JNC THEATER: Behind the scenes with JDM Legends on the eve of their Velocity Channel premiere

Until now, the world of automotive-themed television shows has been pretty lackluster when it comes to Japanese cars. That’s all about to change with the Velocity Channel’s JDM Legends, titled after the Utah shop of the same name and premiering tomorrow, April 17. We interviewed shop co-founder Eric Bizek to get his insights on classic Japanese cars, what it takes to make a TV program, and what to expect on the show. 

We at JNC have known Eric for a long time. We’ve featured JDM Legend’s cars on our site, hosted their cars in our booth at JCCS, and shared livery on Hot Wheels cars. The Salt Lake City-based shop was established about a decade ago, around the same time as JNC‘s founding, and we have watched each other grow over the years as appreciation for Japanese classic cars has expanded in the US.

As such, we were thrilled to hear that JDM Legends was getting its own show and representing the J-tin community to a national audience. However, we were also skeptical, having seen far too many misrepresentations of Japanese cars in mainstream media and plenty of car shows that offer little of value about the actual cars. This is not an indictment of Eric or his shop, but of producers and editors who might not be enthusiasts themselves. Our conversation with Eric addressed these concerns, and much more.

Like most of us, Eric’s first question was, “What is this show going to be about?” when producers pitched him the show idea. “I didn’t even have Velocity Channel. What I had seen was on TLC or Discovery, and those show were very scripted, with fake arguments and deadlines. We didn’t want to do that.”

One thing you should know about Eric is that he is a humble man. He doesn’t seek fame, and is perfectly happy working on cars every day. Despite the top-notch quality of JDM Legends’ builds, the shop is mostly a two-man operation, with Eric and restoration specialist Josh Martin doing the bulk of the work. Paint is outsourced to Mauricio Rosales, and Eric’s wife Naomi Perkins helps run the day-to-day aspects of the shop.

“Four different producers had called,” Eric told us. “A lot of these guys had no clue about the Japanese car scene or culture, they just wanted the show. I was absolutely not interested.”

Keep in mind, not all programs on a TV channel are produced in-house. Various small production companies pitch, create, and package shows and then sell them to the networks. Velocity had put out an APB for a show about Japanese cars, prompting production companies to scour the community for material.

“One of the ideas I got pitched was called Master and Apprentice, but I didn’t want to do that,” Eric said about the contrived premise. Eventually, a producer who seemed to be on the same page appeared. “Then the last guy came to me. This guy just wanted to be a fly on the wall.”

Still, Eric put it off for 10 months before agreeing to do it. “At the end of the day, they were going to do a Japanese car show about somebody,” he said. “It could have been West Coast Customs.” At least with JDM Legends, the right message would get out there.

“The whole idea, for me, is breaking the stigma that Japanese cars have from people outside the scene,” Eric explained. “It’s different than what the general public sees. The Fast and the Furious may have had a positive effect on the scene, but was done in a way that, I think most of can agree, is not the way the cars should be portrayed — gigantic exhausts, neon colors, big wings.”

What Eric wanted to convey was something we at JNC have long believed in: “For me, it was about the other side of the Japanese car world — keeping it tasteful, keeping it classic, and showing the mainstream audience a side they might not know about.”

As it turns out, the same company that Eric said yes to also produces the muscle car show Bitchin’ Rides, which is based on Kindig It Designs, located right down the street from JDM Legends. They were able to reassure Eric that they wouldn’t do anything he didn’t feel comfortable with.

Filming began in June 2017. “It was absolutely terrifying when we first started,” said Eric. “I’m not a public person, and I don’t want to be a spokesperson for this scene.” On a typical morning, Eric and Josh open the shop and turn on some music and get to work. “The first day on camera,” Eric noted, “We had to get mic’ed up and as a result had to turn the music off. So now we were working in dead silence.”

The number of people in the shop instantly doubled, with two to three camera and sound operators tracking Eric and Josh’s every move. “It’s really nerve-racking to be on camera for everything you do. You constantly think to yourself, ‘Are people going to think I’m doing this wrong?’ Being put under a microscope is not fun.”

The first season will span six episodes. Each one will consist of a main build and a few short segments unrelated to the primary car. Episode 01 will be a restoration on a 240Z, with a subplot about an imported AE86 that needed very little work. Future episodes will feature a Datsun 510, Hakosuka Skyline, DR30 Skyline, the Datsun 620 shop truck, the black Hot Wheels RX-7, and a visit to JCCS.

