EVENT: Cars and Craft July 2019

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It seems like August happened in the blink of an eye, and the same thing with July for that matter. Every year it feels like there is more stuff happening, making it harder to squeeze car shows in between it all. Car shows have an opportunity cost just to attend and its even more of an opportunity cost to actual have your car in the event. In Minnesota, our car season is fleeting, we get only half of the year to experience it so everything is more crammed together into a 5 month window. There is so much happening at once, you would think that Minnesota would experience an over saturation effect.

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Over saturation can make everything become an overwhelming cacophony. The Chronicles had a really good description of the mindset of people from the SoCal car scene, a notoriously over saturated car community, it is a bit of a longer rear but here is the link if you’re keen on reading it. In the article Joey talks about how they have such over saturation in their car community that everything becomes bland and you take it for granted. I can’t help to mutter “must be nice” to myself while I slide towards my annual September neurotic state which leads directly into a micro-midlife crisis for a good portion of October.

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The whole point of the Chronicles monologue is about how over saturation creates a rat race where too many people latch onto the current trend and rush their builds. They care more about getting seen at shows more than they care about the quality of their build. Instead of building something that is meant to last, like this hot rod.

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If you look at the car community in Minnesota, as a community we don’t really have any of the over saturation that California has. Going back to my own Kübler-Ross model of grieving for the car season, we have just over half of the year where we aren’t being bombarded with events. In California, where people are slapping shoddy work together to try to keep up with the Joneses, Winter gives us plenty of time to sit in the garage with a wrench and a pile of parts.

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Then after 7 months of not having car things to do, we get out enjoy even the small shows like Cars & Craft more than other regions ever could. As we’ve said time and again, this is the best monthly series in the midwest and it never fails to disappoint. So we’re going to spotlight some of the cars that caught our eye back in July. There is always a new twist at Cars & Craft, for July, it was Lowriders as Uso Twin Cities brought out a solid selection of cars.

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If you’re new to Lowriders, Uso is one of the largest clubs in North America with over 30 chapters. They’re celebrating their 25th anniversary this year and, in that quarter century of lowriding, they’ve been crowned Club of the Year by Lowrider magazine several times, broken down stereotypes and reset the bar for quality time and again. There was a period in the mid-2000s where you couldn’t pick up a single Lowrider magazine without seeing at least one Uso car featured between the covers.

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Back in the 1990s, lowriding had developed a name for being synonymous with gangsters but the community has worked hard to completely expunge themselves of that stereotype. Lowriding is an art form that extends far beyond what we normally imagine, you can find lowrider bicycles, motorcycles, pedal cars, wagons and even strollers. Even if you look within lowrider cars alone, there are plenty of styles that the style’s roots touch. Bombas, minitrucks, euro lowriders are all well known and you can extend slabs and donks into the same family tree as well.

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The lowrider community has always had it’s own allure since its origins with pachucos in the 1940s. Since the 1990’s when it hit it’s mainstream popularity peak, lowriders have become the trump card of car shows, it’s almost impossible to compete with a well executed lowrider. In the last few years, lowriders have been catching a second wind as well with even more hype behind them and this is one of the most exciting times in the last 20 years to be following the community.

SW20 MR2 Red

Another trend catching a second wind, but doesn’t have anywhere near the same cachet as lowriders are body kit builds. I’ve been seeing more rumblings of big body kit cars making a come back. To be honest, this SW20 MR2 actually pulls its Veilside C-I body kit off rather well. I don’t think things like the Black Widow CRX kits will ever come back, but the higher quality ones that accent the factory bodywork do give me a nostalgic feeling. It reminds me of being in middle school and slipping a Modified Magazine inside of my Algebra textbook. My teacher always wondered why I loved math so much but never did well in the class.

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If body kits aren’t your thing, Doku’s Integra might be a bit more palatable. His car is a much more functional build with Kosei K1s, carbon fiber fenders and a high revving NA B-series build. Originally built for more illicit forms of motorsport, the car looks exceptional. Usually cars built for long trips to Mexico look like hell but Doku breaks the mold in that way.

