Until now, the world of automotive-themed television shows has been pretty lackluster when it comes to Japanese cars. That’s all about to change with the Velocity Channel’s JDM Legends, titled after the Utah shop of the same name and premiering tomorrow, April 17. We interviewed shop co-founder Eric Bizek to get his insights on classic Japanese cars, what it takes to make a TV program, and what to expect on the show.
We at JNC have known Eric for a long time. We’ve featured JDM Legend’s cars on our site, hosted their cars in our booth at JCCS, and shared livery on Hot Wheels cars. The Salt Lake City-based shop was established about a decade ago, around the same time as JNC‘s founding, and we have watched each other grow over the years as appreciation for Japanese classic cars has expanded in the US.
As such, we were thrilled to hear that JDM Legends was getting its own show and representing the J-tin community to a national audience. However, we were also skeptical, having seen far too many misrepresentations of Japanese cars in mainstream media and plenty of car shows that offer little of value about the actual cars. This is not an indictment of Eric or his shop, but of producers and editors who might not be enthusiasts themselves. Our conversation with Eric addressed these concerns, and much more.
Like most of us, Eric’s first question was, “What is this show going to be about?” when producers pitched him the show idea. “I didn’t even have Velocity Channel. What I had seen was on TLC or Discovery, and those show were very scripted, with fake arguments and deadlines. We didn’t want to do that.”
One thing you should know about Eric is that he is a humble man. He doesn’t seek fame, and is perfectly happy working on cars every day. Despite the top-notch quality of JDM Legends’ builds, the shop is mostly a two-man operation, with Eric and restoration specialist Josh Martin doing the bulk of the work. Paint is outsourced to Mauricio Rosales, and Eric’s wife Naomi Perkins helps run the day-to-day aspects of the shop.
“Four different producers had called,” Eric told us. “A lot of these guys had no clue about the Japanese car scene or culture, they just wanted the show. I was absolutely not interested.”
Keep in mind, not all programs on a TV channel are produced in-house. Various small production companies pitch, create, and package shows and then sell them to the networks. Velocity had put out an APB for a show about Japanese cars, prompting production companies to scour the community for material.
“One of the ideas I got pitched was called Master and Apprentice, but I didn’t want to do that,” Eric said about the contrived premise. Eventually, a producer who seemed to be on the same page appeared. “Then the last guy came to me. This guy just wanted to be a fly on the wall.”
Still, Eric put it off for 10 months before agreeing to do it. “At the end of the day, they were going to do a Japanese car show about somebody,” he said. “It could have been West Coast Customs.” At least with JDM Legends, the right message would get out there.
“The whole idea, for me, is breaking the stigma that Japanese cars have from people outside the scene,” Eric explained. “It’s different than what the general public sees. The Fast and the Furious may have had a positive effect on the scene, but was done in a way that, I think most of can agree, is not the way the cars should be portrayed — gigantic exhausts, neon colors, big wings.”
What Eric wanted to convey was something we at JNC have long believed in: “For me, it was about the other side of the Japanese car world — keeping it tasteful, keeping it classic, and showing the mainstream audience a side they might not know about.”
As it turns out, the same company that Eric said yes to also produces the muscle car show Bitchin’ Rides, which is based on Kindig It Designs, located right down the street from JDM Legends. They were able to reassure Eric that they wouldn’t do anything he didn’t feel comfortable with.
Filming began in June 2017. “It was absolutely terrifying when we first started,” said Eric. “I’m not a public person, and I don’t want to be a spokesperson for this scene.” On a typical morning, Eric and Josh open the shop and turn on some music and get to work. “The first day on camera,” Eric noted, “We had to get mic’ed up and as a result had to turn the music off. So now we were working in dead silence.”
The number of people in the shop instantly doubled, with two to three camera and sound operators tracking Eric and Josh’s every move. “It’s really nerve-racking to be on camera for everything you do. You constantly think to yourself, ‘Are people going to think I’m doing this wrong?’ Being put under a microscope is not fun.”
The first season will span six episodes. Each one will consist of a main build and a few short segments unrelated to the primary car. Episode 01 will be a restoration on a 240Z, with a subplot about an imported AE86 that needed very little work. Future episodes will feature a Datsun 510, Hakosuka Skyline, DR30 Skyline, the Datsun 620 shop truck, the black Hot Wheels RX-7, and a visit to JCCS.
