bonus but the build quality across the rest of the car is untouchable. Coated in a wonderful green hue and rolling on RS Watanabes, the car is a crash course in how to build a late 60’s import car tastefully for a timeless appeal. It doesn’t need a crazy wide body kit or a wing attached to the bumper mounts, just attention to detail and some rare additions.

Mango Levin

Although a lot more over the top than the 510, this TE37 Toyota Corolla on TOSCO wheels is just as timeless. The classic Japanese car look of tiny wide wheels, bright colors and overfenders began to gain popularity in the 80s with builds like these. Although, this has more than a few JDM touches that were largely unavailable back then, you could just as well visualize this cruising with Minitrucks as you could visualize it carving canyon roads across town.RA21 Celica Blue

Next to the TE37 Corolla was one of the most properly built RA21 Celicas I’ve seen in quite some while. Nicknamed the Daruma Celica for its similarity to a Japanese Daruma doll, the first generation Celica has always had one of the most drastic changes in appearance when switching from the USDM rubber-baby-buggy bumpers to the JDM “banana” bumpers. Naturally this car sports the JDM bumpers with an aftermarket front air dam and for extra cool points, this particular car has a rare OEM acrylic aero nose.

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The wheels of JCCS are a sight to behold and the aforementioned Celica does not disappoint with a set of 14″ Techno Phantoms at each corner. In an era where Honda Civics come with 20″ wheels, seeing a 195/55R14 tire brings me joy. There isn’t much better in life than a tire/wheel combo that looks great and can take a pothole without rearranging the driver’s spine.

LHD Kenmeri Skyline

While this Kenmeri Skyline has fake wheels on it and some questionable engine bay dress up bits, there is a lot of wild stuff happening on it. First off, it is a narrow body car without the wheel arches so the curve in the bodyline over the rear wheel well to the tail light, called the surf line, is fully available to behold. I honestly wish people would keep their Skylines narrow bodied because the surf line is one of my favorite features of classic Skylines. Also note that the car is left hand drive, this Skyline is actually a middle eastern Nissan Skyline 240Y GT and is possibly one of the rarest Nissan models in the world today as their survival rate was tragically low.

Datsun B210

This Datsun B210 blew away not only Jana, Big Mike and I but the judges as well as the car went away with a trophy of its own. While not as drastic as the Daruma Celica this generation of Datsun B210 had it’s own metamorphasis once modified even slightly. Once the bumpers are removed and the right wheel fitment is achieved, the Datsun B210 looks downright wonderful. Its a shame that these eventually evolved into the Nissan Versa we know today.

Gentsuki House Bosozoku Moped

As Japanese classic cars move further into the mainstream, styles that are better known in Japan are expanding onto our shores. The bosozoku style of Japanese motorcycles has finally hit our shores with it’s sky high Takeyari exhaust pipes, extended fairings and wild paint schemes. What’s more is that the niche style of bosozoku scooters has made its way here and it had done so in a way that’s even bigger than the bosozoku motorcycle style is in America.

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The appeal of these scooters is much more broad than just the Japanese classic car community, their low entry price and vast aftermarket has become an entry point for many millennials and Gen-Zer’s into car/bike culture that otherwise cannot afford the entry price. This trend combats the hypothesis that millennials don’t care about cars anymore, when most do express some interest in cars but can barely afford to pay their student loans, much less modify a second car. With total prices for builds below $3,000, a bosozoku scooter is an attainable entry point for many that otherwise would not be able to enjoy our culture.

Greddy EF Civic Hatchback

What was once the cheap entry point into car culture fifteen years ago, the golden age Honda Civic, is now becoming more of an investment than a fun hobby. With that, build quality is better now than ever before. Currently Kenji from GReddy has arguably the best EF Honda Civic in the world right now. Not only has it been immortalized as a Hot Wheels car, but it serves as a greatest hits of the best parts produced for the chassis.

Greddy EF Civic Hatchback Engine

The exterior sports an SiR front end, SSR EX-C wheels, JDM fenders and a GReddy liveried stripe down the side. Under the hood the B18C1 engine has been built to produce 1,000 HP but only makes a fraction of that for street use and reliability. The fitment of the full sized radiator and and old school GReddy GS-R turbo manifold is made possible thanks to a smaller GReddy T518Z turbocharger off a 86/BRZ turbo kit. This combination of parts and detail is without a doubt the best EF Civic build in the world.