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Alex Nelson was showing off his newly acquired set of Mugen CF-48s for his EC1 CRX. They were clad in 25 year old Yokohama A-008Rs, one of Yokohama’s highest performance tires of the mid-1990’s. While it’s cool to see those, they’re a bit of a relic so he is currently waiting on a set of JDM Yokohama Advan HF Type-Ds. If you’re not an old school tire nerd, Yokohama just started reproduction of their original Advan street performance tire a couple of years ago but they’re only sold in Japan currently.

Red EM1 Si

Another really good Honda at the show was Sean’s EM1, which has been around in Minnesota for a while. At first glance the car looks rather plain but when you look up close, you find all the extensive work that has gone into the car. It has been one of the better Honda show cars in terms of build execution and overall cleanliness for years now and Sean has had it for what must be the better part of a decade at this point. It looks like Sean has added a very meaty front tire setup, so maybe he has plans for some track time as well.

Datsun Z S30 Front

I honestly have no idea who owns this 280Z. It looks like it is still a work in progress but it already is looking excellent. The fiberglass air dam looks great and the paint is an older respray but it holds its luster well. Hopefully the owner has some exciting plans for it. This would break necks with a refinished front bumper and some Watanabes.

Infiniti Q45 Front

John Krueger never disappoints with his VIP builds. His Infiniti Q45 is a very traditional style and very well executed. He doesn’t bring his car out to everything and isn’t trying to prove anything either, he just builds cars for himself. He has an incredible eye for detail, note the reworked wheel arches and how they seamlessly blend into the doors and front bumper. This is a build that you could easily dismiss if you don’t know what you’re looking for and that might well be it’s best quality.

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Yeng from Kateng brought out this really cool Honda CB200 that he apparently owns. I’ve never seen it around before but it is a really good cafe racer build and it’s tiny displacement engine has an exhaust note that is akin to that of an extremely angry moped. Everyone builds big engine bikes but the smaller ones, I think, are a lot more exciting because you just never see them and, when well put together, they create quite the ruckus.

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Before I close out, I always do a few shots in the spectator lot just to toy with the settings I want to use during the show. This Element SC was pretty interesting. We don’t see too many Elements being built, but the big toaster is one of the few crossovers that can be cool if done right. It is also one of the few crossovers that you can get with a manual transmission and AWD.

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In California, so many people seem to be complaining about something or worried about some trite issue almost constantly, but in Minnesota, that just doesn’t really happen. Joey from the Chronicles nailed it, when he said that people are too busy trying to make a brand out of themselves. The differentiating factor that Minnesotans have, has something to do with the camaraderie that we have. We know that were all in the same boat and we’re living in the “wrong state” for our lifestyles.

Toyota Celisor Night

Minnesota is far from the wrong state to be a car enthusiast, we do more than just fine and when everyone else losing their minds, we are thriving. The perspective gained when comparing how we operate as a whole to how other states operate is profound. When everyone else is in a rat race, we’re just out having a good time and loving cars the way we were intended to, with friends, family, food and good beer. Our community is excellent and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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.

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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.

 

EVENT: Cars and Crafts June 2019

Cars and Crafts has been one of our favorite shows since they started the monthly summer series. Their June 2019 show was no different, the quality of cars, the quality of the crowd and the location, were all batting 100. It seems all too often that an excellent show series exists for maybe a season or two then disappears, either they grow too big or the crew dissolves. It’s clear to see that Drive Cartel has no plans to go anywhere but up and their crew has the talent to take their shows as far as a show can go.

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Cars and Crafts has been one of our favorite shows since they started the monthly summer series. Their June 2019 show was no different, the quality of cars, the quality of the crowd and the location, were all batting 100. It seems all too often that an excellent show series exists for maybe a season or two then disappears, either they grow too big or the crew dissolves. It’s clear to see that Drive Cartel has no plans to go anywhere but up and their crew has the talent to take their shows as far as a show can go.

