If you’re looking for high-powered GT-Rs and the like, Mooneyes shows are probably not for you. The cars you find at a typical Mooneyes event celebrate the art of customization, whether it’s on kei cars or commercial trucks. The vehicles here less about racing than about cruising, but they are all in some way interesting.
The typical Mooneyes show car takes a customization style from a certain era and place and applies it to a blank canvas of a car. As is often the case, that style is from 1950s or 1960s America applied to a Japanese car, like this white-walled, side-piped Mitsubishi Debonair.
Mooneyes is probably most famous for its Moon Disc wheel covers, invented in the 1950s and used to streamline hot rodders as they went for land speed record runs on dried-out lake beds. Of course, they soon became popular on all types of cars, lead sleds to muscle cars to even a Mitsubishi Minica kei car.
Because of the company’s roots in both southern California and Japan, you get a perfect storm of east-meet-west coast culture. A Mazda Porter is interesting enough on its own; one with a kei-sized chin spoiler, NASCAR window net and an arsenal of gauges is doubly so.
Anything goes, whether it’s a 430 wagon that mixes poverty spec headlights with a VIP bumper, or a Toyota Soarer donk whose trunk opens straight up into the air. There’s the sense that the owners are just having a bit of fun and exhibiting a slightly twisted sense of humor.
This is what has become known in Japan as the Mooneyes style, a Japanese car, lowered and with Mooneyes Speedmaster wheels. The rim design is based on the Halibrands that were popular on 1960s muscle cars, but Mooneyes re-created them with lug patterns and fitment for Japanese cars.
The Mooneyes crowd also has a fondness for the mundane. What was once a Mitsubishi 360 delivery van exudes Showa charm a-plenty when dropped on vintage two-piece wheels.
At most car shows, you’d see a fleet of twin-cammed, shakotan’ed TE27s itching for a street fight. At Mooneyes, the E20 sedan is king. Re-barreled steelies and a chassis-coded vanity plate prove it’s not just a hey-I-found-this-old-car-let’s-slam-it car. Somebody loves it.
While the focus remains on 1960s and 1970s cars, sometimes there are modern cars that are intriguing for their rarity. The Autozam Carol Melody was Mazda’s answer to Nissan’s Pike Cars such as the Figaro and Pao. There are many kei cars that have this general hatchback shape, but the Carol is notable for its massive side windows and a slight bump in the rear that looks like a vestigial trunk. With rolled beads in its sheetmetal, an asymmetric lower grille and chrome bezel headlights, it had enough retro touches to garner a small cult following.
I’m personally a big fan of the unmolested body but low-down suspension style. I’m an even bigger fan of wagons. I’m a borderline obsessive fan of stepped high-roof wagons. They’re even better when they has stock wheels that don’t destroy the wheel arches.
The Suzuki Mighty Boy stands in a class of one. The kei ute is a favorite among automotive otaku for its prodigious amount of quirk. What looks like a slapdash these-were-just-sitting-in-around-in-the-garage addition of TOM’s Igeta wheels was actually carefully chosen, as the front fender sports painted flares to match the offset.
One of the most obscure Japanese tuning styles hails from the US, but most Americans have likely never heard of it. 1970s and 80s Hawaiian style saw Japanese cars raked for drag racing, equipped with American speed shop parts and KC lights. If there’s a roof rack, it’s for your board. Today, it’s likely there are more Japanese disciples of this style than American ones.
For some, understatement is the key. It’s not so much about making a statement that it is about capturing the era. A 130 Cedric on slot mags that looks like it came straight from the Seibu Keisatsu set, or a 230 Cedric sedan on skinny black steelies both fit right in.
Remember that episode of The Simpsons when Homer designed a car named after himself? Well there was an actual truck called the Nissan Homer in Japan, and it was quite a bit more successful than the Simpsons-mobile. This one’s survived in surprisingly good condition, so naturally it’s been lowered and slapped with a wheel and tire setup from a 1960s street machine.
Now you would think that a JZA80 Supra would seem out of place at a show like this, and you’d be right, normally. This Supra, however, has been customized with the livery of Carroll Shelby’s SCCA 2000GT. It even has custom wheels that resemble the 2000GT’s! And of course, the lack of a giant spoiler makes it even more appropriate.
Some modern USDM hipster can be found as well. If its plate is to be believed, the E10 Corolla wagon it belongs to has been continually registered in the same area since it was new. The roof rack and slam, however, are likely more recent additions.
This year a special section of the show was reserved for the Crown Classics reunion. A sub-show within a show, it was a tribute to the OG Japanese sedan (and its ute, wagon and coupe counterparts).
Festooned with grille badges dating back to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the S40 Crown is quite a stately machine.
Don’t let this fool you. A few workhorse Crowns may have survived, but they are still exceedingly rare in Japan.
Others did not survive unscathed.
Though extreme, a 1950s lead sled-style S40 Crown says all there needs to be said about the cross-cultural bridge that Mooneyes has built. Side pipes, flames, whitewalls, and even custom fender skirts. It’s not my cup of tea, but it’s cool that something like it even exists.
The Owner Special was a mid-grade trim level for the S50 Crown. Not quite the Owner Deluxe, but better than the S. This ojisan-spec sedan is achingly cool, and even comes with its own parking helper.
We’ve seen this MS65 at other shows before but it’s one of the our favorites, a white whale with a blue belly. The color combo is simply perfect.
Technically the S130 wagons are too new to fall under the Crown Classics banner, but they are very much part of the Mooneyes cabal. The lowered fire department car is pretty much the most badass wagon we’ve ever seen.
Another show within a show was the Hilux Day section, filled with bone stock beauties, off-roaders and mini-trucks that look to be straight out of South Central.
One Hilux that deserves special mention is a 2WD regular-cab shortbed. It was imported from the US, and it’s easy to see why. It looks like it just rolled out of a 1980s Toyota showroom.
Others, however, have a bit more patina. Once again, slap a set of Speedmaster wheels and you’ve got a Mooneyes special.
Though not part of the Hilux section, indestructible Toyota trucks are still welcome. Custom painted with a distinct retro colorway, the two-tone with matching steelies would look just as proper on a tail-finned American barge. An interesting but unforgettable choice.
You thought Nissan Skylines were cool with four afterburner taillights? The B210 Sunny Excellent had six! It is a tragedy that this pinnacle of kaiju-inspired styling never made it to the US.
Not to be outdone, the Mitsubishi Debonair Executive sports eight individual taillight elements. We could do without the bullet center caps but otherwise, finished in all black with whitewall tires and a frame-scraping drop, this would make a superb cruiser.
The amount of chrome used on top-trim A30 Glorias is rather impressive. One can totally imagine the tateguro as the ride of choice for a 1960s Japanese G-man.
We end on what is one of the coolest Coronas we’ve ever seen. De-bumpered, caged, and lowered on some no-nonsense black steelies, it evokes 1960s Toyota works cars with a vengeance. Everything about it, from its single-stage off-white-and-green paint to the placement of the decals screams Showa Era racer. It’s not a typical Mooneyes show car, but it just goes to show that even if you do find a slick machine that looks like it was built for the track, you can bet it’ll have some artistry about it.