60 rampaging horses

While GReddy Kenji’s Civic is an absolutely bonkers powerhouse, this Datsun 1200 pickup is the complete opposite. With 60 HP as advertised, it proves that you don’t need a massive V8 to get the job done. Rather, you need only about 60 HP… or at least it makes a convincing argument for double digit horsepower.

red datsun pickup

Getting back to the roots of JCCS and what I love about it is this Datsun 1200. Japan has made no shortage of truly amazing vehicles, for every GT-R, Supra or STI, there exists a Tercel, Maxima or Datsun pickup. The community doesn’t just laugh them off like most other communities do with their people’s cars, they truly appreciate them en masse. Its not like other communities where only one or two people’s cars get recognized because they ended up with a racing pedigree, with Japanese cars, they consistently get the respect they deserve.

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Sure, there is something truly comical about about seeing the 60 HP Datsun 1200 Pickup right after seeing literal rows of Z-cars and Celicas. That humor isn’t at the expense of the humble peoples truck though, it’s directed at the people who don’t get it. There was once a time where cars like this lift back Celica was once viewed as quaint and the community remembers that. Perhaps that’s why classic Japanese car enthusiasts are so open minded because while they’re en vogue now, it wasn’t very long ago where a Civic got laughed at the same way that a Mirage gets a laugh today.

EVENT: Japanese Classic Car Show 2019 Part 1

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This was the fifteenth year of the Japanese Classic Car Show in 2019, fifteen years is an extremely long time for a car show series to be held for consistently. If we think about it, 15 years ago NOPI was still happening, Wek’Fest still had a few years before it even came into existence and Hot Import Nights was where the cool kids were being seen at. Needless to say, the timeframe that Japanese Classic Car Show has been happening for usually encompasses the entire lifespan of most shows, Japanese Classic Car Show (hereby abbreviated as JCCS) has a handful of traits to make it enduring but the two that make it special are it’s quality and its position as the cornerstone of the Japanese classic car community.

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Throughout it’s existence, JCCS has been at the forefront of the Japanese classic car community. While the collector community is more than fans of just one show, this show represents the heart and soul of the culture. While JCCS is at the forefront, it’s still relatively small. Comparing to another show that is a major part of it’s respective culture, traversing this show is not the massive multiple day odyssey that you get with Back to the 50’s. You don’t feel compelled to buy a Japanese Nostalgic Car so you can actually make through the entire show, you feel compelled because you genuinely want one. Where some shows like BTT50’s are big for the sake of being big, JCCS is surprisingly small but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in quality.

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Japanese Classic Car Show’s true beauty resides in where it falls on the scale of exclusivity. No, it’s not BTT50’s where literally anything produced prior to 1964.5 is let in but it also lacks the excessive exclusivity found at Concours D’Elegance where tickets are $300 and cars get denied because the stitching on the seats is incorrect. Cars like this survivor Datsun 411 are given the respect they deserve after being kept original for 50 years but a lowered AE86 isn’t chastised for being modified.

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The closest that JCCS gets to Concours particular is the eligibility of the cars. Historically, JCCS has had a rolling 25 year rule matching the United States car importation law. When JCCS started, 15 years ago, plastic bumper imports were barely on the cusp of being allowed into the show but as time has moved on, the cars have gotten newer and newer. The inclusion of newer cars has taken some time to get used to but fears of the chrome bumpers being pushed out were unfounded. What was once a show of early Japanese oddities now has made space for the golden age of Japanese cars without losing its soul.

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Originally, JCCS had a separate show called JCCS Neo-Classics, but with the closure of the Toyota Headquarters in Torrance, CA, they had to find a way to merge the two shows. The merger meant that, eventually, JCCS had to leave its long time home of Queen Mary Beach for it’s current location across the bay. While it was briefly lived, the Neo-Classics show was a great way to ease plastic bumper cars into the larger JCCS community and also allowed the series to test the waters of more modern vehicles like this Racing Beat RX7 convertible.

