Take a dollop American car kulture, filter it through the distance of 5,500 miles and 12 time zones, sprinkle in a dash of home grown Japanese cars, and you get the Mooneyes Street Car Nationals.
Though it started as a celebration of 1950s and 1960s Americana — the good, the bad and the ugly — trends in Japan have evolved the Street Car Nationals into something more. American cars of the era weren’t always easy to get or keep in Japan, so people began applying the styles of Dean Moon and Ed Roth to Japanese cars.
In the past, cars like an S50 Crown with a vinyl top and a matching contour stripe, white line tires and wheels that were probably intended for a 5-lug Ford would dominate the show.
Even the most Japanese of sedans, the kujira Crown, would grow white-letter radials, round fender mirrors, and a pinstripe.
The USDM otaku’s dream car would have, naturally, park bench bumpers, faux wood paneling, a roof rack. and chromed slot mags. Note the extent of the conversion here, as the car is a RHD domestic, not a re-patriated Datsun B210.
Nowadays, though, the trend has expanded to newer cars and styles as well. Take this entry-trim-level Corolla. If this was the US, you’d expect to see something like this trundling down Interstate 10 on bald tires, not at a car show. However, in this case the Corolla’s USDM side markers, bra hailing from the tail end of the Bra Era, and chrome wheels have all been carefully selected to evoke the most “normal” USDM ride a Japanese observer can imagine. Pretty spot on, we’d say.
In the same vein, this custom EF Honda Civic convertible simply screams 1980s Los Angeles, complete with questionable roof job, requisite ill-fitting bra, and 3-spoke chromies straight out of a two-page Super Street ad circa 1997.
Sometimes it almost seems as if Japan is trying to troll us with the ugliest rims affixable. After all, this is the land that came up with the itasha, or “painful car” concept, something that intends to cause actual suffering in car enthusiasts.
Luckily, wheels fall under JNC‘s “reversible mod” rule of thumb because this X30 Mark II is otherwise stunning.
Brightly painted wheels are now also a thing there.
Among USDM freaks, LHD cars are coveted. But unlike in the states, where RHD maniacs pursue only performance-oriented Silvias and GT-Rs, in Japan it’s often the most humble daily drivers that get imported. Take this beige Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickup with another odd wheel choice, for instance.
This repatriated LHD Datsun 810 wagon has been making the car show rounds in Japan for almost a decade. Favorite aspect? Its two-tone paint scheme.
There’s probably no greater concentration of clean AE86s in the world than in Japan, but someone still went through the trouble of finding a clean USDM hatchback to re-import.
More recently, thanks to a proliferation of “stanced” cars in the States, such cars are making appearances at the Street Car Nationals. Cars like this third-gen Prelude and custom Hiace pickup go beyond the clean shakotan look of traditional Japanese low-down cars, going instead for the most radical camber and wheel size one can imagine, functional or not.
In fact, many of the cars now don’t have any link to the rockabilly era that spawned hot rods, lead sleds and lowriders. It’s more about a Japanese interpretation of an American interpretation of Japanese car culture. It’s all about contrasting engine bays, re-barreled steelies and extended anodized lug nuts these days.
Ironically, just as more extreme drift-inspired AE86 builds are invading the Street Car Nationals, closer-to-stock Hachiroku are becoming more popular here in the US.
Some builds seem to be inspired by the recent explosion in popularity of the neo-bosozoku style championed by shops like Liberty Walk or Rocket Bunny.
Of course, sometimes by the time a trend crosses the Pacific it’s already passé in its homeland. Then again, bike racks had a shelf life of about three days, which is an entire fashion season on the Internet.
What we enjoy most about a Mooneyes show is the appearance of oddball cars that you don’t normally see at shows, even in Japan. Sometimes there simply isn’t a showcase for Daihatsu Mira or Suzuki Alto kei jidosha in more themed shows like the New Year Meeting or Nostalgic2Days. Mooneyes welcomes all.
Case in point: the Toyota Deliboy was a delivery vehicle introduced in 1989. Designed mainly for commercial use, after production ended in 1995 it gained a second life as a quirky, cult classic custom van. Of course, this only happened after most good examples were long used up.
The Mitsubishi Pistachio is one of the rarest Triple Diamond cars ever built. You could have them in any color you wanted, as long as it was Citron Yellow or Loire Green, and you worked for government agencies doing utility or environmental work. They were never sold to the public, and only 50 were made.
Mazda has made some of the best looking wagons in recent years, but you’d never know it because they haven’t been importing them to the US. Despite its SEMA-like customization, the beauty inherent in the second-generation Atenza (Mazda6) longroof is obvious.
Customized Crown wagons are the heart and soul of Mooneyes car shows. To us, anyway.
One of our absolute favorites was a M10 Nissan Prairie, sold briefly in the states as the Stanza Wagon. This one checks off all the otaku boxes — late-era fender mirrors, two-tone paint, and unconventional door configuration. Predating Lee Iacocca’s Chrysler minivan by two years, its sliding rear doors opened to reveal a cavernous, pillarless opening.
Look closely, however, and you will notice that this this is no ordinary FJ60 — it’s a FlexDream DF-Classic, an 80-series dressed up with a 60-series nose. FlexDream also makes a similar model based on the 100-series.
Last but not least, a couple of more traditionally Japanese shakotan Toyotas managed to sneak into the proceedings. Simple in their shiro paint jobs and racing wheels such as the Celica XX’s Longchamp XR-4s and the Z10 Soarer’s SSR mesh, there’s nothing like a straight-six 80s ‘Yota. Their forthrightness looked somewhat of place here, but fortunately there was a candy magenta Eclipse Spyder on chrome dubs beside them to even things out.