If you’re wondering why your favorite car was not on the list, it’s because this season consisted simply of what the shop had in its workload. “I was hoping to see more variety, but they don’t pay us to do this,” Eric clarified. “It’s about what’s coming through the doors right now. An Isuzu Bellett GT-R doesn’t get appreciated [in the US] the way it should.”

Filming is still going on right now. They’re up to episode 05, and the reveal for that is scheduled for this Wednesday, the day after the premiere. Eric gave us an example of how quickly things can change in production. “The last build was supposed to be frame-up restoration, but the car was purchased from auction, and as we got into it we realized it had seven to eight layers of paint and hundreds of patches. We realized we were never going to finish this car in the time we had, so we changed to a Skyline GT-R that spun a rod bearing. It was an S20 motor, and we’re going to be filming right up to the week before the last episode.”

The camera crew is in the shop four days a week, but it simply isn’t possible to get everything on film, or pause work to wait for the crew. “Sometimes the best and most intensive work happens when they’re not here,” Eric mentioned.

Eric holds high standards in both the cars he builds and what he wants the show to represent. There are certain colors, motor swaps, and wheels he won’t do, no matter how much the customer offers. Similarly, there are things he won’t do on camera. For example, the promo spots you may have seen were made by a different production company, and during filming, they wanted Eric to face the camera and declare, “It takes a legend to build a legend.” He wisely refused.

On other occasions, he had to compromise. “They have to make a story out of it, so we do customer reveals. Sometimes, they want to go to a different location, so it’s not in the shop where we would normally do it,” Eric explained. “But I told them, every time the grinder comes out we don’t need the rock guitar.”

A post shared by Eric Bizek (@jdm_legends) on

There is a limit to how much control any one person can have in the production. “We do what do in the shop, but once it goes in the edit room, it’s out of my hands,” Eric admitted, “And those guys aren’t necessarily car people.” For every 60 minutes of footage, only two minutes makes it on air. “When you condense several months of work into 45 minutes, and it has to look smooth, a lot is lost, but you just have to do your best and be okay with the fact that some things may not be what you want them to be.”

Eric says one of the biggest surprises is what it cost to do the show. The producers paid him for shop usage, or time lost, but he estimates that ultimately the shop will be in the hole. “They basically treat it like, ‘Here’s $300,000 of free advertising.'” I didn’t think it would be quite as intrusive as it was, but at the end of the day, I hope it’s more exposure for the shop.”

Nothing about a second season has been determined yet. Velocity is probably waiting to see how the show does, but it’s up to Eric as well. “It comes down to whether they, or we, want to do it. There’s no way having sound and camera guys in the shop four days a week isn’t going to be a hindrance,” he conceded. The show has put a big impact on the shop, and it’s been physically and mentally draining. It’s taken a lot out of me.”

The show is new ground for Velocity Channel, but they need it. According to Eric, the median age of Velocity viewers is is 60 years old. JDM Legends’ median market is 25 to 35. We at JNC have enjoyed a more youthful audience as well, as most of our readers were born later than the cars we cover. Velocity needs younger eyeballs, and hopes that a show about Japanese classics will bring them in.

We asked Eric what he wanted people to take away from the show. “We want to show people really cool stuff, what we’re into, and in a way that’s classic,” he replied. “I want for people to have respect for cars from Japan. You see these Alfa guys, but they have the mentality that Japanese cars are beneath them. Hopefully this is where people see what we see — the heritage, performance, and that they can be tasteful.”

Eric closed our interview on a more personal note. “I never wanted to be the spokesperson, I’m probably not the best person to do it, but I only who I am. We’re not perfect, we make mistakes, but hopefully people see the build process and can have a glimpse of what goes on in our shop.” He continued, “Josh and I might not be the funniest or interesting guys on TV. But, if this show is interesting to you it’ll be because of the cars we build. We never want to lose sight of why we did this in the first place — because we just like to work on cars.”

JDM Legends premieres on Velocity Channel on April 17. Check your local listings for times. For those who don’t have a cable subscription, it will also be available on Motor Trend‘s on-demand app, which has a 14-day trial subscription and costs $4.99 per month afterwards.

Images courtesy of JDM Legends.

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25 Responses to JNC THEATER: Behind the scenes with JDM Legends on the eve of their Velocity Channel premiere

  1. Myron Vernis says:

    I have a lot of respect for Eric and Josh. I’ve done business with them and truly regard them as friends. As such, I was excited about the show when I first learned about it but was also concerned about them being forced into the repulsive formula followed by most of the build shows on the air. I shared my concern with Eric and he assured me he felt the same way. I met the production crew at JCCS last year and, even though it really wasn’t my place, seized the opportunity to express my concerns. I was pleasantly surprised when they were very much in agreement about keeping it professional and avoiding the fake drama. I’m very excited for the great people at JDM Legends and what this show could mean for them and the hobby that is our passion.

