SEMA is for cars what Paris fashion week is for clothes. Top companies strut out their latest wares, often outlandishly decked out on stunning models. Most of the time it’s stuff you never see in the real world, but these shows act as barometers for the hottest trends. And if this year’s SEMA is any indication, Japanese nostalgic cars are generating some major heat.
The day at the Mazda booth. After the stunning RX-Vision concept at the Tokyo Motor Show we were excited to see what Hiroshima had to say, and the message could not be clearer: Mazda is all about ultra-lightweight sports cars.
The automaker showed two concepts that shed even more weight from the already feathery ND MX-5 Miata. One car, two different approaches.
The more hard core of the two is the MX-5 Speedster Concept, a modern take on a classic sports car format from before the days of silly safety requirements such as windshields. Just slap on a pair of goggles and some leather driving gloves and you’re good to go.
With leather pulls instead of door handles and a pair of carbon fiber seats, the interior is stylish as it is purposeful. Total weight is just 2,080 pounds, over 250 less than the stock car and about equal to that of a 1990 Miata.
To shave off the pounds, 16×8 RAYS 57 Extreme Gram Lights wheels were fitted. A twin center-exit Racing Beat exhaust falls adds character to the Speedster, and is what Mazda insiders tell us closer to the original design of the ND.
Though we prefer the Speedster’s teal-ish color, something Mazda calls Ether Blue, we’d probably rather own the Spyder, if for nothing else than the lack of bugs in our teeth.
With a bikini top stretched over the cabin in place of a full roof and a carbon fiber aero kit, the weight is dropped to 2,301 pounds. Any larger and the rims would be pushing it, but 17-inch Yokohama Advan RS II wheels wrapped in A048s in 255/45 look surprisingly slim on the small car.
The interior is much closer to stock in the Spyder. Mazda says elements of these cars could see production if the voices are loud enough. With rapid-fire debuts of sports cars that steal the hearts of enthusiasts, Mazda appears to be staking a strong claim in an arena few other automakers are willing to go all-in on.
Naturally, the ND Miata is the new go-to favorite of Japanese tuning shops. At the Cusco booth, the a new MX-5 has been outfitted with a slew of new suspension and brake components.
While the Toyota display focused on new Tundras, Tacomas and Siennas, a section on the patio just outside their main booth was devoted to nostalgic Aichi steel. Jose Lalamas’s TE28 Corolla wagon was sort of Tacoma-esque, in that it was powered by a heavily modified example of the pickup’s 3RZ inline-four, boosted with twin turbos and fed through a W58.
In fact, Jose’s wagon was just one of several cars in the heritage lineup, with an appropriately old school “Las Vegas Convention Center” sign and the old Hilton looming the background. Regular readers of JNC might recognize Janet Fujimoto and Duane Tomono’s AE86 hatch and Craig Higa’s MA70 Supra as well, all former JCCS award-winners.
On the opposite end were a pair of legendary straight-six Toyotas, including Janet and Duane’s 2JZ-powered 1970 Crown and a JZA80 Supra. To our knowledge, this is the first time a Toyota Crown has been displayed at SEMA, a momentous occasion to be sure. Frankly, it was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one, that Toyota would include such a strong lineup of classics at their SEMA display. Next time, though, we hope it’s part of the main booth.
Perhaps even more surprising, however, were the nostalgics found the booths of companies that you’d least expect. Tokico, for example, had a Datsun 510 on display.
This wasn’t just any 510, however; it was Adam Carolla‘s BRE 510, one of the original backup cars that raced alongside John Morton’s championship winner. Peter Brock even showed up for an autograph sessions and photo ops with fans.
As OEM equipment for many Japanese manufacturers, Tokico once had a rich catalog of aftermarket dampers for Japanese nostalgic cars. Unfortunately, the company has let many of those part numbers disappear from the catalogs. We got into a very detailed conversation with company representatives on why it is so difficult to revive those parts, and the picture they painted is pretty bleak. However, it is the hope of Tokico USA and their distributor Motovicity that by putting the BRE 510 front and center at the largest aftermarket trade show in the world, minds further up the payscale will be changed.
Everywhere we went, people kept asking if we’d seen the Datsuns at such-and-such booth. Turns out, several of these were actually Nissan 240SXes rocking the Rocket Bunny Boss kit.
The Rocket Bunny kit grafts an old school nose onto an S14 body. The result is a recessed grille that can take on a number of different looks, from 510 Bluebird like the Eneos car above, or the B110 Sunny-looking front end on this blue specimen. There are, of course, huge flares.
HPI even released a 1/10 scale radio controlled car body based on the kit.
As you can imagine, the kit was a hit with the widebody hipsters. There were show cars, drift missiles, and even bicycle haulers rocking this kit. We may soon reach Peak Rocket Bunny soon, if we haven’t already.
That is indeed a Hakotora lurking behind the Rocket Bunny car, built by an outfit called Chasing Js. First surfacing at the Tokyo Auto Salon a few years ago, the idea of mating a hakosuka Skyline nose and a Sunny Truck rear seems to have captured the imaginations of builders looking to make a statement. Incidentally, that is hail on the ground. In Las Vegas, even the weather is extreme.
Another car we were not expecting to see was a proper Japanese-style kenmeri Skyline. Dropped on black Wats with over fenders and a ducktail spoiler, it was brought to Vegas by JDM Legends.
One of our favorites of the show was the Datsun 240Z in the lead photo. Built by Z Car Garage, it was located at the OS Giken booth for a very good reason: It is the first OS Giken TC24-B1Z install in North America. As you know, this is the legendary unicorn of L-series motors, a custom-built twin-cam crossflow head with gear-driven timing, built back in the day and revived in modern times.
For years, we’ve seen the engine sitting on a stand at SEMA, but now it’s actually sitting in a car. In fact, Z-Car garage is now the exclusive US distributor and installer of the OS Giken TC24-B1Z, and the black Z owned by Gary Stephenson is the first recipient of this incredible motor.
Beyond the jaw-dropping engine, ZCG also built Gary’s car with loads of subtle but custom touches. For example, the bumpers are welded to one piece, so there’s no seam at the corners. The engine bay is completely smoothed out and Panasport C8s wearing 255-width tires were painstakingly fitted without any flaring of the fenders. The grille, windshield, and taillights all sparkle with the luster of an NOS part, because they are.
On the inside, a roll cage is fitted so tightly to the pillars that you can’t even see it. The doors close with the airtight thud of a modern luxury car and it even rocks power windows — that are activated by the hand crank.
As you can tell, attention to detail is not something that was lacking on this project. Here’s one example: OS Giken told Z Car Garage that they wanted to display the car with no hood in order to show off the engine. Makes sense. But ZCG founder Rob Fuller knew that the Z would look “incomplete” without the nose, the Datsun emblem, and the meeting of surfaces around the headlights. So he fabricated a second hood, one with a large cutout to display the engine without leaving a gaping void in the front. That is just one reason why this is one of the finest Z-Car builds we’ve ever seen.
To be continued…