There are many things to hate about Los Angeles, but its car culture isn’t one of them. As the trendsetting capital of the custom automobile, it holds the motorcar in such high regard that there’s a shrine to it located smack dab in the middle of the city. Located at the corner of the famed avenues of Wilshire and Fairfax, the Petersen Museum is featured just as prominently as galleries of art, natural history, and architecture along what’s known as “Museum Row.” And recently, the Petersen hosted its second-ever event dedicated to Japanese cars.
The museum earned its namesake from its founder, publishing baron Robert E. Petersen, who built an empire of magazines that included Motor Trend, Guns & Ammo, Tiger Beat and Sassy. However, the museum was erected to as his monument to the cars he held most dear — and the subject of the magazine that started it all — Hot Rod.
As such, we get the anachronistic mating of the terms “Japanese car” with “Cruise-In,” conjuring images of Toyopet Crowns and rollerskating girls at drive-in diners. For those of you above the age of 40, a cruise-in is what the kids are calling a “meet” or “#hardparking” these days.
In fact, the whole point of a Japanese car event was to draw a new generation of enthusiasts to the museum. It’s an idea that’s been brewing at the Petersen since at least 2012, and in actuality the venue couldn’t be more appropriate.
You see, not only is the Petersen Museum located in the heart of Los Angeles, but the city’s temple to the modified car is actually an old Seibu department store. Any travelers who have been to Japan will recognize the massive multi-story, usually train station-adjacent shops.
In 1962 Seibu opened a single US store, the first Japanese retail chain to set up shop on the continent. However, despite a much-publicized grand opening that drew 5,000 shoppers on its first day, it closed after two years. Where shelves of Japanese housewares once stood are now several stories of exhibition halls dedicated to America’s love affair with the car.
Currently the museum is undergoing a $125 million, 14-month renovation that will increase its square footage by 300,000. Nearly every inch of the exhibition space is undergoing assault by hardhat-clad crews, but the old Hitachi elevators installed by the building’s original owners will stay.
Amazingly, even with its closures the Cruise-In drew 500 cars to the Petersen’s four-story parking structure, its spiraling ramps evocative of Brian Tee’s sustained drifts in Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Highlights included an imported Toyota Soarer Aerocabin, a one-of-500 GT that boasted a folding metal roof back in 1989. Look for a JNC feature on this car soon.
Myron Vernis brought his ultra-rare Mazda R130 Rotary Coupe from Ohio to drive on the JNC Touge California that took place the day before. There probably could not be Japanese cars more different than a 1960s luxury coupe and a Wangan-demolishing JZA80 Supra, but the diversity of SoCal J-tin culture knows no bounds.
We were still rolling in the official Touge California support vehicle, a Sienna SE courtesy of Toyota USA that handled the mountain roads with aplomb and more. We thought it appropriate to park beside the VanKulture crew.
Mazda brought out a fleet of Miatas in preparation for the launch of the ND. We’d seen Soul Red and white before, but this time it was finished in a unique, very light gray hue called Ceramic Metallic. The Japanese name for it is Rainy Sky, and it will thankfully replace the often overused silver in the MX-5 palette.
Godizllas of of multiple generations flocked together in convenient chronological order.
Perhaps an even rarer sight, however, was three generations of Honda Prelude, including a converted droptop, parked together.
Perhaps most appropriate for a Japanese Cruise-In theme were a pair of traditional American cars powered by Nihon hardware. Kaizen Motorsports brought out a Plymouth Valiant powered by a Toyota 2JZ-GTE, the same engine found in the JZA80 Supra. Meanwhile, the Sportstar street rod was built by Boyd Coddington and contains a Lexus V8 under the hood.
Another Lexus V8 found a home inside an otherwise rather stock-appearing blue-plate A60 Celica gathered among 80s sport coupes. The ultimate sleeper?
As a fellow aficionado of the Cressida wagon, seeing another is always a delight, especially one so wickedly lowered.
However, far less common is the U11 Maxima wagon, and this one slammed on 280ZX wheels was lurking in the corner of a less traveled area of the Petersen garage.
One of the rarest specimens of J-tin was a well-worn Mazda 1200 pickup, with the face of a Familia but a bed out back and a 1.2L four-cylinder underhood. This is the first time we’ve seen one in the States.
Even a black-plate Nissan Patrol joined the festivities.
A 1968 Datsun 510 still unmolested stood alone. Being a very rare early model, we hope that the owner takes it through a proper restoration.
This Datsun 280ZX is owned by the Petersen Museum, the result of a donation. Beside it was a Lexus LFA and Matt Farah’s Million Mile Lexus.
Ten years ago an event like this would have drawn 90 percent Integras and Eclipses. Nowadays you can’t have a Japanese car anything without a slew of 240Zs, Celica Liftbacks or even a Hako or two. The once-forgotten J-tin of the greater Los Angeles area have come out of the woodwork and, at the former Seibu, come home to roost.