The Tokyo Auto Salon kicks off this weekend, and that means it’s time for the craziest builds the Japanese aftermarket has to offer. While gold-plated GT-Rs and VIP vans are still very much a part of it, looking past the glitz this year has revealed a slight shift towards the old school styles of Japan. But first, a preview.
One of the nuttiest builds this year was a chopped third-gen Nissan Caravan ambulance, built by Wiz Customs, known for their extreme creations like this Sunny truck from 2011. If you’re having a heart attack, this is probably the vehicle you want taking you to the hospital, as there appears to be a turbocharged SR20 located right under the gurney. Who knows, you may even get jolted back to life from just the ride. Be warned though, it says “Dengerous Ambulance” right there on the side.
You still can’t swing a fussa without hitting a VIP van, but in recent years love for all things USDM have meant that the ultimate swagger wagon is no longer a Toyota Alphard or Nissan Elgrand. The ultimate must-have is an imported Sienna, never officially sold in Japan by Toyota. Naturally, the proper thing to do is to slam with airbags and a VIP kit.
Of course, before the invasion of the VIP vans, traditional Japanese tuner cars like the Silvia dominated the floor. There are still some, but ones that aren’t decked out to the nines are rare. This year, the Silvia specialists at Spirit Rei brought out a 180SX dressed in their Miyabi aero kit. Though capitalizing on flares and flushness, the simplicity of the kit harkens back to the best of the early 90s heyday. No Japanese tuner would’ve dreamed of boasting about a Korean tire then, but times are a-changing. Miyabi means “elegant” or “graceful” in Japanese, perhaps a reference to those simpler times.
NATS is the Nihon Automobile Technical School, and can be relied on for churning out the wildest (and often the most hideous) creations at the Auto Salon each year. That can be forgiven, though, as the cars are more rolling canvases for students to hone their skills rather than any statement. Sometimes, they’ve looked like something straight out of a kaiju movie.
However, in recent years car-enthused youth have discovered a fondness for the bosozoku style that was en vogue long before they were of driving age. That affection was exemplified in an 810 Bluebird they built for this year’s Auto Salon. Can you imagine a school project that involves building an outlaw sled complete with velvet interior, cigarette holder, and an exhaust that looks like a giant cancer stick?
The motorsports of Japan get full exposure at the Auto Salon, and drifting is given top billing. Takahiro Ueno’s Tomei JZX100 Mark II is probably the coolest drift machine in D1GP right now, and sports a new livery that recalls the the early 2000s of the sports’ golden era.
SuperGT, an evolution of the JGTC, is still the most popular form of circuit racing in Japan. Gone are the R34 Skylines and Toyota Supras, replaced with GT-Rs and Lexuses and the world’s least environmentally friendly Prius.
As one of the most popular forms of transportation in Japan, for everyone from farmers to deliverymen, the kei truck is catnip for tuners. Most of these creations are just a way to get as wacky as possible — drift, retro and monster trucks — but the results are always interesting.
Automakers also use the Auto Salon to showcase some creative builds geared towards an enthusiast audience. One of our favorites this year is the Daihatsu Copen Shooting Brake, which uses the kei roadster‘s modular body panels to create an wonderful little two-door wagon. Not since the Nissan Pulsar NX has there been a car this cool and transformable.
N Lab created some fantastic customs based on Honda kei cars, like the Friendly 2 Seater Concept, which is a pickup truck based on the retro-styled Honda N-One. While not an official Honda concept, it almost looks like it could be. The minimalist wheel covers with the N-series logo are a beautiful touch, and we think everyone can agree that the world needs more wooden grilles.
N Lab also created the Honda S660 NeoClassic Concept, a temaki-roofed coupe based on the Honda S660 roadster. The description of the car, translated (very roughly) from Japanese, reads “State-of-the-art styling is not fashionable; it’s too cutting-edge and does not fit well around the scenery. Old-fashioned taste is new. This is a proposal of a vintage car lifestyle… traditional to young people who prefer the world of retro.”
Last but definitely not least, are the real vintage cars that are hidden amongst the insane builds. Cars like the Star Road Hakosuka are an oasis in the madness, and we’ll have more of the old school goodness in our next installment. To be continued…