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 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.

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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.

Our Apologies for Our Lapse in Coverage

Carbitrage Starion

I apologize for the lapse in recent coverage, I recently had a complete hard drive failure and am in the process of putting the pieces back together. Original content will resume in coming weeks.

Right now, we have some great stuff pending so I am excited to show it to you. Our list of event coverage pending posting includes the following:

– Hot Import Nights Minneapolis 2019
– Cars and Craft August 2019
– Cars and Craft September 2019
– Japanese Classic Car Show 2019

And of course I plan to start up some feature posts as well in coming months.

I really appreciate your patience and we will make sure to let everyone know when operations are back to normal here at Carbitrage.

Thanks,
Ryan Senensky
Editor-In-Chief

 

EVENT: Back to the 80’s 2019

The abundance of interesting things at BTT80’s is one of the show’s strong suits. It brings out a lot of the obscure cars around the state that you just don’t see anywhere else. The show isn’t just a bunch of Fieros, C4 Corvettes and dudes walking around in tube socks with jorts. While yes, those things exist at BTT80’s, there were also some of the weirdest things you just don’t see at other shows.

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I went to the first Back to the 80’s back when they were hosting it up in Blaine. It was pretty cool to see the show happen but, good lord, you don’t realize how far away Blaine is from Minneapolis until you sit in traffic for an hour and a half in a CRX without AC just to go walk around in a hot parking lot for the rest of the day. It was a sign of things to come though, the organizers had more passion for that show than I’ve seen in most other shows.

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Fast forward to 2019, the show is now in Burnsville, still a third ring suburb but much easier to reach. The word has gotten out and the sponsors have been coming out of the woodwork, the organization has improved drastically and the show itself has exploded in size.

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Going to the show for the first time in years, I was worried about it being another parking lot show. That being said, it didn’t feel like it was in a parking lot. Of course, it was cloudy, which did help but I didn’t feel like I was walking across the entire Earth to get from one end to the other end. I could walk from Shane’s Celica to the food trucks, effectively across the show, and I wasn’t looking off into the horizon to find something worth looking at.

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The abundance of interesting things at BTT80’s is one of the show’s strong suits. It brings out a lot of the obscure cars around the state that you just don’t see anywhere else. The show isn’t just a bunch of Fieros, C4 Corvettes and dudes walking around in tube socks with jorts. While yes, those things exist at BTT80’s, there were also some of the weirdest things you just don’t see at other shows. This Ford EXP is a prefect example, I had never seen one in the flesh until this show. Apparently the owner owns a dozen of these, the majority are parts cars to support the runners, and as the owner of an obscure 80’s car, I feel his pain.

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Cars like this Pontiac Tojan were there, speaking of weird things that you just don’t see. The Tojan was supposed to be a Ferrari fighter based off of the F-Body platform with a heavily modified TPI V8, vastly improved handling and Gotti wheels. Unfortunately given that the Pontiac name didn’t have the cachet of the Ferrari name, less than 150 were produced. There might be a day when the Tojan just explodes in value, remember Duesenbergs were once totally forgotten too.

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Next to the Tojan was my personal favorite car of the show. The world’s cleanest V20 generation Toyota Camry. This car was never intended to be preserved, it’s shocking to see one in this good of condition. The V20 Camry holds a place in my heart, not only was it the first car I learned to do spark plugs on but its actually a really cool car when you start to look into them. I actually did an in depth history of this car for Japanese Nostalgic Car a couple of years ago, you can find the link here.

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Talking to the owner of it, he said that it was actually an eBay buy. The car had an insane reserve price, so the current owner PM’ed the seller to drop the price a bit, after some back and forth it became his and for a much more reasonable price. While I still am confused as to why this was preserved to such a level, I couldn’t be any happier about the results and his buying process was totally within the spirit of Carbitrage. Our friend of the show that I was walking aroung with, Darren Brooke, described the car as “profoundly beige” and that it was the “essence of the color beige.”

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One more insanely rare car goes back to GM, or rather Suzuki, for one of the coolest cars I’ve known about but never expected to actually see in real life, The Chevrolet Sprint Turbo. This is a 3 cylinder captive imported Suzuki Cultus featured a turbocharger and possibly the smallest intercooler I’ve ever seen in my life.

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Here is a picture of said intercooler with Josh Stowell’s hand for scale, like I said, comically small. With the 8 psi of additional boost and a large dollop of torque steer, the Sprint Turbo reached 70 HP and a shockingly fast 8.1 second 0-60 time. For reference, thats faster than the last years of the C3 Corvette, the AW11 MR2 non-supercharged and even an E30 325i.

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Anyway, this car went through a complete engine out restoration and is likely the best Chevrolet Sprint in existence. If I recall correctly, the owner’s efforts resulted in a first place finish for the Captive Import category of the show.