    • j_c says:

      Thanks, good to know they’re aware of that.

    • bigskypylot says:

      I really enjoyed the first two shows and looling forward to the rest. I’m more or less a fan of muscle cars (Ford’s, mostly) but have really taken a liking to the Japanese Classics. I drive a Nissan SUV so I’m kinda partial to the Dataun/Nissan line. I’m really liking the show format which has none of the manufactured drama and gives some great info on the cars. Here’s to many years of success going forward.

  2. Joe Rotz says:

    JDM Legends interviewed me about my JDM Fairlady Z at JCCS last year. They filmed my entire car for about 10 minutes. Hope to see a click of the interview on their Velocity show. That would really be cool!

  3. kitsune says:

    Thanks for the tip on Motor Trend’s on demand app! Didn’t know of that, will have to check it out.

    The show sounds interesting, good to hear he tried to avoid the scripted stupid drama that almost every automotive/garage show falls into.

  4. Leon Dixon says:

    Interesting. Vintage automotive English language moves increasingly more and more away from reality to TV-mumbo-speak. And TV is worse than magazines when it comes to talking about vintage automobiles. They just use buzzwords and phrases that once had meanings and quickly make them meaningless utterances.

    “Fully restored” used to mean fully restored. A concept that automotive fans once understood clearly. “Fully restored” didn’t mean hot-rodded or customized. And “restored” used to mean “returned to original condition, appearance and performance.”

    I’m sorry but no 1984 Mazda RX-7 ever looked like that– at least not in the North American market. Cute idea for the show… but like the shows on American vintage cars… obviously put together for pure wow factor…and for folks not paying serious attention or who don’t care or who just wanna see cars on TV–no matter what the hosts and announcers say.

    • wagonista says:

      That RX-7 was built a few years ago, long before they were approached for the show.

    • Mike Anderson says:

      I’m guessing you never watched those cars run in IMSA? They had massive flares. You are right, I think by 1984, the flares were even bigger..

      That said, different strokes for different folks, and all that..

      • j_tso says:

        His issue is putting fender flares on a car and calling it restored.

      • Leon Dixon says:

        Again… if anyone is paying attention, and even if the whole world has gone mad…the announcer flatly states “1984 Mazda RX-7 FULLY RESTORED.” No matter when this car was done and no matter how many flairs and wings and wild wheels IMSA race cars had… this car is NOT “fully restored.” And where does it state this is an IMSA race car?

        See? It made it onto TV… so the announcer and the show can just make up any mumbo-jumbo and say it and that’s great, huh?All perfectly defensible. Just like the ridiculous stuff they say and show on TV in the so-called “classic car” auction shows. And people just sit there like fatted cattle and let it happen.

        Having worked for Mazda for 20 years (in the past) and having written the manuals for the 1984 RX-7… and having been at Riverside Raceway (Mazda had its own grandstand there) and lots of other racing venues… and having worked at the very building in Irvine on McGaw Avenue where IMSA cars were prepped every time they came to SoCal… this car is not “fully restored.” No matter how anyone wants to morph it. Unless we all choose to abdicate all logic and all history and any understanding of the meanings of the words “fully” and “restored” and the phrase “fully restored” as it applies to automobiles.

        The TV shows create their own reality today when it comes to vintage cars. The terminologies are blurred. The realities are blurred. The histories and blurred. And the people they feed this stuff to either don’t care or just don’t know any better. People don’t seem to realize that the TV producers are simply putting video entertainment together for the masses. The kind of stuff that will be approved by whomever is doing the commercials to pay for it all. If one realizes this is all these shows are, that’s one thing. If not… then it’s quite another.

        Nobody wants to deal with TV announcers who stand there with a microphone and utter absurd things like “it’s a resto-mod”….it’s “restified”… it’s a “tribute” (another way of saying it’s a fake like a base stripper model that has been turned into a top-of-line model and is being passed off as having the same value). Or “it’s all original” (when the thing has been altered in a dozen ways). Or the ultimate… “it’s fully restored.” Does anyone really know what all this silliness means? Perhaps logic has died. Perhaps reason and automotive history no longer mean anything. Perhaps it is perfectly acceptable today to say one thing and mean another. But when this is all acceptable and excusable… it is no wonder why things are where they are today.

