In Day 01 of our 2015 SEMA coverage, we noticed a marked increase in JNCs on the show floor. Unlike past years, these weren’t just museum cars trotted out by the automakers but builds that prove our little niche is moving into the mainstream.
Yesterday we showed you builds that were featured in the OS Giken and Tokico booths. While it was expected that Japanese companies would be the first to feature some old school J-tin, we were glad to see even some of the notoriously muscle car-centric American car companies of the Central Hall embrace them as well.
Immediately following the conclusion of SEMA this Friday, Bob Boileau’s Datsun 520 will compete in the Optima Batteries 2015 Ultimate Street Car Invitational in Las Vegas. Can a pickup with a Miata engine go head to head against V8s and modified GT-Rs? Luckily, Boileau is no stranger to making giant killers out of small displacement engines, as he did with a 1200cc Honda Civic that hit 146 mph at Talladega.
Continuing on the race truck theme, Nissan was heavily pushing the new Titan XD and its compound turbo Cummins diesel V8. One of their show trucks was decked out in the classic Nissan tricolor livery. Nissan representatives said the scheme was inspired by the special edition 1988 Hardbody Desert Runner.
Over at the official booth sat two more Titan XDs, using a setup very similar to that of their JCCS display from earlier this year. Instead of a tiny VG223, however, the 12,000-pound towing capacity was pulling another Titan XD, which is in the process of being built into a land speed record truck. Back in the mid-90s, a Nissan Hardbody pickup set a 142.9 mph class record at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
This new truck is eligible to compete in two categories, D/DT and FIA class A-III-9, whose records stand at 191 and 115 mph respectively. Nissan engineers — all working on a volunteer basis — hope to recreate that magic with what they’ve dubbed “Project Triple Nickel” for its 555 lb-ft of torque.
We love the use of Nissan’s traditional racing number, 23 (read as “ni san” in Japanese), which appears below the driver’s side headlight but not the passenger side’s. Because of the way the booth was set up, we had to squeeze against the wall to catch it.
Also at the Nissan booth was the new GT-R NISMO N Attack package an even more potent collection of go-fast bits that currently holds the Nürburgring production car lap time record.
From hard core LSDs to stabilizer bars the parts that make the N Attack what it is hung from a wall behind the car, but visually the package is easily identifiable by the winged fender flares over the front wheels and a giant carbon wing. Can the GT-R get any more insane?
The answer is yes. At the HKS booth, a daily driven R35 that also serves as a weekend track car generated an “easy” 1,200 horsepower at the wheels, according to a company spokesman. The purpose of the car was to have 1,200 reliable horsepower, rather than go for ultimate speed. It was good to see references to the 1990s with the old HKS livery over a coat of R34 Bayside Blue and gold wheels.
Speaking of GT-Rs, the Ring Brothers’ logo looked rather familiar. The shop has a history of building some truly impressive muscle cars, but the logo is somewhat misleading when you have an all-carbon fiber Mustang in the booth instead of a GT-R.
Naturally, one of the most talked-about cars a the show was Sung Kang’s Fugu Z. The kitted S30 was given one of the most prominent spots of the entire show, right in front of the official SEMA lounge area. Han himself was lurking around the Las Vegas Convention Center all week, signing autographs and enduring selfies with adoring fans.
While everyone last person even remotely aware of the import world knew exactly what this car was, we suspect that SEMA’s other half — old dudes who are there for the hot rods and muscle cars — had absolutely no idea what a “FuguZ” was or why everyone with skinny pants on was drooling over it.
Believe it or not, Kang’s Z wasn’t even the only car at SEMA owned by a veteran of the Fast & Furious franchise. At Half of the attendees wondered aloud, “Why do they have a 20-year-old family car here?” The other half flipped their ish and were all like, “This is Luda’s whip!”
The rise of hip-hop in the 1990s was inexorably tied to the rise of Japanese luxury sedans. The Wu-Tang had their Infiniti Q45, Jay-Z had his off-white Lexus, and Ludacris had his “Ninety-Three Ack,” finished in the most 90s shade of gold you can possibly imagine.