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These newer vehicles also represent the time where Japan went from being seen as just an entire country of austerity purchases, and wrongfully thought as keeping up with the world, to a time where they objectively dominated the world. In decades prior the Japanese models had to be sold to us but, by the 1980’s, the world had to be counter offered away from Japanese cars. The 1980’s saw the Japanese brands not only dominate the middle class’s driveways but by the end of the decade, they were coming for the European luxury brands.

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The inclusion of plastic bumper cars has also been important for the community as a lot of those cars are some of the fastest appreciating collector cars in the world right now. With that sudden appreciation, a lot of attention is being paid to the trends at JCCS so the larger car community can see what people are doing with these early and golden age Japanese collectors.

Mazda 626 Coupe

As people are coming through for the RX7s and 240Zs, some are discovering the other gems that people don’t talk about. For every two well known cars, something like this Mazda 626 Coupe was at the show. It is never a bad thing when cars that were once looked over as just another semi-sporty RWD Coupe get their moment in the spot light for what they are.

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If you’re like most people in the world and you’re coming to see the more well known JNCs like Datsuns, AE86s and Celicas, then you had nothing to fear. Datsun Z cars easily outnumbered any other single make, not model but literally entire make. There was easily a Z car for every Honda, Toyota or other Datsun, Mitsubishi was outnumbered five to one and, for the Subaru to Z-car ratio, it was easily a dozen to one.

Green 240Z 2+2 Front

While Z cars were a dime a dozen at the show, one would assume the best Z-car in the show would be the rarest and most desirable. However, easily the best Z in the whole show was also the “least desirable” for collectability, being not only the emissions strangled 260Z but a 2+2 at that.  Luis Rivera went out of his way to hunt down a 2+2 for the project. His build with it’s molded metal fender flares, a 240Z two-seater front end and a profound split pea soup green combined into what might be my favorite Z-car build in recent years. The car easily stole the show for the Z-car class.

280Z 2+2 big mike

Two of the most authoritative connoisseurs of green cars, Jana and Big Mike from the Think Bigger Project both agree that this car is unbelievable. According to Mike, Luis wanted to build a S30 that would stand out from the crowd and we can rest assured that he has done so. Builds like this are something that can make you think differently about a platform as a whole.

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With the prices of S30s going through the roof, the often unloved long boy 2+2 is suddenly becoming all the more desirable. The 2+2s are a bit of a commitment though, every panel of the vehicle is different from the two seaters and they are often in far worse condition due to the relative undesirability as a collector so the chances of being underwater with a restoration is nearly guaranteed. That being said, can you really put a price on the extra cargo space for when you want to bring along some light reading?

Calsonic R31

Another chassis that was often considered undesirable was the R31 Skyline GTS-R. It is true that it did pale in comparison to the R32 GT-R but we have to remember, back in it’s day, the R31 was neigh untouchable and many consider it entirely worthy of the GT-R badging that Nissan was coy to apply without absolute confidence. It also was the first Skyline to sport the iconic blue Calsonic livery that we see replicated on this R31 coupe. Today R31s demand equal to and in some cases more money than it’s younger R32 brethren.

Toyota Mark II Corona Coupe

If you’re completely at odds as to what this is, you aren’t alone. It is actually a RT114 Toyota Corona Coupe, namely a RHD model. The Corona was Toyota’s first compact car sold in America and it eventually moved up market when the Corolla arrived before eventually being replaced in our market with the Camry in 1983. While the Celica was the Toyota sports car of the 1970s, the Corona Coupe occupied an awkward space as their GT model replacing the yet even more rare Carina. It was powered by the venerable Toyota R20, known best as a truck engine reliable beyond reproach and all Coronas that were sold in America were exclusively RWD. Unfortunately like the Mazda 626 and 260Z 2+2, the RT114 Coronas were rare and never got their proper respect stateside. Frankly every generation of Corona gets about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield and should be worth a hell of a lot more than they currently are.

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Speaking of not getting any respect stateside, there were several Japanese imported Toyota Hiaces. These have always been the ultimate in Japanese vanning, I absolutely believe that if these were imported to America in the 70’s and 80’s, they would have eaten Volkswagen’s lunch.

