EVENTS: Petersen Museum Japanese Car Cruise-In

16_Nissan Datsun 510

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 TrendGuns & 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.

29_Toyota Supra A6042_Nissan Datsun 610 & 510 wagon

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.

26_Toyota AE8630_Datsun 510 Wagon & Honda Civic EF

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.

31_Nissan Skyline R32 & Datsun 510

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.

57_Mazda RX3 wagon27_Honda Civic EF & Nissan GTR R35

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.

37_Toyota Corona T80 & Mazda RX3 & RX717_Toyota AE86 & Scion FRS

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.

45_Nissan 350Z & Datsun 240Z58_Mazda R100

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.

05_Toyota Soarer Aerocabin

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.

11_Mazda Luce Rotary Coupe R130

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 surprised to notice a JNC inkan on the Supra, but those are indeed getting close to nostalgic status.

01_Toyota Sienna

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.

12_Mazda MX5 Miata

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.

25_Nissan Skyline R32 R33 R34

Godizllas of of multiple generations flocked together in convenient chronological order.

43_Honda Prelude

Perhaps an even rarer sight, however, was three generations of Honda Prelude, including a converted droptop, parked together.

09_Toyota Cressida X70 & Honda CRX

Made in the 80s, loved by the ladies.

19_Toyota 2JZ Plymouth Valiant

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.

07_Nissan 200SX S12 & Toyota A60 Celica08_Toyota Celica A60 1UZ

Another Lexus V8 found a home inside an otherwise rather stock-appearing blue-plate A60 Celica gathered among 80s sport coupes. The ultimate sleeper?

28_Toyota Cressida X70 Wagon

As a fellow aficionado of the Cressida wagon, seeing another is always a delight, especially one so wickedly lowered.

48_Nissan Maxima wagon

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.

61_Mazda 1200 pickup

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.

41_Nissan Patrol

Even a black-plate Nissan Patrol joined the festivities.

64_Nissan Datsun 510

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.

15_Nissan Datsun 280ZX

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.

10_Toyota Celica A20 Liftback 35_Nissan Skyline Hakosuka C10

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.

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18 Responses to EVENTS: Petersen Museum Japanese Car Cruise-In

  1. Ryan Senensky said:

    Hey that blue EF Hatch is Jonathan Wong’s from Honda Tuning/Super Street fame! I love that car!

  2. Mike McCarthy said:

    love the nissan s12

  3. Ryan Smith said:

    Great article! the history of the building was interesting also.

    • Ben Hsu said:

      Thanks! I wonder how many people actually read the words…

      • bert said:

        I happened to read all the words, thank you very much! Although, I can understand criticism, since those of us who can still read full sentences are becoming a rarity!

      • Hashiriya86 said:

        A lot of photos (specifically those that are hosted on wordpress) are blocked at work for me. I basically read on the computer and pull up the photos on my phone later.

      • Aaron Eusebi said:

        I have to agree with Ryan, I learned a few things from that article as well. It’s like ordering food, you choose with your eyes, but you don’t get the full satisfaction until you taste(read) it. Words are key, otherwise it’s just instagram.

      • Ben Hsu said:

        Ha, thanks guys. I’m glad the words aren’t wasted!

  4. bert said:

    I have a Grassroots Motorsports magazine with an article on that Valiant. It’s a very cool and interesting build, that all started with that old sacred saying “Use what you got!”

  5. alvin said:

    Ben, thanks for the coverage!
    Any chance of doing a feature on the blue S30 with Simmons’ wheels/flares?

  6. 🙁 no love for the spoon hatch. lol j/k
    thanks for the coverage.
    great pics for a great site. 😉
    also dig the hot wheels coverage you guys do from time to time.

  7. Oracles said:

    What lot of people don’t realize that this event was held the very next day of Touge California which ended at 10-10:30pm, therefor it is safe to say that JNC crew “Ben”
    and Mr. Myron would have 4-6 hr rest if that in between these events. I couldnt do it.

  8. Nigel said:

    Nice to see more than one Japanese car at the museum. When my wife and I visited the museum in 2013, to me the place seemed like like more than just a museum…

  9. John M said:

    Impressive turnout. I attended the one in 2013 and there was a great mix, but it only filled the top level. Definitely looked like a bigger turnout and another indicator of the strength of the current state of Japanese car enthusiasm.

    It will be interesting to see if more JNCs come out of the woodwork, get restored, or even get imported from Japan in the coming years.

    BTW, now I will forever hear the Seibu Keisatsu theme in my head whenever someone mentions the Petersen.

  10. Myron Vernis said:

    One of the most fun meets I’ve been to in years. Cool cars and great people. It was nice being the oldest guy at a car event for a change.

  11. KFD said:

    Third time for missing a show is a charm, I popped a brake line on my way to the show. Let’s hope my Celica makes it for JCCS!

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