SEMA 2017: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As the largest trade event for custom cars in the US, possibly the world, SEMA can serve as a showcase for innovation and creativity, sometimes giving a spotlight for bloody knuckled backyard builds to shine. The flip side, though, is that SEMA’s high profile pressures talented craftsmen into pouring cash into cars whose sole purpose is to clothesline your eyeballs into submission and collect clicks for some up and coming brand. Is there anything more depressing than a “SEMA build”?

Luckily, most of the JNCs at SEMA were built first, then discovered for display because they represented a passion for the car, not a passion for the show itself. Here are some highlights (and lowlights) of the big shindig in Vegas. Continue reading


SEMA 2017: An unmolested Toyota MR2 gave us the strength to carry on

Dearest Martha,

As I took respite to pen this letter, I wondered if I would return from war the same man I was when I left home. SEMA is hell, my love. It has been just two days, but it feels like fortnights have passed. A fellow soldier nearly lost his leg from a surprise attack by a cursed foe and his mobility scooter mount. Supplies are scarce and dwindle by the hour, leaving us victim to highway bandits who would dare charge eight Union dollars for a frankfurter.

We have endured wastelands of misshapen composites, towering pickups taller than they are wide, and wheels so grotesquely oversized it’s a wonder the wagons they are affixed to can move at all. I trembled on the brink of abandoning all hope until we saw it, and it bestowed upon us the strength to carry onward: a virgin AW11 MR2.  Continue reading


QotW: Tell us your most challenging “reach”

SEMA has some magical vehicles on display. Even more magical are the clean, eat-off-the-floorpan quality restorations. I’d say most of us are not privy to that level of pristine. For most of us, we spend countless nights wrenching to get a JNC back up on its feet. But, sometimes, we have that one bolt, that one clip that is so easy to see, but impossible to reach. I want to know about your experience:

Tell us your story of a difficult reach while trying to repair or diagnose your JNC.

My own tale involves the same engine pictured above (but not my ride). It was my first engine swap. I just got the head back from the machine shop, put it back on and torqued all the head studs, just installed the headers and intake and finally the valve covers. But I had an extra water jacket in the corner of the shed. Oops. I spent three hours trying to tighten two 10 mm bolts on the back of the head. The gap between the head and the firewall was about half as thick as my flat hand. I had to make the “scissor” motion with my fingers while holding a wrench and only getting 1/32 of a turn at a time. To add more stress to the mix was a plastic vacuum sensor with 2 brittle nipples on the end. As I got one bolt secure enough to hopefully not leak, one of those vac nipples snapped when it got clocked by my thumb… Words were exchanged between me and that water jacket. Many words. On my fourth rebuild, I still have that same head minus all the vac lines and that water passage where the jacket would have bolted up to is now welded shut.

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “JNC Battle! NSX vs SupraContinue reading


SEMA 2017: Datsun is the new “it” marque

Despite brief surges in sport compacts, drifting, VIP, and other trends from the land of the rising sun, SEMA is still mostly an American car show. If we had to put a number on the resto modded muscle cars pushing 1,000 horsepower, lifted pickups, and acres of new Camaro/Mustang/Challengers, we’d say it was 85 percent of the show. This year, however, we noticed a trend. There were Datsuns among them.  Continue reading


SEMA 2017: Into the Badlands star Daniel Wu’s Datsun 510

One of the standout cars at SEMA was a 1972 Datsun 510 sitting in the Toyo Tires Tread Pass section. Though owned by a celebrity — Into the Badlands star Daniel Wu — that’s hardly the most interesting thing about it. In a show full of carbon fiber excess and House of Kolor assaults on the senses, it was an honest, no-nonsense build in the five and dime tradition. Continue reading


SEMA 2017: Toyota brings fifteen Camrys to world’s biggest tuner show

We’re not sure if Toyota is trolling the entire aftermarket community, but Japan’s largest carmaker basically filled their entire SEMA display with nothing but Camrys. There were no tricked out Toyota 86s, lifted Land Cruisers, or slammed Siennas. Nope, just fifteen family sedans, including a lineup of every generation sold in America (the newer end of which looked like every Sunday afternoon parking lot in the San Gabriel Valley). The purpose of the collection seemed to be in support of the all-new 2018 Camry. Go forth and tune it, I guess.  Continue reading


SEMA 2017: Jun Imai debuts his widebody Datsun Z

Five years ago, we watched as the pink slip of a dusty blue 1974 260Z was signed over to Jun Imai. It appeared as if attempts to turn it into something greater had been cut short, leaving a car that was neither stock nor carefully modified. If you had told us then that the tired Z would one day be a SEMA Show booth car, we would’ve bet good money against it.  Continue reading


Tokyo Motor Show: Daihatsu brought the wrong Compagno

Daihatsu’s booth at the Tokyo Motor Show was the only one that had any sort of nostalgia factor. They even brought out a classic Midget and classic Compagno to sit prominently on stage beside the concepts they inspired. Unfortunately for the latter, they brought the wrong car.  Continue reading


Happy Halloween from JNC

What’s the first rule of entering a dark garage with a classic car? Don’t go in there alone. Happy Halloween from JNC!


