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.

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