Moon Hiace Interior.jpg

Just look how plush that interior is! If you compared this to a Volkswagen Vanagon from the late 80s, this would obliterate in in any comparison test. The van pictured is very clearly a high spec with the rear sunroofs and doilies on the seats. A keen eye will also see how pristine this is in that it even has the Pre-Delivery plastic on the pillars still.

umm what

One might ask why Japan never brought these to America and it is a valid question. However when you look at the marketing of the special editions, it begins to make sense. In Japan it was common to put a small paragraph on the side of cars in awkwardly translated English, needless to say this slogan kept me from sleeping the following night.

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There is so much to say about JCCS, honestly it is a prime example of why everyone loves the SoCal car community. It isn’t that their cars are objectively better but their great cars are in such abundance that their shows are world class. A lot of shows can take a tip from JCCS because of how well it balances exclusivity, styles and ages. I can’t possibly cover every car in the show that was worthy of looking at in a single post, honestly, I would have to start an Instagram page of just JCCS cars to do that. What I can do is give you a second post with more of the cars, until then welcome back to The Carbitrage.

The Big 3: Hot Hatches of the 1980s #BTT80s

In this new series we compare three cars from the major automobile producing continents America, Asia and Europe. Sometimes it feels like these three nations can only excel in one field or another but this is proof that everyone can make great cars if they put their minds to them.

The Big 3 1980s hot hatches

In this new series we compare three cars from the major automobile producing continents America, Asia and Europe. Sometimes it feels like these three nations can only excel in one field or another but this is proof that everyone can make great cars if they put their minds to them.

The Hot Hatch is a car that appeals to almost everyone regardless of economic privilege. Everyone from Jeremy Clarkson to the vaping teen down the street wants or owns one. The plucky nature of a car designed to scoot through downtown traffic but is fitted with a big engine and stiff springs is a lure hard to ignore by anyone with a pulse, and with good reason too. These cars caught their stride in the 1980s and, with Back to the 80’s just around the corner, we want to explore the best that each continent had to offer during the era. Here are our Big 3 Hot Hatches of the 1980s.

America: Dodge Omni GLHS

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After committing harder than anyone else to muscle cars right as the oil crisis and strict emissions standards came into existance, Chrysler Corporation found themselves suddenly with a lineup of big hairy V8s that were slower, less economical and less reliable than its import competitors. Chrysler’s first solution to the sudden unpopularity of large V8 engines was to sell Mitsubishi’s compact cars under their name. While their captive import program got people through the door to the salesfloor, it did nothing to further develop Chrysler’s branding. Tiring of selling captive imported Mitsubishis on their showfloor, Chrysler changed directions and worked to develop their own subcompact car, called the Omni for Dodge or the Horizon if you got the Plymouth.

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After an extremely roundabout development program, the Omni was ready for production by 1977. The car was a modified version of the Simca-Talbot Horizon, a brand owned by Chrysler for the European market. Soon after the Omni/Horizon went on sale, Chrysler found itself bankrupt from their issues years earlier, sold off Simca to Peugeot and had it’s first government bailout. Lee Iococca, who was looking for a way to save Chrysler, saw promise in small cars and let the American Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon live on while he spearheaded development of the K-car. The Omni’s chassis, called the L-Body, did stave off the debt collectors long enough for the K-Car to go on release.

“I wanted to take the plug-ugliest little box Chrysler made, and turn it into something that could whip a Ferrari or a Porsche, at a price the average guy can afford – the guy making $20,000 or $25,000, with a wife and couple of kids.” – Carroll Shelby

At the same time that Chrysler was having their debt crisis, Carol Shelby and Ford were having a crisis themselves while in a trademark dispute over the Cobra name. Once Chrysler was stabilized Lee Iococca wanted to breathe some life into the Omni platform, he approached Shelby and asked him to make a hot Omni. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1987, Shelby was quoted as having said “I wanted to take the plug-ugliest little box Chrysler made, and turn it into something that could whip a Ferrari or a Porsche, at a price the average guy can afford – the guy making $20,000 or $25,000, with a wife and couple of kids.”

