Friday, December 14, 2007

MJS Special Exhibit at SF Rod, Custom, and Motorcycle Show


Motoring “J” Style Brings Classic Japanese Hot Rods and Sport Compacts to San Francisco Rod, Custom and Motorcycle Show
Story by Justus Dobrin

An exhibition of pre-1985 custom Japanese performance vehicles from the collection of San Rafael’s David Swig will be on display at the 8th annual San Francisco Rod, Custom & Motorcycle show, presented by Toyota Trucks, which runs January 11- 13, 2008, at the Cow Palace.

Among the cars on display in the show’s North Hall is Swig’s 1972 BRE Datsun 510 — a tribute to Datsun’s Trans-Am championship victories, complete with ‘bubble flare’ fenders and iconic red, white and blue Peter Brock-inspired paint. Also making debut at this, the West’s largest indoor rod and custom exposition, is a hand-fabricated, open-wheeled 1968 Toyota Corona hardtop which is powered by a modified Lexus 4.0 liter V-8 and equipped with an SC 400 automatic transmission.

This one-of-a-kind custom street rod, built by Mitch Allread of Newhall, California, embodies hot rodding’s spirit and desire for individuality and expression – all with a decidedly Japanese flair.

The 23-year old Swig has created “Motoring J Style,” America’s first comprehensive Japanese car show, an event celebrating the roots and history of Japanese performance street vehicles.

“Inspiration for the exposition came from events like the Good Guys’ get togethers, the Monterey Historics, and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance” explains Swig. “We wanted to elevate awareness and enthusiasm surrounding classic Japanese imports.”

“A key element to the gathering’s success has been de-fragmenting the Japanese collectable scene. Traditionally, Japanese import enthusiasts were divided by brand affinity -- Toyota guys hung with Toyota guys, Datsun guys with Datsun guys,” explains Swig. “The emphasis now is on personalization and individual expression.”

The Motoring J Style exhibit augments more than 300 street rods, cool Kustom cruisers, wild motorcycles, race cars, “suede” or “trad” rods, Toyota racing trucks, vintage Streamline Moderne trailers and Hollywood Star Cars on display in all pavilions, halls and grounds of the expansive Cow Palace.

Show hours for the San Francisco Rod, Custom & Motorcycle Show are 3 – 10 p.m. Friday (January 11); 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday (January 12) and 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Sunday (January 13).

Admission is $18 adults ($16 with $2 discount coupon at Northern California Toyota dealers); $15 seniors and military ($13 with Toyota discount coupon); $8 children six to 12 and free for kids five and under.

For a list of Northern California Toyota dealers carrying discount coupons, consult the show’s website, For other show information contact RP Productions at (209)744-8090.

For show information, contact RP Productions (209) 744-8090

Press contact: Michael Dobrin/MDPR (510)865-8005

Japan's "Lucky 13"

Our friends over at Winding Road always have something interesting to report, and this month they've turned their attentions east to the Land of the Rising Sun.

In their January 2008 edition, Chris Paukert chooses Japan's 13 "Most Beautiful Designs". What cars made the cut? Read the magazine here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Lost in Lone Pine: '60s Toyota Land Cruiser FJ45

It's not often I make it to the small hamlet of Lone Pine, California, but I savor the opportunities I do get. Located just east of the most rugged of the Sierra Nevadas, Lone Pine is a breathtaking place of natural beauty. 11,000 foot cliffs jut out of the earth's surface a stone's throw away, reminding us of the violence of nature and the limitations of our "go anywhere" vehicles. There are no roads west of Lone Pine. In this pristine alpine setting, mountain goats still trump Gelandewagens.
If we are to believe the words of John Muir, the mountain goats here also jump horns-first off of 150-foot precipices (let's see you drive your G500 off a sheer Sierra cliff!). I was always intrigued by Muir's tale of a mountain goat melee in the Sierras, and hoped to find evidence of such events on a recent trip to Lone Pine.

I failed. I didn't see a single mountain goat or big-horned sheep whatsoever. Nevertheless I did stumble across a different breed of mountain goat: a somewhat forlorn, but complete mid-sixties Land Cruiser FJ45 pickup.

In its original Mint Green paint (about 12% of which is still on the car), this FJ45 was a real find. I believe this looks to be a long wheelbase model, but I'm not familiar enough with Land Cruisers to say conclusively. Year? Circa 1965.

This is one that should definitely be brought back instead of being left to rot or turned into a parts car! Much rarer than the FJ40 models, the FJ45 is truly a classic, and one of the first truly heavy-duty Japanese pickups. Someone save it!

Meguiar's Car Crazy: J-Style Has Arrived!