Tokyo Motor Show: The heritage is strong with Daihatsu

Daihatsu came out strong this year with heritage models. We’ve already seen the Daihatsu DN Compagno concept, which shared the stage with a classic Compagno. Also at the Daihatsu stage was its most iconic nostalgic car, a 1959 Midget.  Continue reading


QotW: JNC Battle! NSX vs Supra

Tokyo Motor Show was a blast but we were really hoping to catch a glimpse of the new production model Supra. Sadly, we all will still have to paw over spy shots and 3-D renders for now. Honda came out with yet another great looking EV concept, this time a sporty coupe, but the NSX is still waiting for a dance partner…

Since we can’t judge (yet) Toyota’s new monster, I thought we could consider the last gen iterations. Which early 90s asphalt brawler did it better? The Toyota A80 (MKIV) Supra, or the Honda (Acura) NSX? What makes one better than the other? Styling? Technology? Raw driving characteristics? Let us know!

Who had the goods? NSX or Supra?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What car should our Touge Rally Master get?Continue reading


Tokyo Motor Show: 2018 Toyota Century

The Toyota Century is not just an executive sedan, it is a pillar of Japanese tradition. And like most Japanese traditions, it has carried on virtually unchanged for a long, long time. At the Tokyo Motor Show, however, nearly 50 years after its debut in 1967, the Toyota Century has undergone only its second full model change.  Continue reading


Tokyo Motor Show: Mazda’s concepts are simply stunning

In a largely disappointing Tokyo Motor Show, the stars of the Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Mitsubishi booths were autonomous or electric or overstyled crossovers — sometimes all three. Only Mazda bucked the trend with a couple of concepts that went old school. We don’t mean old school as in retro styling, but old school as in what golden era concept cars, like the ones from the 60s and 70s, were meant to do — get your heart revving with drop dead sexy looks give a glimpse of what’s to come. Continue reading


Tokyo Motor Show: Daihatsu saves the day

The Tokyo Motor Show was largely disappointing this year, mainly caused by high expectations. There was no Gran Turismo reunion of Supras, Zs, and Evos. In fact, Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi all highlighted some sort of electric crossover van thingy. It was up to tiny Daihatsu to show something, anything of interest to JNCers.  Continue reading


Tokyo Motor Show: Honda’s Sports EV concept will keep driving alive

Honda has unveiled what it believes is the next generation of sports cars at the Tokyo Motor Show. The Honda Sports EV is a concept model that the company says “combines EV performance and AI (artificial intelligence) inside a compact body with the aim to realize the joy of driving.”  Continue reading


Kidney, Anyone?: Flawless 1984 Toyota Camry LE

Our friend Bryan Thompson, is selling his flawless 1984 Toyota Camry. This means that right now is your best chance to own arguably the best example of a V10 generation Camry currently in private ownership. If Bryan’s name is familiar, you’ve probably seen some of his other cars in our posts from JCCS. He is a connoisseur of orphaned JNCs and has set out to collect the finest examples of obscure ones from across time.  Continue reading


QotW: What car should our Touge California Rallymaster get?

The time has come for your faithful Touge California rallymaster to get a new set of wheels. A shift in family priorities means that my trusty 2003 Honda Odyssey will be returning to kid-hauling duty with the missus, so I’m looking for a daily driver to handle my LA commuting needs. Of course, as a contributor to JNC, owner of a diecast model business, and announcer at JCCS, not just any vehicle will do. Since the JNC community was so helpful in steering Mrs Hsu toward the perfect car for her new life in LA, I’m hoping that your collective wisdom will once again generate a list of suitable candidates. Here are my requirements:

  • It must have a back seat that can accommodate two young kids, one of whom still requires a full-sized child safety seat. No flexibility on this point.
  • It must be at least somewhat modern, with reasonable level of crashworthiness in a freeway environment loaded with inattentively driven crossovers.
  • It must pass California registration and smog tests with zero hassle. That pretty much means only fuel injected cars will be considered, and it definitely means that privately imported JDM vehicles are out.
  • If a car was offered for sale in the US with a manual transmission, then ONLY manual versions of that car will be considered.
  • It must be stock. Stock means stock. If you suggest a car with “easily reversible mods,” you need to be prepared to come to my home and easily reverse them yourself. For free.
  • It must have some sort of performance potential. That can mean high-speed touring on the interstate, or it can mean cone-killing prowess at an autocross. Whatever, it just needs to be fun to drive.
  • It must be $5,000 or less.
  • Obviously, it has to be Japanese. I’ve made a couple of ill-advised BMW purchases, and I’m pretty sure that if I do that again my wife will leave me. And if she doesn’t, then Ben Hsu definitely will.

What car should our Touge California Rallymaster get?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What JNC needs to be Kylo Ren’s ride in the next Star Wars?”  Continue reading


EVENTS: 2017 Japanese Classic Car Show, Part 08 — Best Booths

JCCS has become an international show. For years, the event has been growing, with ever better builds and spectators coming from farther reaches of the globe. This year, however, many top companies from Japan attended, while US-based ones upped the ante with their displays. These were the best booths of the 2017 JCCS. Continue reading


JCCS Spotlight: Best in Show goes to the most stunning Subaru 360 restoration we’ve ever seen

The competition has never been harder for a Best in Show award at JCCS. We did the perhaps obvious thing by giving the JNC award to a Datsun 510, but the JCCS judges collectively gave the coveted Best in Show award to Jay Ataka’s fully restored 1969 Subaru 360. It was with good reason, too. Continue reading


2017 Japanese Classic Car Show, Part 07 — Trucks

One of our favorite categories of JCCS is classic trucks. The compact pickup is a lost art, and no one did them quite like Japan. As it turns out, the truck category turned out to be the single most diverse this year in terms of marque, and earned the selection a prime waterside spot.  Continue reading