Dodge Omni GLH red

What did Shelby do? He took the “plug-ugliest little box Chrysler made” and then did some simple hot rodding tricks and tuned it up to 110 HP. Frankly, I should note that I object and I think the Omni has one of the best hot hatch designs ever. The car was called the Dodge Omni GLH, which at face valve us a reasonable name likely meaning GL trim and H for high output. That’s not what it meant though, it literally meant Goes Like Hell. Soon after the release of the GLH in 1984, Carroll wanted more and he got his hands on a Garrett AiResearch turbocharger. Then he did the unthinkable in 1985, bolted the AiResearch turbo onto that Chrysler 2.2L engine and at 7.2 PSI it made 146 HP.

GLH-S

In the right hands, the 146 HP Dodge Omni GLH certainly could whip a Ferrari or a Porsche but Shelby wasn’t done. Two years later, by 1987, he released the GLHS. Again, not meaning GLH-Shelby but meaning “Goes Like Hell S‘more.” 175 HP at 12 PSI of boost with a full frontal front mount intercooler gave the car the power to set a 0-60 at 6.7 seconds, on 1980s tire technology. That was enough to keep up with a Ferrari 308 and a Porsche 911 Cabriolet.

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Shelby certainly had done his job and he also unleashed himself on just about every Chrysler product during the 80s. Not only did the Omni GLH bring Chrysler back from the malaise but it set up their future with cars like the Dodge Spirit R/T, Plymouth CSX and of course the SRT-4.

Asia: 3rd Generation Honda Civic Si/CRX Si

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While the Dodge Omni brought back straight line performance on a budget, which were the hallmarks of the muscle car era, it was Honda that really became a cult classic. It wasn’t an immediate thing though, it wasn’t because the manufacturer gave all of the best tuning shops in the world dollar cars and said have at it, it was a much slower burn. The Honda Civic Si caught it’s traction as the hand-me-down car, parents bought them for first cars and gave them to their children, who then created this whole culture around them.

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Of course this wasn’t by accident, Honda’s roots were firmly planted in two fields, reliability and performance. This all happened because the Civic was just that great of a little car. After the war, Honda helped get Japan on its feet with reliable little motorcycles, they were pretty good too since they won the Isle of Man TT in 1961. So when Honda made their first actual car, naturally it was a cheap little, reliable sports car, the S500. Eventually they came to America and started to make subcompacts during the malaise, the car was the Honda Civic.

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By the 1980s the Civic was a mainstay in American culture and after some experiments with the slightly spritely Civic S and the cute gas-mizer the CRX, Honda dropped a bomb on us. The Honda CRX Si, and later, the Civic Si. When it released in 1986 the CRX Si had sporty figures not seen in years. As Chris Hoffman from Japanese Nostalgic Car likes to point out, the original CRX Si had an infatuation with the number 91. It had 91 hp, 91 lb-ft, 1491 cc displacement (91 Cubic Inches), a 9.1 second 0-60 time and weighed 1900 lbs.

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All together this made for a very sporty car. It was able to feel fun and spritely, while getting 35 MPG in the city. It did it reliably too, which even to date, is a rare thing to find. In America, the gears started turning once kids began to find out that these cars had deep racing roots to them and extensive catalogs of performance parts from Japan available. By the early 90’s, the car to own was a modified Honda Civic. The tuner bug spread like wildfire but it was little known that, the bug had already invaded other parts of the globe.

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In Japan, Honda had been doing a Civic One Make race since the 1970s, creating endless inspiration for boy racers then in 1985 Honda tuner Spoon, won its class in Super Taikyu touring car racing, and was even able to beat half the field of cars above it. The bug America had caught in the 90s, had already hit Japan in full force by the mid-80s. Companies like Mugen, Spoon, Junction Produce and others were able to create figurative rocket ships out of the humble Civic Si. The Japanese highways would see the Civic become the favored platform of the Loop Tribe racers, or Kanjozoku. The nimbleness and zippy nature of the cars felt right at home.