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The only issue is that as the show went on, people began to taper off and Drive Cartel had to scramble to fill holes in the lot. Of course this wasn’t something that Drive Cartel could have planned for and they handled it really well. If this show was held at a massive location, like Canterbury, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue because 5-10 cars leaving out of 200 cars really isn’t a big deal, at a show of 40 cars or so, then it is suddenly 25% of the show that has left. Drive Cartel does a wonderful job of replenishing cars but they can only plan for so much. There ends up being half a dozen spots open in the show while cars like this S13 are still rolling into spectator parking.

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There were tons of cars that could have used those spots and many of them did. In a brief stroll to get my tripod, I spotted a really well built TRD kitted T230 Celica, Wa Lee’s unbelievable CE1 Accord, just about every Evo 8-9 in the state and probably the coolest E110 Corolla I’ve ever seen in my life. Most of these cars weren’t perfect but some were totally worthy of sitting in the main show and, although Drive Cartel was able to track down a few of the owners, most of these just sat in spectator parking until the end of the show.

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With the exception of people leaving so early, the show was excellent. Somehow Drive Cartel is able to get unique cars to come out of the woodwork, the regulars were there but there were also some builds I had never even seen. Those regulars to the Cars and Craft series had some pretty noticeable improvements as well. That’s the unique thing about the midwest versus places like the west coast, we get these massive changes to cars where as in California, you might see a different lip, then a different set of wheels and it just seems like watching paint dry.

Tony Yang EF1

A perfect example of this is Tony Yang, one of the admins over at the MNEF club, who has one of my favorite cars in Minnesota. His EF sedan build has been a slow build over the last few seasons, but I honestly prefer that over these cars that are assembled over a winter, come out and kill it for one or maybe two seasons before disappearing off the face of the Earth. For 2019 Tony has added clear tails, a paint matched center garnish and some really mean Work Meister S1 2-piece wheels that really set his car over the top. Maybe a 5 speed swap with a B17, or something goofy like that, will be next.

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Brian Jannusch of Top Rank, another Drive Cartel regular, brought out his latest R32 GT-R for sale. A rare halogen headlamp equipped model with an R34 engine swap. The R34 RB26DETT may put out the same amount of power as the R32’s original RB26DETT did, but it does so in a much more reliable and consistent manner. More importantly, it was equipped with a set of hyper rare TE37 wheels with a rose gold finish, naturally Jana lost her mind when she saw this. With what seems like half of the R32 GTRs ever made already in the United States, unique variants like this are what is needed to set the cars apart.

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This EG Civic was one of my favorite builds on this chassis in Minnesota in a while. It’s a simple build as it takes the standard Honda formula with a gutted interior, JDM bits and an engine swap but it puts them together into an excellent package. EGs used to be swarm meets like mosquitoes in Minnesota but after 30 years of rust and theft, what were once thought disposable are now fetching nearly the price they were sold for when new. It is good to see them at shows though, there hasn’t been a subcompact that nailed it this well since the 96-00 generation Civic was discontinued.

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Speaking of cool subcompacts, this Leyland Mini Clubman was a great example of one of the rarest Mini variants. Complete with Lucas electronics and the 1969 facelifted front end, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the little car. These cars are a rabbit hole of interesting variants, maybe we will talk about them in a future article.

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There were a lot more American cars in show this time than usual, a couple of donk Camaros and Mustangs were in the show for its entirety. The coolest American car, and likely coolest car outright, wasn’t even a car, rather it was this Dodge Lil’ Red Express truck. Fun fact, this was actually the fastest American vehicle from 0-100 MPH when it was for sale in 1978. Dodge took the muscle car formula and put it into a truck since there was an emissions loophole that didn’t force catalytic converters and EGR systems onto trucks back then.