I don't get to see myself on TV very often, so it was with some trepidation that I watched my own blabbering mug telling the world why old Japanese cars are so cool via the Speed Channel. At least I had some sweet AE86s courtesy of my Club J-RWD friends to serve as a backdrop.

Barry Meguiar is a guy who really has his fingers on the pulse of just about everything that's exciting in the car world, so it was a real honor to have his Car Crazy film crew with us last July at Motoring J Style.

I was curious to see what would come of that, and the result was a wonderful half-hour program giving an overview of the Japanese Collector Car scene as it is today. The show included footage from Motoring J Style, the 2007 Japanese Classic Car Show in Long Beach, and the 2007 Toyota Owners and Restorers Club (TORC) show. In addition to interviewing me, Barry interviewed Koji and Terry Yamaguchi, founders of the annual JCCS show. We were in good company, as he also quizzed Jay Leno about his Mazda Cosmo Sport on the same episode!

Best part of the show? Koji Yamaguchi's response when asked about his affinity for his 1977 RA28 Toyota Celica: "Because it looked like MUSTANG!".

Unfortunately, it seems the episode won't be re-aired in the immediate future, but you can cruise on over to for some bonus video shot at the TORC show. Click to see the video here.

Thanks again Barry and the entire Car Crazy crew!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nissan to Abandon All North American Racing Programs?

I didn't believe it when I read speculation Tuesday on that Nissan would halt all North American factory-backed racing programs for fiscal year 2008. It certainly sounded like far-fetched rumor. If nothing else, it's inconsistent with the launch of their flagship GT-R, considering Nissan's position in the enthusiast marketplace.

But thenJalopnik again posted confirming the rumored pullout as fact, citing an interview with Scott Vazin, Director of Product Communications for Nissan Motor Company.

What does this decision mean for Nissan, and for U.S. racing? Frankly, I'm unclear if this is really major news or just a bump in the road that will be forgotten in a year's time. Nissan reps I contacted either hadn't heard about the matter or weren't reachable for comment.

The biggest single racing program that will be axed are the factory-sponsored Nissan trucks that compete in the CORR off-road series. Beyond that, we're talking about some scattered sports car racing programs, drifting, and presumably some SCCA contingency programs. Nobody has been able to confirm how big of a total package North American motorsports are dollars-wise for the company.

The real question is this: does this decision mean Nissan is no longer interested in motorsport? Of course not. Nissan has been a supporter of racing for decades, and if I had to put my money on a bet, I'm sure they'll be back in some form, sooner rather than later. Speculation abounds that they're planning to come out big with a stateside GT-R racing program, details TBA, and that would seem to fit with their corporate strategy.

So, enthusiasts, don't poo-poo them yet. I think they've got something up their corporate sleeve, and we'll just have to wait and see what that may be.

Friday, November 30, 2007

2009 Nissan GT-R Unveiled in San Francisco!

The GT-R has been in the news for awhile now, but it's taken until November for Nissan to reveal the production model GT-R, which will be sold in the U.S. as a 2009 model.

Hype has been building for months, and thanks to some cleverly planned PR stunts, images and details about the new GT-R have been floating around the web for months. A fury was caused when one showed up at Sears Point during a random track day a few months ago, and we heard reports that another GT-R was roaming the Las Vegas Strip in the early morning hours during the SEMA show a few weeks ago.

Finally, Nissan has revealed the production model GT-R. It's a striking beast powered by a 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 making about 480 horsepower. Enough to get your attention, and probably enough to get you a one-way ticket into the slammer.

I can't decide if I personally am enamored of this car. It's certainly a flagship vehicle for the Nissan brand, but when they already make an Infiniti G37 Coupe that's so damn good for about 60% of the GT-R's MSRP, it's a tough call. However, I don't think Nissan will have any trouble selling the 1500 GT-Rs slated for U.S. delivery next year, even at $70k+ apiece.

Love it or hate it, one thing is for certain: Nissan is a company that knows who they are. They realize the value of creating models that enthusiasts lust after, and they are smart to capitalize on the GT-R lore. They make exciting cars that capture the soul (GT-R, 350Z, Infiniti G37, Altima Coupe, etc.), not mere appliances that bore you to tears. We'd like to see other automakers follow suit, but we won't be holding our breath.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Isuzu Returns to International Motorsports Competition!

Ok, so the title is a bit of a misnomer. There will be no grand return to the winner's circle. Why? Well, for starters, Isuzu never saw a winner's circle, ever. But what better place to start than at the 24 Hours of LeMons, that ill-conceived race honoring the crappiest, worst, most decrepit and forgettable cars ever made. By those standards, it's a miracle nobody else is campaigning an I-Mark.

Let's be honest: did you even know that Isuzu still exists?