Despite his ascent to prominence as a multi-platinum Grammy winner and actor, Chris Bridges kept his first car and regularly drove it, logging 283,000 miles and counting before it was involved in an accident. When Honda caught word of his story, they brought it into their design studio and “restored” it for him.
It’s not a true restoration, in that its brake calipers are a bit more pistony (6 and 4-pot calipers front and rear), seats a bit more leathery, and the paint a lot more pearly than the original Cashmere Metallic. That’s all okay, but the aspect we really wish they’d kept were the original flat-faced rims. Surely the Rays G12s are the better wheel, but those Acura alloys were iconic, man.
The car is not RHD, in case you’re wondering. I took the liberty of flipping the photo in a lame attempt at re-creating the Ludaversal album cover with a new NSX in place of Bridges’ private jet.
The 1965 De Tomaso P70 is clearly not Japanese, but it was designed by Pete Brock of BRE fame. Though the Can-Am racer is open-top, you can see some similarities between it and the BRE Hino Samurai.
We covered the classic Crowns, Corollas and Supras that Toyota had on display in our Day 01 coverage. The main booth was all about trucks, including this right-hand-drive turbo-diesel LC200 Land Cruiser, which is in the midst of a 28,500-mile, around-the-world expedition taken on by Toyota engineers to test the resiliency of its off-roaders.
Though the trucks themselves weren’t necessarily nostalgic, the themes they evoked certainly were. A Tonka 4Runner looked exactly like the type of toy we would’ve gone gaga over as a kid, but in real life form. There’s even a tent on the roof to live out your childhood treehouse fantasies.
Toyota also reprised their recent Back to the Future Tacoma display, wrapping Marty McFly’s truck in a giant toy box. Nearby, a slot car track provided respite from the SEMA insanity.
Last but not least was the incredible Datsun Fairlady Roadster at the Garrett Turbos booth. Built by Kevin Desirello, the SPL311 was another unexpected choice by a thoroughly American aftermarket company. Kevin says he was just as shocked as anyone when his friend Jon Frampton was contacted by Garrett and asked if the car would be their official booth vehicle.
Not only that, but the roadster was selected, from the thousands of cars at SEMA, as one of the Top 21 in the Battle of the Builders. “When I saw that guys like Chip Foose on the list, I couldn’t believe it,” says Kevin, who built the roadster in his California garage.
Powered by an Silvia S15’s SR20DET stroked to 2.2 liters and fitted with a variable valve timing head, the engine is estimated to generate 300-350 horsopwer at 10 psi of boost. The ultimate goal is 400-450 in a sub-2000 pound car. Kevin also says that very few people have been able to guess what it was. “Is that a Sunbeam? They think that Datsun began with the Z.”
The Garrett booth was pretty roadster heavy, in fact, with the pairing of the Datsun roadster with Mad Mike Whiddett’s 4-rotor Miata drift car.
Fresh from New Zealand, Project RADBUL runs what is basically a custom-built recreation of the 26B motor that powered a number of Mazda race cars, including the Le Mans-winning 787B. With up to 1,500 horsepower spitting flames from four exhaust pipes protruding from the hood, it will have a better power-to-weight ratio than almost any professional drift car out there while staying true to its Mazda roots (ie, no V8).
Also on the list of Top 21 was Dominic Le’s Hakotora truck that we covered yesterday. Funnily enough, it was n the “Off Road” category and listed simply as “Datsun Truck.” I guess a 1973 Sunny Ute wasn’t in the menu.
Then late yesterday, we heard the announcement that the Fugu Z was selected as the 2015 SEMA Gran Turismo Best in Show. This is a huge victory for JNCs in a show filled with everything from all-out drift machines to million-dollar muscle cars, a show that attracts the best builders in the world.
As we leave Las Vegas, we cannot help but feel excited about the newfound interest in Japanese classics in the wider automotive world. While vintage Mustangs, Chevelles and Challengers still vastly outnumber nostalgic Datsuns and Toyotas, the signs are encouraging. We’ll take it one year at a time.