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Keeping on the topic of fast American cars, this Grand National was at the show. It looks like just about every Grand National ever made but this one used to be one of the quicker street cars back in the day, I’m glad to see that it’s still around. Of course here at Carbitrage we would never condone street racing, but if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

S30 V81

Last year I spotted this S30 at Cars and Crafts but I wasn’t able to get any reasonable pictures of it due to a consistent 14 person mob around it. I usually hate V8 swapped S30s but the Mad Max bug catcher, twin carb setup and HUGE old school roots supercharger make this look like something that could have been in that first Mad Max movie, which is shorthand for absolutely positively rad. It also has that 70s muscle car rake to it with raised letter tires on some steel oval track wheels which really drive the whole look of the build home.

Blakes NA Miata BRG2

Blake Hummelgard’s Miata came out with a few small improvements this year, it didn’t really need anything except he finally got a color matched hardtop. This car is a great example of how to build a Miata. It’s purposeful but with enough flare that it doesn’t blend in with the other 1,000,000 Miatas on the road.

BMW2002

This SR20 swapped BMW 2002 has been around for a few years now, it’s cool to see it shows catering more to the import community. It seems like for the first few years, the only place that I would see it was at muscle car shows like Street Nationals at the State Fair Grounds. The 2002 is up there for one of my favorite European chassis of all time.

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John Krueger and his husband Patrick now have twin Miatas, while Patrick has a Rocket Bunny widebody on his, John is rocking a seriously cool old school Bomex kit. John and Patrick have always built some really cool cars and I’m excited to see this Miata as John builds it. Part of me wishes we could fast forward like 5 years until early 2000s bodykits make a full comeback but I also want to start perusing Craigslist to find still intact kits and start hording them for when they go up in value.

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This VIP Lexus GS400 doesn’t have the best picture ever taken, I have to apologize for that, but when I first saw it during the daytime I didn’t think it had anything fresh done to it. Then at night, I took a closer look and noticed that I was sorely mistaken.

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Look at that headliner! LED lights embedded in the headliner to look like a night sky. Usually I think VIP cars are a bit much and yet all too cookie cutter at the same time, then I see something like this and have to throw my hands in the air and say that I was wrong. I wonder if this is based off any actual night sky star map, where is Neil DeGrasse Tyson when I need him?

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Drive Cartel continues to have the best shows in the state of Minnesota, everything they manage to produce is world class quality and could compete with anything you find in California, Chicago or down south. If you haven’t had a chance to go to Cars and Crafts, you’re missing out, check out the next show July 6th at Saint Paul Brewing.

 

 

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.

What’s the deal with the Toyota Celica Supra? #BTT80s

Today cars from the 80’s like these are getting their legs in the larger collector market. For someone who wants an 80’s era GT car that has an inline six and has been thoughtfully designed to be a 2+2, it’s extremely hard to look past the MA61 Celica Supra. Yet not everyone is familiar with the Celica Supra, we have to ask, what’s the deal with the Toyota Celica Supra?

What's the Deal with the Celica Supra

We are partnering with Back to the 80’s for a series about iconic cars from the 1980s, these will be longer form versions of the short descriptions on the Back to the 80’s- MN facebook group. To find all of these posts search for the BTT80s tag on our site.

Back when I was a teenager playing Gran Turismo 4 and Forza Motorsport 2, I discovered a beautifully boxy 80s sports car called a “Celica Supra”. For years I had longed for one and I finally when I was 18, a 1985 Toyota Celica Supra P-Type ended up in my parents driveway. It immediately got gapped by a BB6 Prelude in a street race, then it developed no shortage of electrical issues and I eventually sold it at a loss. With the exception of one random Hmong guy in uptown who was gleefully unaware of how terrible it was, everyone thought I was a lunatic for buying that car. They might have had a point too, that was a truly terrible car. Plus retro-80’s cars weren’t en vogue yet outside of the Japanese classic car community, so it was completely stagnant in value, however I loved that car regardless of how stupid it was.

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Today cars from the 80’s like these are getting their legs in the larger collector market. For someone who wants an 80’s era GT car that has an inline six and has been thoughtfully designed to be a 2+2, it’s extremely hard to look past the MA61 Celica Supra. Yet not everyone is familiar with the Celica Supra, we have to ask, what’s the deal with the Toyota Celica Supra?