I had completely forgotten what an Isuzu looked like until just the other day when I saw an old Trooper billowing steam from its radiator on the side of the 101. Ah yes, the Trooper. Dad sold Isuzus new back in the good ol' days. He was one of the first dealers they signed up back in '81-82. They had a really great new-car smell in those 88-89 Troopers. As a five-year-old, the then-new '89 Isuzu Trooper held a special place in my heart. Nostalgic Motoring J, fo' sho'!

Die-hard car guys might vaguely recall the "Handling by Lotus" badges that graced the flanks of select I-Marks, Impulses, and Styluses(who knows?) back then.

Some information about Isuzu's 90-year history is covered on their official timeline at the Isuzu Company History. But, like Chinese textbooks, it appears some of their history is, well, history: lost to the sands of time. There's no mention of the Lotus partnership, nor that Isuzu ever sold a car called the I-Mark. It's been erased from the official record. Is this a bad indication? You tell me.

Yes, almost 20 years ago, this wasn't just a bad joke: Isuzu by Lotus. This partnership was built purely out of desperation. My Theology of Marriage professor in college taught us that there are several types of marital relationships. One is the so-called "salvage relationship", where two f'ed up people get together in an attempt to salvage their piss-poor lives. Well, the marriage between Isuzu and Lotus definitely fit this mold.

Sure, the Turbo Esprit had its 15 minutes of fame in Pretty Woman, but in reality it was a world-class POS. And Isuzu needed all the help they could get, so why not let struggling Lotus design a few suspension pieces and slap on some green badges? At worst, Isuzu would create a modest performance image for themselves to enhance, well, their shitty everything-else.

So that's how it came to be that Isuzu (the Fiat of Japanese cars?) got tied up with Lotus, the flimsiest British car of them all. Of course, I'm down with Fiats and Lotuses, so when I saw this rare, semi-desirable beast on craigslist, I had to jump.

It's an '89 Isuzu I-Mark RS ("Real Shitbox"?). Joe Rusz wrote in the December 1988 Road & Track that its 16-valve twincam sounded "like a Cosworth racing engine". Aren't you sold already? We were so blinded with enthusiasm we could hardly see straight. What a PERFECT car for the 24 Hours of LeMons!

After closing the deal, we get this thing dragged back to the barn and I hit up google for "Isuzu Racing". Behold:

Isuzu Performance

Isuzu Performance's "ISUPAGE"

No shit, someone actually pays attention to this stuff! What's more, there's a link to a catalog with all sorts of performance parts for I-Mark, Impulse, what have you...eagerly, I clicked. Immediate desperation set in. I remembered another thing I learned about in college: "buyer's remorse".



That’s chapter one. Would you like to have chapter two? You better, I know the way.

New Market Report at

The MJS Market Report is back… and with good news to report! The market is strong and as predicted, interest in vintage Japanese cars is growing. With The New York Times and other major media outlets reporting on the scene semi-regularly these days, it’s no surprise prices of the 60s/70s/80s cars are creeping up. Witness the $12,000+ paid for a street modified Mazda RX2 this month, and a stock 150,000 mile AE86 bid to almost $6,000… with the seller rejecting the bid! It’s happening… and we’re here to cover it!

October 2007 MJS Market Report

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Nissan's Treasure Trove

We like it when OEMs have respect for and actively try to preserve their heritage. Some companies are more proactive in this regard. Mercedes-Benz, for example, has chosen to go all out with their relatively new, breathtaking museum in Stuttgart. It's well known that the Germans are all about milking their heritage for all it's worth...ever seen a Porsche commercial?

The Japanese are also taking their history seriously, but it seems to be a bit more low key in the Land of the Rising Sun...for Nissan at least. Apparently they like to keep their collection on the d/l. However, a really lucky guy over at got to visit the "off limits, restricted" Zama storage facility where Nissan houses one of just about every Datsun or Nissan car you could ever dream of wanting in a very clean, yet sober and nondescript warehouse.

Imagine rows upon rows of prewar Datsuns in every conceivable color and body style, pristine brand new Z31 and Z32 300Zs, battle scarred ex-works rally Bluebirds (510s), battle scarred '58 Datsun 210 rally cars, the original Prince R380-I sports racer, a Nissan R390 road car, even a 1964 Gloria Super 6 racing car. Sunny, Cherry, Skyline, Cedric, the list goes on! We're not kidding.

You won't believe it until you see it for your own eyes. Check out the full collection of pictures over at here.

Thanks to my friend Tom Matano for the tip!

Astonishing Onboard F1 Rain Action from Fuji

While I must admit I missed the live broadcast of this year's Japanese Grand Prix, it's great to have roommates watching out for you.