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This hotted up little econobox created it’s own cult following, for people in America, it felt like it came from nowhere. For those in the know though, they saw this coming, they knew it was in Honda’s DNA to make something great. Since 1986, the Civic Si has been a mainstay in American hot hatch performance.

Europe: Mk2 Volkswagen Golf GTI

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The Honda Civic Si is a wonderful little hot hatch, and so is the Dodge Omni, but none of those would have ever existed if it wasn’t for the Germans. Much like the old proverb “the germans invented the car, the french perfected it and the Japanese made it reliable,” the original hot hatch was the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The original GTI, planned for 5000 units, was a run away success with total sales of 462000 units. To change such a perfect recipe is not only playing with fire, but playing with fire next to a leaky propane tank.

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How does one improve on such a great design? Leave it alone as much as possible. You refine the rough bits, up the options and make deadly sure that you don’t upset the product’s balance. With the curb weight only increasing around 100 lbs between the final year of the Mk1 and the first year of the Mk2 GTI, the car felt 96.3% as sprightly as the original one did, but it did so with a level of refinement that was just right for a hot hatch. If that wasn’t enough, the car also dropped it’s drag coefficient by 8% so it would actually perform better over the original model at high speeds.

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Volkswagen’s gamble on updating the Golf paid off, the car continued to top sales and best of lists around the world, even when everyone else was getting into the “GTI” market. That term right there, “GTI Market,” might be the greatest boon to the GTI, it created it’s own market. It wasn’t the first fast subcompact but the GTI was a watershed car and after it came out, competitors came out of the woodwork. Some even took the name; Suzuki, Dacia, Citroen, Peugeot, Mitsubishi, Nissan. Nearly everyone used the GTI moniker at some point.

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Regardless of who used it, the name GTI stuck with Volkswagen. Whenever it seemed like the imitators were beginning to keep up, the GTI kept getting better. After existing for the first half of it’s life with the original 8 valve engine, the Mk2 GTI received it’s first major engine upgrade, A 16 valve DOHC 1.8L engine. It replaced the old 8 valve and it came with a power bump from 110 HP to a massive 137 HP. The 8.9 second 0-60 time of the old hat 8 valve was slashed down to 8.3 seconds, faster than a Porsche 944.

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There is a very strong argument to be made that the Mk2 GTI is the peak of the Volkswagen GTI’s lineage. It perfected what the Mk1 started and perfected it. It was more comfortable, faster and kept it’s looks. It did all of this, yet, it didn’t lose it’s direct feel that the newer models have struggled with. Regardless of how the later cars stack up against the Mk2, the formula has stayed true since there is word that the GTI is going to outlive the Golf.

EVENT: InterMarque 2019 Part 1

Sometimes I really dread going to a car show. I find myself having dubstep blasted in my earhole and having my olfactory system assaulted by Haggis and Watermelon vape smoke. Meanwhile I’m trying find some way out of that asphalt hell before I develop melanoma.

InterMarque Vintage Foreign Car Show is not one of those shows.

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Sometimes I really dread going to a car show. All too often I find myself standing in a boiling hot parking lot while some mouthbreather babbles on about some grievance they have with the show. Meanwhile I’m having dubstep blasted in my earhole and having my olfactory system assaulted by Haggis and Watermelon vape smoke. Honestly, some shows could be nothing but vintage Japanese cars and Group B rally cars, yet I still find myself trying find some way out of that asphalt hell before I develop melanoma. InterMarque Vintage Foreign Car Show is not one of those shows.

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In fact, I have to say that my first visit to an InterMarque show was the farthest thing from the scenario I mentioned above. It was a perfect combination of factors that all came together in just the right way. A car show like a real estate investment, while the house itself is important, you can always improve that, you can also improve the yard but the hardest part to improve is the location. If you nail all of those aspects, it is a perfect house, and InterMarque certainly nailed it. It really wouldn’t be out of place at Monterey Car Week, not only are the cars on caliber of some of the crop that you see at Car Week, but the character of the show and it’s location would fit in just as well.