Celica vs Supra

The first question, inevitably will be, what’s with the Celica Supra name? Wasn’t there the Celica AND the Supra? If you’re sensing a “yes, but…” coming then you’re correct. Yes, there was a Celica and, yes, there was a Supra but the Supra was originally a sexier high displacement GT cruiser variant of the Celica.

Mark I Celica Supra 1978-1981

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This all started in April of 1978 when the A40 generation of Celica needed a GT variant to help it move up market. While Datsun had moved from the sports car S30 280Z to the hefty S130 280ZX GT car, and even Honda had a Prelude that it was developing that would appeal to both sports car fans and GT car fans, the Celica was still very much so a sports-first car. Needing a GT car to compete, Toyota made the most 1970’s vehicle they’ve ever made.

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Toyota took the Celica liftback, stretched the front of it to be just over 5 inches longer and placed an inline 6 under the hood. The specific engine they used changes between markets, the Japanese market got the 2.0L M-EU engine and we received the 4M-E, regardless you weren’t seeing much more than 120 HP out of either engines. It’s the malaise mind you, and regardless of what side of the ocean you were on, it was in full effect.

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The Celica Supra in Japan originally had a completely different name, the Celica XX. In America however, the rating for films not suitable for children was X and the terms XX and XXX were often applied for softcore and hardcore porn respectively speaking. In hindsight, having a car with a name that means “not suitable for children” was huge publicity just left on the table, but at the time Toyota decided that the Supra would be a significantly better naming convention. So it would be, Toyota went on to create a big fluffy GT car that was strangled by the malaise and had a name that borderlined on pornographic, what could be more late-70’s than that?

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The sports package of course is the peak of malaise coolness. It added some spoilers and tires with raised lettering, but no additional power was found. Yes, the first generation Celica Supra wasn’t much of a standout performer, but to be frank in 1980 even a Corvette wasn’t much of a performer then, so it fit in perfectly during the malaise. Eventually by the end of it’s run there were some standout trim levels but the standard 4-cylinder Celica was still Toyota’s motorsport golden boy.

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This doesn’t mean that the first generation Supra doesn’t have it’s appeal. Due to it’s living in the shadows of every other car to hold the Supra name, it is a great platform for Japanese classic car tuners to start shakotan projects with. It is also available for pennies on the dollar of most other cars of the mustache era and they’re as reliable as the sunrise.

Mark II Celica Supra 1982-1986

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This would all change, however, with the second generation Celica Supra in 1982. It launched with a 145 HP engine but eventually grew to 178 HP in American guise. Not only did it have as much power standard as the best of the previous generation came with but the new 5M-GE engine was purely a product of the 1980s. The wide valve angle cylinder head, timing belt driven dual camshafts and electronic fuel injection were on the cutting edge of technology for the era. The engine also featured variable assist power steering, while parking it would be lighter to steer and more responsive once moving.

1985; Toyota; Supra

Once the engine had sent it’s power to the transmission, it was met with either a 5 speed manual transmission or a 3 speed automatic transmission that was computer controlled and offered a normal power delivery mode or a power mode which allowed faster acceleration and locked the torque converter. Naturally, the manual was the one to get though. Once power left the transmission it then fed into another wonderful piece of technology, a standard equipment limited slip differential.

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The powertrain wasn’t alone for being at the peak of technology in 1982, the car as a whole came loaded with a ton of tech for the era. 8-way manually adjustable seats, headlight washers, a 5 speaker stereo with graphic equalizer, handheld corded map light, automatic climate control and heated sideview mirrors came on the car. There was an optional trip computer that would calculate your fuel economy as well. Sure a trip computer is pretty simple but the additional features were the real wizz-bang tech of this option. You could enter the distance you would be traveling and it would tell you how close you were to your destination and give you an estimated time until arrival based off of average vehicle speed. In an era that predated GPS, this was the world’s first navigation computer. Now you could officially tell when you’re lost, the future was now.

