SEMA 2019, Part 01 — Japanese Hot Rods

When there are 2,400 companies and 2.2 million square feet of exhibits, limits are constantly pushed in order to garner attention. It can result in show cars that are insanely expensive but absent of taste. Still, there can be gems hidden in the massive three-hall circus of automotive excess.

We headed out to the industry showcase in a 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition courtesy of Nissan to see the classic Japanese taking their stands in Las Vegas. We were hoping that with 2019 being the golden anniversary of the Z, we would see an even stronger Z presence at the world’s largest tuning show. Alas, it was not to be. Still, there were some interesting Japanese builds that piqued our interest.

Nearly every Japanese drifter harbors a deep love for the AE86 somewhere in their hearts, and Dai Yoshihara is no exception. With the help of Turn 14 Distribution’s deep catalog of aftermarket partners, he was finally able to build what he calls his dream AE86.

Dai says it’s built for both drift and grip, but it’s definitely all business. Wearing a Rocket Bunny Pandem kit over a full race chassis and K20C1 from an FK8 Civic Type R mated to an S2000 transmission, it’s perhaps blasphemous to some. But, it’s described as 1984 model so it should have started life as an SR-5 and not a true GT-S. In any case, it’s great to see the ol’ Hachiroku still creating a stir at SEMA 35 years after its debut.

The yellow Datsun 510 at the Braille Batteries booth might have looked any number of tasteful Datsun builds, but that’s because it was the one and only original Brock Buster. Built by BRE founder Peter Brock popularized in  Motor Trend in 1973, it became the definitive modified 510 in the US.

It featured parts inspired directly from the race car that John Morton drove to back-to-back SCCA 2.5 Trans-Am victories: fiberglass fenders and hood, a blueprinted engine with racing internals capable of 130 horsepower, a lowered suspension with stiffer springs and sway bars, and roll cage. The car inspired legions of Datsun tuners in period and even got its own Revell model kit.

Originally, Peter named it the Screaming Yellow Zonker, but legally speaking that name belonged to a popcorn brand. The Motor Trend article called it the Brock Buster instead, which we think is a better name (but we could be biased simply because it’s been known as that for so many decades). “Why yellow?” we asked. Peter responded with a wry grin, “Because it photographs the best.”

Founded in 1950, Daikin Manufacturing has been a strong supporter of the aftermarket with its Exedy brand of performance clutches. This year, their booth car was an absolutely insane KP61 Starlet time attack car with an S2000 motor under the hood.

At the Performance Auto and Sound booth we found a pair of tuned 90s Nissans that some would consider sacrilegious. A Z32 and S13, the latter with an S15 nose, both heavily modified with Toyota 2JZ inline-sixes under the hood, were part of a bracket style competition whose prize was a magazine feature.

We found Mike Spagnola’s Fairlady Roadster lurking in the lobby area. It’s the first Datsun roadster we’ve seen in person wearing the Rocket Bunny Pandem body kit created by Kei Miura. Beneath the skin it was powered by an S15’s SR20DET and had a very nice Tilton pedal box as a tribute to the figures that made vintage Datsuns great. The 1966 1600 was purchased in late March as a sun-baked roller and has undergone an incredible transformation in just seven months.

A Pandem-kitted ND Miata at the Spec Clutches booth sported a 300-horsepower SkyActiv four. The car was finished in a white and blue livery inspired by Mazda’s 1980s race colors, specifically, the No. 62 FC3S RX-7 IMSA GTO racer.

One of the biggest surprises was Kevin Huth’s 1973 Celica at the Edelbrock booth. As one of the most famed makers of hop-up parts for the first wave of American hot rodders in the 1930s, it was a pretty big deal for Edelbrock to feature a Japanese classic.

Let’s not dwell on the company’s largely unsuccessful bid to make “import” parts during the 90s tuning era. Here, the reason behind the Daruma’s presence is the Edelbrock generation IV aluminum LS under the hood.

Beyond the V8, there plenty of custom work went into the car. Custom strut towers had to be created and hood bracing had to be removed to fit the 5.7-liter V8 in the engine bay. The exhaust headers route into the fenders, go down along the floorpan, to an X-pipe that exits on either side of the rear. An Exedy clutch and Nissan 370Z transmission connect the engine to a Ford rear end.

Toyo Proxes R888R tires wrap American Racing Silverstone wheels over Wilwood brake kits. According to Kevin, as many of the front suspension’s original mounting points were kept while allowing the front end to accommodate the custom coilovers.

The interior was reupholstered with VW Westfalia plaid. The car began life as a fairly complete and bone stock ’73 that was, alas, saddled with an automatic. Kevin tried to keep as much of the original patina as possible, with just a satin finish over it to protect the largely original paint. Anywhere rust repairs had to be done or custom metalwork fabbed, a tinted primer matched the original faded yellow perfectly.

Chris Bishop’s Datsun Fairlady Roadster had at its heart a 197-horsepower Autech SR20DE. Once that engine was decided on, the rest of the theme fell into place: What if Autech had done a car back in the 60s?

Nissan’s specialty car division didn’t exist until 1986, but if it did, Chris believed they would build a car similar to this. The highly customized Fairlady speedster features many clever details playing into the theme. For one, the green-gray color was inspired by the color of the 1988 R31 Skyline Autech Version. The oil cap is even a combination of the original R16 and the SR20’s as an homage to the original.

