Toyotafest Spotlight: A true kaido racer on American soil

“We used to do this with hot rods,” said Shige Suganuma, president of Mooneyes, as I pointed out the unmissable Mark II kaido racer in the Cressida section at Toyotafest. We were walking the grounds, and he recalled how, during the Bubble Era, his company would buy US-built exemplars of automotive Americana and import them to his homeland. Now the tides have turned, and Americans are bringing the most traditional of Japanese car cultures stateside. 

During the unprecedented economic boom of the 1980s, there was perhaps no greater nexus of car culture in the world than Japan. It wasn’t just home-grown Wangan racers and touge battlers, either. With their newfound wealth, Japan’s petrolheads set forth across the world, hunting for big vehicular game and bringing home the finest specimens of automotive fauna they could find.

The streets and parking lots of Tokyo, and other big cities, became menageries of exotic sheetmetal. If you’re wondering why you’ve seen in Japan more Europas, Alpines, and Autobianchis than anywhere else, this is why. The Japanese, never shy about modifying cars, didn’t want just bone stock examples. They wanted a piece of the car’s culture, and so as JNC’s editor-at-large Ricky Silverio is fond of saying, the most period correct modified Mini in the world is not in Britain; it’s in Japan.

On the flip side, Japan has exported its share of car culture as well, from high-revving front-drivers to VIP sleds to tire-shredding drift missiles. Of them all, the style known as the kaido racer has probably been the least likely to catch on.

Kaido means “road” or “street,” so a kaido racer is, literally, a street racer. The style was inspired by Touring Car and Super Silhouette racers of the 1970s and 1980s. The external oil coolers, boxy fender flares, jutting front spoilers and towering rear wings looked downright extreme, especially when applied to a street car. Often cobbled together in sheds by young men who didn’t have much money, results were mixed. And when images of the wackiest examples inevitably made their way across the Pacific, they were met with derision.

Another factor holding back kaido racers was their roots in bosozoku, the speed tribes and motorcycle gangs that came out at night to terrorize cities en masse. Their actions gave the cars something of an outlaw reputation, and most Japanese citizens want nothing to do with them. But just like you’ll find amazingly authentic lowriders in Japan and custom Harley-Davidsons in Europe whose owners aren’t really barrio dwellers or Hells Angels, the mystique of the kaido racer can be enjoyed in the US without associations with the more unsavory elements of their history.

It was the growing interest in classic Japanese cars that finally made kaido racers acceptable. Despite the name, the cars have evolved into something that’s less about actual racing and more about rolling works of art. The most extreme home brews may still be too far out for American tastes, but refined examples have certainly broken through.

We’ve seen a handful of stateside attempts at bosozoku style, but Randy Beard actually went and bought a bona fide kaido racer from Japan. Starting with a GX71 Toyota Mark II base, it sports all the proper hallmarks. The low ride height on perfect-offset, deep-barreled 14-inch SSR Star Sharks give it a mean stance. The body has been modified, but not too drastically, with a tapering sharknose in front, trailing vents aft of the front wheel arches, and a double-bar half-cage.

The external oil cooler can be traced all the way back to the early 1970s, when Hakosuka GT-R touring cars used them to keep engine temperatures down during racing. The takeyari exhaust pipes are a bosozoku trademark, and the uneven-length side-exit mounting gives it an extra bit of flair.

The colorful and geometric graphic scheme, called Fukuoka style, originates from one of the westernmost areas of Japan, and after the region. The livery pays tribute to both Japanese tuning houses like Trust, tire companies like Bridgestone, and wheel foundries like SSR. In the mid-80s, the return of Formula One to Japan was big news, and so there are period correct nods to FET, Olio Fiat oil, and Shell gasoline.

It was probably our favorite car of the show this year, because it represents the acknowledgment of a once-ignored segment of Japanese car culture. This, combined with Daniel Pellegrino’s 1991 Toyota Cresta that’s now in the Petersen museum, shows that the once-scorned style is quickly making inroads into the US. And just like how the hot rods Shige-san once brought to Japan were studied and admired, we Americans will now become the curators of these traditional Japanese customs.

To be continued…

We’ll have more 2018 Toyotafest coverage coming up, but in case you missed it, check out Toyotafest 2018, Part 01 — Sedans and Part 02 — Supras

Or, revisit Toyotafest 2017 (Part 0102030405, and 06, as well as spotlights on a restored Celica Liftbackpair of Drag CelicasKP47 Starlet and an incredible TE27 restoration), Toyotafest 2016 (Part 010203, and 04), Toyotafest 2015 (Part 0102, and 03), Toyotafest 2014 (Part 01020304), Toyotafest 2013 (Part 01020304), Toyotafest 2012 (Part 01020304), Toyotafest 2011 (Part 0102030405), and Toyotafest 2010 (Part 010203).

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5 Responses to Toyotafest Spotlight: A true kaido racer on American soil

  1. Tim Gunn said:

    It’s really busy.

  2. Nigel said:

    I see the required “police ” light…very cool machine !!

  3. Mark Newton-John said:

    Wow, surprised to actually see one.
    By the way, it’s “Hells Angels”, no apostrophe. Just a heads up.

  4. Andrew H said:

    Great write up.
    I’m always interested to see how many car enthusiasts don’t know about the kaido racers/bosozoku style. This post reads like a lesson to those who aren’t aware of the style (but also enjoyable for those who do)…

    Obtaining my drivers’ license right around the same time that drifting and JDM imports hit in Australia helped me to immerse myself in the new car culture that had so much to offer and fed my passion for everything automotive. I remember learning about the “Boso” style over a decade ago and being blown away. My friends and I would watch JDM Option DVD’s on the edge of our seats due to the sheer amount of wild content to be had. We learned so much.

    Again, it’s interesting to see that many people who love JDM might not know about this style, but that can be attributed to the vast amount of JDM styles, vehicles and enthusiasts. It’s great to be part of a diverse culture! Love you JNC.

    I think it’s time to reunite the old crew to watch some JDM Option DVD’s. Yeeeew!

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