L vs P type

While Japan got a litany of trim levels, in America it was much simpler, there were two body styles of the Celica Supra available. You could get either a narrow body L-Type Supra, meant to satisfy the Japanese-market size limitations but sold here as a more luxurious model or the performance orientated P-Type with an absolutely radical widebody added on. The P-Type Supra’s wheels were another marvel. While the standard L-Type wheels were a rather plain 14×5.5, the P-Type came with a girthy 14×7 or 15×6 wheel option. These still are on lists of the coolest factory wheels of all time. In 1982 though, a 225 mm wide tire was something to behold, even a Ferrari 308 GTB only had a tire that wide in the back.

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The 225 mm wide tires were aided by a fantastic suspension setup as well, MacPherson struts sat at every corner with an independent rear suspension design. That design was aided in development by Lotus, just one of Lotus and Toyota’s many stellar collaborations. The suspension is just on this side of soft with your typical 1980’s era body roll, it is a GT car after all. While its comfortable, it still does handle exceptionally well for a car of the era. It can keep up in the corners with any of it’s competitors, yet still keep it’s composure over your typical terrible river road surface quality. As good as it is, there is a lot of handling left on the table for an enthusiast with a wrench. Stiffer springs and dampers, a lower ride height and a fat sway bar in the rear does wonders to tighten up the handling of these cars.

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The engine also left performance to be unlocked, Japanese performance tuner HKS was able to get this engine to a rumored 600 HP and was able to surpass the 300 KPH (187 MPH) barrier soon after introduction in 1983. The power came from the same 5M-GE that you could find in any Supra but heavily modified. A balanced low compression rotating assembly was added with 2 mm wider pistons and the cams were switched out for a set of 300 degree units. The EFI system was ditched in lieu of a set of modified Solex 44 mm carburetors complimented by twin Garrett T04B turbos with an intercooler.

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Once an aerodynamic body kit was added on, HKS took the car to Yatabe test circuit and laid down a scorching 301.25 KPH. To grasp the importance of how blistering fast this was in 1983, there had only been a single street legal car that was able to break 300 KPH at Yatabe prior to HKS. That was a heavily modified DeTomaso Pantera built by GA Mitsunaga with mostly NASCAR and Cam-Am parts. Yatabe has been the defacto speed testing facility for decades in Japan and this was the first time a Japanese make ever was able to achieve this speed.

1982 Toyota Celica

The Celica that was the basis of the Mk2 Supra wasn’t a terrible car either. Power was supplied by a 22R-E 4-cylinder engine which, while slow, was endlessly reliable. The chassis came in hatchback or coupe form with ASC making convertible models under contract for Toyota as well. The headlights when turned off were flush with the grille but would move upright once turned on. This changed in the 1984 model year when the Celica got fully retractable headlights which really brought the front end of the car together. While the Supra was able to contend for touring car victories around the world, the 4 cylinder Celica also had a notable racing pedigree in group B rally racing with 6 victories at Cote D’Ivore and the Safari Rally and several other wins in lower classes.

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The Celica Supra name finally ended in the second half of 1986 with the arrival of the third generation Supra. That generation introduced the world to the Supra Turbo, the 7M-GTE’s 276 HP was able to blow away the old 5M’s output and it’s racing pedigree dwarfed the older NA car’s racing history in every way. It was everything the Celica Supra was and more, with a single exception, the 7M-GTE was marred by headgasket issues. These issues were from improper head bolt torque but once fixed, they’re stellar cars in their own right.

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Today the Celica Supras are a bargain of a car, having been overshadowed by their turbocharged descendants since their conception in 1986. The Mark II Supra’s 5M engine and W58 manual transmissions are bulletproof reliable, even if they’re not the fastest thing in the world. If you need more power though, Toyota’s venerable JZ engine family swaps into the Mark II Supra with minimal effort. If you want to keep the originality of the car though, the standard 5M engine is completely adequate and you can still find plenty of vintage performance parts floating around on the internet from Trust exhaust manifolds to HKS turbo kits. Not that power matters though because with the amount of rear end squat you get when on the throttle, you will swear you’re going lightspeed so long as you don’t look at the speedometer.

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