The body was completely redone, with rear fenders flared to match the stock fronts. everything but the door handles were smoothed out, and even the lines of the tailfins were accentuated with a slight nip and tuck. The body sits on a custom 4-link rear suspension and one-off Fortune Auto coilovers.

Inside, NISMO racing seats were cut and customized to provide red leather-upholstered buckets with matching luggage. The seats are mirrored, with bolsters are even shaped to make ingress and egress easier by flaring out towards the doors.

The gauges were rebuilt by a company that restore aicraft instrumentation. The originals were silkscreened and the electrics behind them modernized to work with an SR. When they tried to upgrade them with LEDs, Chris even insusted they continue to use the old incandescent bulbs for an old school look. Work Equip 40s complete the modern classic theme, and the car is a definite head-turner.

For his efforts, Chris received a Mothers Shine award, a tremendous honor for the Roadster considering the thousands of cars on display at SEMA. Impressively, it’s also a nominee for the Goodguys Gold Award. Each year, the old school hot rod organization selects five of their top cars at SEMA, a show that is still largely domestic-centric and rife with muscle car builds that cost more than a Lamborghini. Interestingly, until now the award specified that the car had to be American-made or American-powered. If this Datsun wins, it would be a first.

It’s impossible to cover the entirety of SEMA in one day. Tomorrow we brave the perils of the Las Vegas Convention Center for day two and more Japanese classics. To be continued

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16 Responses to SEMA 2019, Part 01 — Japanese Hot Rods

  1. Monte says:

    Fairlady Roadster is a sweety, but why can’t Toyota builders use something from their vast catalogue? LS? F20C?
    Must try harder!

    • cesariojpn says:

      The only notable motors in Toyotas catalog that are common engine swaps are the 22R, the 4AG-E, the 3STG-E, the J engines (1-ZJ & 2J-Z), and there was a time the 1UZ-FE was also a hot commodity (damn the wiring harness on that one!).

      Probably all have been done before.

      • Nathan says:

        V6 swaps are pretty popular, but that may just be a thing with the MR2 community. The 2GR is a very swap, and for extra punch can put out some pretty impressive numbers if one is willing to build it for lots of forced induction. Even on a mild supercharger or turbocharger setup, it’s still a hot swap.

  2. RotaryRalph says:

    I agree with Monte totally. The LS crap kind of ruins a really sweet looking Celica. And for the naysayers I really do not care what kind of special technology, custom headers, oil pan modifications, body mods needed to put it in there. It lacks vision in my belief to stuff a standard run of the mill Chevy LS into anything. Its been over hacked by so many that it totally takes away from the complete package. It Lacks Vision.
    A Toyota V8 from a older NASCAR vehicle that is no longer competitive in today races would have a much better choice. Even a V8 out of a truck would have gone further in showcasing this build instead of mucking it all up.

    • RotaryRalph says:

      Sorry a V8 out of a Toyota Truck is what I wanted to say.

    • Steven David Panlook says:

      I mean, if you read the info with the pics, it says the car served to showcase the engine, not the other way around. Gotta remember it’s an engine parts etc company.

      I’ve got nothing against putting different engines in, there’s only a few cars I’m a bit “nobody should do that” with. It’s the played out, bolt on flares craze I’m sick to death of. Some look cool, but even then most just end up looking like copy pastes of every second car at the show. Others, like the kit on this ND look crap imo. That ND would’ve looked cool af with the drop, nice wheels, the livery and it’d be interesting to see what’s done to the engine. But I just sorta lose interest cause it looks like every other stanced ND.

    • spedie says:

      I think it is a excellent build but it has nothing to do with the Celica body shell wrapped around it. Stating that it was a fairly complete car but because it was saddled with an automatic the build made sense, actually makes no sense. They merely did it because they had that chassis and wanted to showcase their products. Which is all good, but is this car a JNC? I say no. What I do know is there is one less fairly complete, bone stock Celica in the world.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      It’s not my personal taste, but we had a duty to mention it in our SEMA report. I had seen the original car languishing on Craigslist for months. The asking price was high for an automatic, but the car was 100 percent complete. In person there were more rust spots and dings that didn’t show up on the CL pics, but well within the realm of restoreable, yet I also can’t fault the owner for going the opposite direction. The ideal fate for a car this complete would have been a resto, MT swap, or a newer Toyota drivetrain conversion, but I passed on my chance to buy it and this is where fate took it. Maybe I should have done a Kidney post!

      • speedie says:

        I totally agree you had a duty to mention it and I am glad you did. I am always interested to see what crazy ideas come out of SEMA. While I may not agree with putting an LS in a JNC I am pleased that this build may make someone not familiar with JNC to ask what the car is and do research on it (hopefully on your site). Thanks for the great writing.

  3. cesariojpn says:

    TIP: Go to the Toyo Tires display between Central and South Hall, several J-Tin there.

  4. Ant says:

    Being from the UK I’d never heard of the Brock Buster before, but how great does that look? Interesting to see how many current 510 builds aren’t too dissimilar – front lip, sensibly-sized wheels, half cage, twin carbs, no significant bodywork changes.

    Clearly BRE had such a massive impact back in the day that it’s inspired the modification styles for that car for many more decades afterwards. Pete’s right too – that yellow photographs very well!

  5. nlpnt says:

    Not a JNC but they’re local to me so I have to give a shout out to the Quinton Brothers’ Challenger – stolen, crashed into a police car, recovered and displayed as found!

  6. Ol' Shel' says:

    15s are the max diameter that works on old Japanese tin.

    There, I said it.

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