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Every spring, InterMarque car club and the City of Osseo shut down 4 blocks of the quaint downtown area of the city for an annual spring car show. The cars range from RHD Honda BEATs to European rarities like a Borgward Isabella. The true beauty of the show however is the location. You have the cars lining down 4 blocks of the city, allowing for easy foot traffic and lots of space to take pictures and gawk. There is a plaza in the middle of the show where small businesses sell their wares and, more importantly, there is plenty of shade and places to sit. You really feel comfortable at this show and that’s something that a lot of shows miss the boat on.

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It’s the small businesses along the street make the show feel like something magical. If you tire of constantly walking and baking in the sun, you can just pop into an antique shop or stop for a gyro. It makes you feel like you’re actually benefiting the community rather than being a nuisance, the constant anxiety of having to cut the show short because someone decided to flex their rev limiter skills is non-existent. When you leave the show, you feel happy, rather than drained. On the way home we were actually remarking about how much we loved the show, rather than complain about who did what.

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There is a sense of camaraderie amongst fans of the show. These are the people who represent what Carbitrage is all about, it’s for people who love the automobile in all of it’s forms. It’s a place where you find a Triumph 2000 owner talking to the owner of an S2000 and instead of belittling each other or talking at each other, they are just enjoying each others company. I even had deeply enlightening conversations about the various coachbuilt variants of the Citroen DS and about the Bosch Jetronic fuel injection system.

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It isn’t just the Carbitrage staff and a group of our fans that love the meet. You’re just as likely to see a 17 year old kid losing their mind over a Honda BEAT as you are to find a white haired man with a beard doing the same thing over these Triumph TR3s. It reminds me of when I was a kid going to Hot Import Nights for the first time and getting jacked up on all of the free cups of NOS energy drink. Every car is something special, you feel like you need to look at every single thing.

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That is another piece of the of the mosaic that makes this show so good, everything pays off to look at. Some cars that are obviously cool, like this Volkswagen Type 3. They immediately draw your attention and reward you when you get to the details. You go in expecting something excellent and you aren’t disappointed.

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Other cars in the show pay off once you get up close to them. To be entirely honest, I was even thrown off by this car and I pride myself on knowledge of the most obscure cars I can fathom. Richard Halkyard spotted it from half a block away, it is a Humbler Super Snipe. While it looks like an upscale Checker Marathon from the outside, under the hood it gets really interesting.

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It sports an overhead valve inline six, which on it’s own doesn’t sound like much to write home about, but if you consider that it has hemispherical combustion chambers and a crossflow head design, it suddenly becomes very interesting. Now add that this was designed in the UK in 1958 and was put into a slightly upscale but still largely affordable car, it becomes even more noteworthy.

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In 1958, outside of Chrysler’s Firepower V8 engine, a hemispherical OHV cylinder head could only really be found in upscale marques such as Jaguar, Porsche or the incredibly rare MG MGA Twin Cam. The crossflow design, where the intake is opposite of the exhaust on the head, is something we take for granted today but it wasn’t a common design on six cylinder engines until the 1980s, and it was still usually only seen on high performance vehicles for another decade.

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As great as cars like the Humbler Super Snipe were, going through a completely esoteric show full of things most car enthusiasts have never heard of can feel like it isn’t relatable sometimes. InterMarque wasn’t just completely bizarre European classics, cars like this Mk2 Celica Supra and NA Miata were in show as well. The Japanese representation is still small at InterMarque but it has been growing year over year. What is lost in quantity is made up for with quality though because not only were the cars like these two cars mere examples of great Japanese cars, but they were among two of the best examples I’ve seen yet in Minnesota. This Supra on it’s own could contend at Japanese Classic Car Show out in California and the Miata was no slouch either. Lining the block you could still find the occasional Datsun or Mazda tucked away in other spots as well and they were welcome just as much as the British roadsters were, it honestly felt really good seeing a show that didn’t discriminate one brand over another.

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There was so much to see at this show, it could have not been any better, we will be updating with a second part that is more focused on the cars in show. It was just pertinent that we talk about what really made InterMarque great. The location, the attitude, the community, it isn’t just one aspect that makes a show great but everything put together. Like our real estate reference in the beginning said, the house, the yard and the location all make for perfection.  If you’ve never been to InterMarque, you’re missing out on one of the best shows of the year and you owe it to yourself to check it out next year.