If you’re wondering why your favorite car was not on the list, it’s because this season consisted simply of what the shop had in its workload. “I was hoping to see more variety, but they don’t pay us to do this,” Eric clarified. “It’s about what’s coming through the doors right now. An Isuzu Bellett GT-R doesn’t get appreciated [in the US] the way it should.”
Filming is still going on right now. They’re up to episode 05, and the reveal for that is scheduled for this Wednesday, the day after the premiere. Eric gave us an example of how quickly things can change in production. “The last build was supposed to be frame-up restoration, but the car was purchased from auction, and as we got into it we realized it had seven to eight layers of paint and hundreds of patches. We realized we were never going to finish this car in the time we had, so we changed to a Skyline GT-R that spun a rod bearing. It was an S20 motor, and we’re going to be filming right up to the week before the last episode.”
The camera crew is in the shop four days a week, but it simply isn’t possible to get everything on film, or pause work to wait for the crew. “Sometimes the best and most intensive work happens when they’re not here,” Eric mentioned.
Eric holds high standards in both the cars he builds and what he wants the show to represent. There are certain colors, motor swaps, and wheels he won’t do, no matter how much the customer offers. Similarly, there are things he won’t do on camera. For example, the promo spots you may have seen were made by a different production company, and during filming, they wanted Eric to face the camera and declare, “It takes a legend to build a legend.” He wisely refused.
On other occasions, he had to compromise. “They have to make a story out of it, so we do customer reveals. Sometimes, they want to go to a different location, so it’s not in the shop where we would normally do it,” Eric explained. “But I told them, every time the grinder comes out we don’t need the rock guitar.”
There is a limit to how much control any one person can have in the production. “We do what do in the shop, but once it goes in the edit room, it’s out of my hands,” Eric admitted, “And those guys aren’t necessarily car people.” For every 60 minutes of footage, only two minutes makes it on air. “When you condense several months of work into 45 minutes, and it has to look smooth, a lot is lost, but you just have to do your best and be okay with the fact that some things may not be what you want them to be.”
Eric says one of the biggest surprises is what it cost to do the show. The producers paid him for shop usage, or time lost, but he estimates that ultimately the shop will be in the hole. “They basically treat it like, ‘Here’s $300,000 of free advertising.'” I didn’t think it would be quite as intrusive as it was, but at the end of the day, I hope it’s more exposure for the shop.”
Nothing about a second season has been determined yet. Velocity is probably waiting to see how the show does, but it’s up to Eric as well. “It comes down to whether they, or we, want to do it. There’s no way having sound and camera guys in the shop four days a week isn’t going to be a hindrance,” he conceded. The show has put a big impact on the shop, and it’s been physically and mentally draining. It’s taken a lot out of me.”
The show is new ground for Velocity Channel, but they need it. According to Eric, the median age of Velocity viewers is is 60 years old. JDM Legends’ median market is 25 to 35. We at JNC have enjoyed a more youthful audience as well, as most of our readers were born later than the cars we cover. Velocity needs younger eyeballs, and hopes that a show about Japanese classics will bring them in.
We asked Eric what he wanted people to take away from the show. “We want to show people really cool stuff, what we’re into, and in a way that’s classic,” he replied. “I want for people to have respect for cars from Japan. You see these Alfa guys, but they have the mentality that Japanese cars are beneath them. Hopefully this is where people see what we see — the heritage, performance, and that they can be tasteful.”
Eric closed our interview on a more personal note. “I never wanted to be the spokesperson, I’m probably not the best person to do it, but I only who I am. We’re not perfect, we make mistakes, but hopefully people see the build process and can have a glimpse of what goes on in our shop.” He continued, “Josh and I might not be the funniest or interesting guys on TV. But, if this show is interesting to you it’ll be because of the cars we build. We never want to lose sight of why we did this in the first place — because we just like to work on cars.”
JDM Legends premieres on Velocity Channel on April 17. Check your local listings for times. For those who don’t have a cable subscription, it will also be available on Motor Trend‘s on-demand app, which has a 14-day trial subscription and costs $4.99 per month afterwards.
Images courtesy of JDM Legends.