Outside of genre-specific gatherings like JCCS or All Toyotafest, the automotive event that’s most embraced classic Japanese cars is Radwood. While cars from all countries of origin are welcome at the series of 80s and 90s-themed shows, rather than being afterthoughts as they might be viewed at your local cruise-in, JNCs are part-and-parcel of the entire Radwood experience. MR2s, 300ZXs and Civics are held in equal esteem to anything issued from Detroit, Stuttgart, or Modena.
This story about Radwood NorCal got stuck on jack stands for a bit. We are bringing it down now because Radwood SoCal coming up this weekend. — Ed.
Sidelined for 2020 due to COVID-19, Radwood came roaring back with a vengeance for 2021, with the year’s kickoff NorCal event taking place on Saturday, July 10. The Bay Area is Radwood’s spiritual home, and anticipation for this return event was boiling. Ultimately, over 500 cars took to the show field at the San Mateo Events Center, making it the largest Radwood to date.
Representing the Japanese Nostalgic Car team at the NorCal event was our own Project Dustbus, a 1989 Toyota Cargo Van that made its first road trip to Radwood back in 2018. That star-crossed voyage featured intermittent stalling, troubling operating temperatures, and ultimately a gnarly front-tire blowout, so this year’s run was intended as a shot at redemption for our veteran Van. We’re pleased to report that the 2021 trip was blissfully trouble-free, and we were proud to exhibit the Van with its original paper dealer plates from long-defunct Whittlesey Toyota of Torrance, California.
The show’s intentionally eclectic nature meant that very little corralling of like makes and models took place. This jumbled placement made strolling the event feel like sifting through the debris of a Gen-Xer’s overturned bucket of Hot Wheels cars.
Everywhere you looked at Radwood, there was an offbeat Nostalgic. An all-but-extinct Daihatsu Rocky stood guard near the show’s entry gate. The “Radwood Royalty” section featured a UK-spec Honda Legend sedan, while around the corner stood a safari-lifted Subaru SVX, complete with its original automatic transmission.
A highlight of every Radwood show is the appearance of low-mileage survivor cars, the kind that by dint of being “grandma spec” have made it through the decades with minimal wear and tear. One such piece was Kelvin Vivian’s’s ’86 Honda CRX. A true base model with only an AM radio for a sound system, Kelvin’s immaculate CRX shows only 48,000 miles on its gently used odometer.
Perhaps even more astonishing was Kyle Yoshimoto’s 1988 Nissan Stanza. Where many “sporty” JNCs have survived due to being saddled with a soporific automatic gearbox, Kyle’s otherwise geriatric-trim Stanza boasts a 5-speed stick. Kyle acquired the car out of his uncle’s collection, and in true nostalgic fashion, loves it for its similarity to his long-lost ’91 Accord. “It’s not fast,” Kyle said, “but it’s fun to drive.”
At the other end of the stock-ness spectrum was Brandon Droese’s 1983 Mazda RX-7. The owner of famed Mazda shop Rotary Engineering in Santa Barbara, Brandon mothballed this RX-7 for years with the intention of using it someday as the test bed for a prototype widebody kit. However, the allure of Radwood led him to pull the car out of hibernation, getting the car in running condition AND crafting the body kit from scratch in the span of only one month. “It was pretty rough,” said Droese. “I had delusions of grandeur.” Though definitely a work in progress, the car’s evocative IMSA GTU vibe was undeniable.
Skylines of various generations are always popular attractions at Radwood, and the 2021 NorCal event featured no fewer than two 4-door R32s and a Montana-plated R34 GT-R V-Spec. The true showstopper, though, was this immaculate 1983 RS-2000 Turbo, believed to be one of only two registered in California. While its Seibu Keisatsu look is perhaps too familiar to jaded JNC readers, the general public was gobsmacked by this rare piece of forbidden fruit (and in fairness, this example was extremely well done, with its clean aesthetics backed up by a tuned FJ20ET good for a reported 350 horsepower).
Rather than awarding “Best of Show” prizes based on fixed criteria, the Radwood production team hands out trophies based on a general feeling of “radness”. Though rarity and condition no doubt play a part, the organizers seem to follow their hearts toward recognizing cars that possess a quality of fun that is hard to define; cars that, to quote an ‘80s power ballad, “take you by surprise and make you realize.”
We at JNC are delighted to report that Radwood NorCal 2021’s Raddest in Show was Todd Lappin’s 1990 Daihatsu HiJet fire truck. Formerly the property of the Kirigamine volunteer fire department, this kei firefighter has travelled only 4,000 miles since new. Imported last year minus its firefighting equipment, Lappin has returned the Hijet to functional fire truck specification, but that’s not the vehicle’s most useful function.
Instead, Lappin has spent much of the last year driving the streets of the Bay Area in the tiny fire truck, using it to bring moments of joy and levity to a city on COVID lockdown with its cute demeanor and specially recorded bilingual messages warning citizens of Godzilla sightings in San Francisco. In a time when we all could stand to smile a little bit more, nothing could be more rad than that.