Grand National Stage 2

Outside of the weird stuff floating around the show, there were so many C4 Corvettes, 3rd generation Trans-maro-birds and G-bodies that it would make your head spin. They likely accounted for at least 10% of the show but what felt good about it is that they appeared in smaller clumps and it made it a bit easier to take in. With so many cars, some were easy to walk past while others were rather unique. This Regal T-Type was a great example, judging by the chrome trim, I don’t think it was actually a Grand National or GNX but with the drag radials in the back and massive exhaust, it looked like it could boogie.

I do have to mention the C4 for a moment because there were a lot of them. Some of them looked slapped together with coathanger exhausts but, cars like this Lingenfelter ZR1, were in amazing condition. We forget how important the ZR1 was for the Corvette when it came out, it brought the Corvette back into the limelight after people had written it off for the better part of a decade. The ZR1 sported an aluminum V8 with DOHC 32 Valve head and 375 HP from the factory. The Lingenfelter version even expanded that an extra 100 HP, making it one of the most powerful cars you could purchase in the early 1990’s.

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Of all the manufacturers from Asia, one brand in particular was able to create more consistently great cars than any other, Toyota. The Toyotas in show were excellent, a handful of trucks were there, a few Mk2 Supras and every variant Celica sold in the 80s. Getting a good look at the white MA61 Celica Supra at the DJ booth was entirely worth experience all of the 110 decibels of Huey Lewis coming out of those speakers behind it.

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Outside of the Supras, the 80’s Celicas were all pretty great, albeit not the fastest thing in the world but they’re 80’s cars, it likely never will be the fastest thing around. Instead, for very little money a Celica can get you into something that is fun, bulletproof reliable and easy on the eyes. This red A40 Celica falls deeply into the podium of best A40s I’ve ever seen, not just in Minnesota but have seen at all.

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The first car I saw when I pulled into the show was this ST185 Celica. At first, I saw it and thought that it was a nifty little GT Four clone, it had the right bumpers, hood and even graphics. Then the owner got out and I saw that it was RHD, it was a real ST185 GT Four and further more was a GT Four RC, the highest trim level with the widebody and AWD. The owner and his girlfriend were wonderful people, extremely friendly and were thrilled to show off their car in the show.

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Robert Correll brought out his Hello Kitty Itasha Suzuki Alto Works. Fun fact, me and Jana have almost bought this car on several accounts but the logistics never worked out, it was either posted for sale when we were out of town or right after we had just bought a car. I am really happy to see it went to a good home and Robert has done a great job expanding on it’s theme. When we were at the show this little girl came up to Jana and poked her on the butt asking if she owned the car, the girl was rather shocked when a tall mustachioed man turned out to be it’s owner.

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If you’re not familiar with a Suzuki Alto Works, it is a kei hot hatch. It was government limited to 60 HP but you can easily double the stock output with bolt on parts. The car came in either FWD or AWD and was manual only. If you want a more in depth description of the Alto Works, I have an article here at Japanese Nostalgic Car. The Alto Works is most definitely a Carbitrage Top Buy.

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Speaking of imported cars, we should probably mention the R32 Skyline. To stand out with an R32 GTR today, you have to have something really special, I found the coolest and most special GTR I’ve seen yet. This is an actual Tommykaira R32R, one of 400 ever made. These were $76,000 when new back in 1992, that was double what the standard GT-R retailed for. For those who are unfamiliar with the brand, this is to the GT-R what RUF is to Porsche.

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It came with a bespoke bodykit, wheels, interior accents and was tuned to make more power while still being just as driveable as a standard GT-R. Unfortunately the owner didn’t have the Tommykaira wheels on the car. Apparently, the night before the show he discovered a loose wheel face bolt. With dozens of bolts holding the wheel face on, he didn’t have the time to make sure every bolt was torqued correctly and didn’t want to damage the car so he threw on his spare wheels.

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Naturally with a show featuring 80’s cars, we were bound to see a lot of the first wave of modified trucks, sky high Toyota pickups, the last clean Bronco II, both generations of Subaru BRAT and some wild paint jobs were to be seen.

C1500 Diesel

Without any doubt, the one that caught our eye was this slammed C1500 with a choptop, a FedEx truck Detroit Diesel engine coming out of the hood and in the bed, not only smokestacks but two fog horns out of an old supertanker that was scuttled in Duluth. This truck is every bit as ridiculous as it is awesome.

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So not only is this arguably the best Cabriolet in existence but it also has a cool story to it. Chad Erickson, the owner of SCI, originally built this with his dad back in the 90’s and it’s still in the family. It still has the Calloway turbo kit on it that they installed over 20 years ago and it is still going strong. Chad posts regularly about cruising around in it with his mom, his kids and, fun fact, he can even fit his BMX bike in the back.

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Back to the 80’s has grown massively since it’s inception. I am really happy to see what it has done, it’s a testament to the commitment of the hosts. Growing from a small show put on by the local Minnesota Fiero club to something that can take up nearly a quarter of the parking available at one of the largest malls in Minnesota is nothing to scoff at. It is a unique show in of itself too, kind of a combination of Concours of Lemons and Radwood. I really have to say, if you didn’t go this year then you have to go next year. Even if you don’t particularly care for 80’s cars, there is still something there for everyone.

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.”

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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.

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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.

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