        • Eric says:

          I agree completely with your sentiments Leon, in no way did I ever personally refer to the RX-7 as being “fully restored”. It was built rather quickly for the JCCS show and the interior and drive-train still need some attention but unfortunately personal builds get put on the back burner when paying projects (that keep the doors open here) take priority.

          These are the types of things that I was referring to when the production company gets the footage in the booth, sometimes they say what they think is right whether it is or not and we do not always have the ability to correct them.

          I’m sure this will not be the only instance this happens but it’s part of the nature of doing a show like this when you want complete control over the final product but it’s not always possible, as much as we would like it to be

          Thank you for the feedback!

        • watching the world burn says:

          Don’t you want to hear about how your “RIDE’S” engine has more “ACCELERATION” than stock because the speedometer says the top speed is 150 mph???

          You should really watch anything featuring Peter Lyon then…

          That’s only after you get tired from double-clutching while boosting cars.

  5. Al Gottlieb says:

    JDM Legends – DirecTV Velocity Channel 281 Tuesday 4/17/18 6pm

  6. I was ready to write this show off as another car build show that has royalty free dad rock playing in the back ground while the producers create fake drama but this actually sounds really promising. I can only hope that this isn’t delivered in a condescending tone by the producers…

  7. Jimmy says:

    I got to see an early rough draft clip of an episode. The editors and producers did the typical “cliff hanger” before the commercial break. But they didn’t do any reality TV drama. Good stuff.

  8. cesariojpn says:

    “As it turns out, the same company that Eric said yes to also produces the muscle car show Bitchin’ Rides, which is based on Kindig It Designs, located right down the street from JDM Legends. They were able to reassure Eric that they wouldn’t do anything he didn’t feel comfortable with.”

    I dunno, whenever i’m at SEMA, I can’t STAND Bitchin’ Rides, all because of their Shop Foreman. He acts like a total asshole, and I swear thats scripted as hell.

  9. Eric P says:

    I’m glad that Eric is pushing back on some of the ideas by the producers. Keep it as close as possible to how the shop truly operates, and you’ll have a true audience. I will love to see the work done to these beautiful cars, can’t wait. Best of luck guys!

  10. Russell Jones says:

    Good luck Josh, wishing you guys the best of luck and success

  11. John Moran says:

    I’m glad this show is happening.
    I had the same concerns as others about the drama/deadline, but glad to hear the TV aspect is minimized as much as possible.

    I have countless Japanese car pictures, ads, small posters, but the one over my desk is a JDM Legends card, maybe 6×8 with a few cars in their shop. I just like the feel of this picture and hope the show has some of the same feel. I wish them the best and am looking forward to tonight.

  12. Eric says:

    Thank you again Ben for taking the time out to get some insight on what it means to do a show like this from the insider’s perspective. It’s not always what you might imagine from the outside looking in.

    That being said, I hope everyone out there can take this into perspective and enjoy the show for what it is with an open mind. At the end of the day, we have a great deal of love and respect for these cars and although it will never be perfect and we will never be able to please everyone, we hope you all enjoy watching the process of what goes on here at JDM Legends.

    Thanks again to everyone for the kind words and support!

    • Ben Hsu says:

      Eric, thanks for all your efforts in keeping the show (and your shop) as true to the roots of Japanese classics as much as possible. I know it’s difficult when you don’t have 100 percent creative control, but from what we talked about in the interview I believe this will represent the community well. Like everyone, I’m excited to watch the show and finally see some tasteful Japanese classics represented on TV.

  13. Chris Abbott says:

    Wishing nothing but the best to JDM Legends. You convinced me to get my own Fujitsubo system for my 73 HLS30. Keep making great cars!

  14. Ken Kilbourn says:

    I just watched the first two episodes on the Motor Trend App. Great job guys!!!! The show was a great change of pace from the usual fare. I hope the show will get the full treatment as it can only help the rest of us. A rising tide raises many boats as they say. Congrats to Eric and Josh!!

  15. Charlie says:

    I bought a car from these guys about 4 years ago {moss green 74 Celica GTV} and they were a pleasure to deal with and its no surprise that they are being chosen to represent this scene..
    reading this quote from the above article kinda cements the ethos of the guys at JDM legends.
    “The Fast and the Furious may have had a positive effect on the scene, but was done in a way that, I think most of can agree, is not the way the cars should be portrayed — gigantic exhausts, neon colors, big wings.” well said !
    looking very forward to getting home from the shop tonight and perching on the couch for the premier… Best of luck to you guys .

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