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.

Toulong AE86 Rear ToJ.jpg

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: Modest – Premium Automotive Showcase

Drive Cartel hosted their second Modest Premium Automotive Showcase at the end of June in St. Paul. Honestly this is one of my favorite import car shows because of the quality of cars in show. It allows me to reaffirm my belief that car culture is still alive and definitely not dying. For a grassroots show that doesn’t have national recognition, it’s quality is quite a feat.

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Drive Cartel hosted their second Modest Premium Automotive Showcase at the end of June in St. Paul. Honestly this is one of my favorite import car shows because of the quality of cars in show. It allows me to reaffirm my belief that car culture is still alive and definitely not dying. For a grassroots show that doesn’t have national recognition, it’s quality is quite a feat.

Lineup with GTR

This might have been the physically hottest show I’ve been to in a while, it was over 90 degrees with a dew point of over 70. That doesn’t sound that bad if you don’t know what a dew point is but take my word for it, it was steamy. If the dew point is in the 70’s, that’s more humid than it is in the Lacondon Jungle in Central America this time of year. Like Ricardo Tubbs from Miami Vice said “I can dig tropical, but this is out of bounds.”

BRZ Front

Regardless of how hot it was, Drive Cartel was able to keep things comfortable. The show was in the same location but moved to underneath the Highway 52 bridge and they bumped the show time back a few hours, so it started once the heat began to die down and we could avoid the worst of it. Another thoughtful gesture was that they had free Monster energy drinks and water available. I truly appreciated the pre-planning on behalf of Drive Cartel, they had planned the details of the show months before it was held. A lot of other shows overlook thinking of those details, or try to monetize keeping people comfortable, Drive Cartel though, they just want you to enjoy their efforts.

E30 Coupe

This year I was invited back as a judge for the show, which I was proud to do, and I have seen improvements in most of the builds. Unfortunately, judging took up all of my time at the show so we have a guest photographer, Tyson Noel. If you’re a regular to Carbitrage, you likely recognize his name because we always are talking about his Subaru. We will begin to host more guest photographers as we grow because I am limited by my corporeal shell to only exist in one place at one time and, more importantly, I want to show off the talents of other photographers in the state.

B Series EG

When I was judging last year I spent a lot more time docking points for people who had fairly major issues such as poor quality vinyl wraps, exposed zipties and generally a lot of corner cutting. This year, I saw far less of that, instead the most common thing I docked points for was poor quality preparation. If I’m nitpicking down to that level, it’s a pretty good thing. Some cars, like this white EG Civic, were prepped perfectly w

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If you’re not familiar with the show, Modest is limited to about 100 spots and is billed as the 100 best import cars in the state of Minnesota. While it might not be the absolute 100 best cars because I can rattle off a handful that should have been in the show but weren’t able to come for one reason or another, it was still a very good cross section of the best that Minnesota has to offer.

AE110 Corolla

While some cars are clad with huge widebody kits, other cars, like Toumoua’s AE110 Corolla are so creative that they’re in a class of their own. We’ve talked about this car before but this is likely one of the coolest builds of this chassis in the country. It blends several different styles with a few little JDM twists to make something that flows together on a car that just doesn’t show up at shows like this. Fun fact, that JDM license plate is actually accurate for the vehicle tax bracket this Corolla would qualify for in Japan.

Jetta Brown

Other cars like this Jetta didn’t try to blend styles on an obscure chassis, instead they tried to accent the factory bodywork for a clean OEM+ look. I really like the color matched tint on the tail lights. It’s not pictured but the air tank setup used a distressed wood floor that matched the wheels and really tied the whole look together, there were a half dozen other cars with distressed wood floors in the rear that didn’t pull it off nearly as well. I can appreciate how the VAG community seems to be able to make anything that Volkswagen throws onto a showfloor into something unique.

Hieps S13

Hiep’s S13 Silvia ate a wall at a track day last year, which was a major bummer and yanked the entire front end off of the car. Instead of sulking and letting the car fall into ruin, Hiep took his lemons and made a very good batch of lemonade. The front end getting knocked off allowed him to go a little crazy with a massive light bar and a body kit. Having just finished wet sanding the body of the car literally an hour before the show, Hiep tossed the bodykit on and drove it there. You can’t see it very well in the photo but Hiep’s carbon fiber hood has a thin layer of candy red paint on it, color matching it to the rest of the car.

Lexus Widebody

This Lexus IS took home trophies at both Modest and MNCEC’s Minneapolis Mile. I think that the hydrodip under the hood is a bit much but overall, it is a really great build. If you get a chance to see it, it’s very well put together. All of the bodywork flows together with even panel gaps and the paint matching is second to none.

Rocket Bunny S13

The low quality duplicate bodykits and ridiculous no name oversized kits that you could get for a fraction of the price of the real thing was what killed the big bodykit trend. Hopefully our widebody craze doesn’t have to worry about that since the vast majority of us are more interested in build quality over build quantity than we were 20 years ago. Having the most ridiculous car isn’t a necessary win these days and that’s a good thing.

Supra

The key to trends not getting stale is not over-saturating the world with it. One trend that won’t ever go out of style is speed because unlike the look of a car, you can always find a new way to go fast or just make a bigger number. This Mk.4 Supra is a great example of a car where power comes first. It is sporting a single large turbo, front mount intercooler, a bevy of supporting modifications and a very clean execution. Its nice to see that, while these cars creep up to $200,000, that people are still tinkering with them.

Tonys EF

Also creeping up in price, but not nearly on the level of the blue chip Japanese muscle cars of the 90s, are the 1988-2000 Honda Civics. Tony’s EF sedan is likely the best example of its chassis in the state of Minnesota. These Civics hold a soft spot in my heart, especially the EF generation, and its really awesome to see them built on such a high level.

R35 Carbon Fiber

Also on the topic of high end builds, I have never seen this much carbon fiber on a car, nearly this whole R35 GTR is covered in Carbon Fiber. I love it’s afterburner style exhaust tips. This isn’t a wrap either, it is all actual carbon fiber. While Carbon Fiber everything isn’t really my thing, I can still appreciate the effort that it took to do this conversion.

G37S Front.jpg

Overall it’s really nice to see how much Minnesota is improving. 4 years ago, if you had told me that the car culture would be as great as it is here, I would have thought you were crazy because we were doing good but it was all rather stagnant. We have advanced so much in even that short of a period of time.

Audi and wheels

I keep hearing all of these rumors that car culture is waning around the country but I don’t see that happening, not here, not in Chicago or even in California. Yes it has its ebbs and flows, a decade ago the recession was crippling, but I don’t think that car enthusiasts are going anywhere. Things just change, new generations bring new ideas and you just have to be open to it. Pre-war preservationists thought the world was ending when kustoms and hot rods came around in the 50s, then the muscle car purists thought that in the 70s when Toyota dominated everything and it still happens today.

kids cars

People are still making great cars, hosting great shows and advancing the culture. The kids are still excited by cool cars and I think that we’re in a great spot as a community. To the people who think that car culture is dying, that’s just not true. In 50 years, there will still be cool stuff being built, you just have to keep an open mind. Here’s to a great Modest 2019 and to the future of not only Drive Cartel but the Minnesota car community as a whole.