Courtesy of my roommate Mike is this incredible in-car footage depicting the battle for 6th place between Felipe Massa's Ferrari and Robert Kubica's BMW Sauber. Prepare to be amazed:


You might think Robert Kubica would have cooled it after the horrifying 75G accident he had in Canada earier this year. Not so much...

While this was only the battle for sixth, it shows how far some drivers are willing to go to win that extra championship point. In any case, what a treat to see some F1 drivers actually racing wheel to wheel, and not just in the pits.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

SEMA 2007: Suzuki SX4 WRC

One of the more unexpected cars we saw at SEMA this year was the 2007 Suzuki SX4 WRC. Suzuki has been running a test season in their SX4 prototypes in the 2007 World Rally Championship, and they'll enter the full season next year to challenge the big boys.

We know the SX4 WRC has the potential to a contender. Suzuki's innocent looking SX4 really impressed us when we had one as a test vehicle a few months back - great chassis, exceptional manueverability, basically a great drive for not much money.

If Pikes Peak is any indication, look for big things coming from this little car in 2008.

Suzuki WRC Factory Website

'82 Corolla Levin on Craigslist: I Would Rock This!

Was very surprised to see this '83 Corolla Liftback turned Levin show up on the SF Bay craigslist site. I have seen this car before (either at TORC or at the JCCS show in Long Beach) and I can tell you, it is stunning.

If an '83 Corolla can be called a show stopper, this is it.

I could be mistaken, but I believe PJ Bonifacio did the body and paint on this car. The two-tone doesn't show up well in these photos - see below photo. Someone please stop me before I can't help it and overdraw my checking account by a few g's.

If I didn't already have 4 or 5 mid-80s Corollas all needing smog, I'd be all over this like pigs in sh*t. Someone please buy this!

This car is sick!

Here's the link

More SEMA Hondas! S2000 Endurance Racer and 1 Lap Odyssey!

It's not very often these days that major manufacturers get behind grassroots club racing, and it's even less often that we see factory support at endurance road racing events, which are too few and far between in this country.

Honda is a company who "gets it", probably because there are actually a few real car guys hiding behind some of those imposing corporate suits.

Those real car guys, wherever they are, are the ones responsible for cars like the new 2008 Honda S2000 CR (we think it stands for "Club Racer"), which will make its racing debut next month in our neck of the woods at NASA's 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

This isn't the first time Honda has fielded cars at the 25 Hour: in 2005 they prepared two Civic Si's, finishing 1st and 2nd in class and a very respectable 4th and 6th overall!

We applaud Honda's effort to provide factory support to racers and track day enthusiasts: it shows their commitment to people like us, and that's what we like to see. Bravo Honda!

But it was also apparent that there are some twisted souls in the great unknown that is Honda's R&D laboratory. Apparently they live down in good ol' Alabama (10-4 Cletus!)...and after a long afternoon sniffing paint fumes, someone thought it would be a good idea to whip up this turbocharged, six-speed Odyssey race car...err...van. Well, more power to them, I say. This beast finished 33rd overall out of 88 entries in the '07 One Lap of America! Not bad at all.

More SEMA: Honda HF-S Concept

Honda always puts themselves out there for SEMA, and this year was no exception. Stealing the show in their booth this year was the new HF-S Concept, which basically looked like what a homologation special of an Accord would be should such a thing ever exist. It had some carbon fiber doodads on the bodywork, rear diffuser and all that jazz, to create "functional performance and driving experience enhancements", according to Honda's press release.

Some of the specifics were a bit vague. Take this sentence: "Key to the concept is the use of technology to electronically customize throttle response, suspension settings, steering boost, and and traction involvement to the driver's taste." What technology, you ask? We're not really sure; apparently they wanted to keep that part a secret. And traction involvement? No word on what that is, either.

However, we thought the car looked great, and it definitely gets the Motoring J Style nod of approval. Keep 'em coming, Honda!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Poll: Which WRX Is Least Offensive?

It's no secret: the new Subaru Impreza isn't much of a looker.

That's where the aftermarket tuners from the SEMA Show come in!

After all, despite its looks, the Subaru Impreza is an absolutely suberb vehicle with lots of performance potential. From the ~$18,000 base car all the way up through the WRX and the tuner WRX STi, you can't go wrong buying an Impreza.

Some of the best tuners in the business showed off their new WRXs. Which one do you like best?

Perrin Performance WRX:

SPT WRX (this car was in the Subaru display):


Our vote is with the COBB car. It looks the cleanest, we love the gold wheels and the pearlescent white paint. COBB is really on their game and has established a reputation as one of the premier Subaru tuning houses in the U.S. It shows!

Which one do you like best?

Somewhere Near Panamint Springs: Datsun 1200 Fastback

On the drive to SEMA we were out in the middle of Death Valley somewhere outside of the car for some ungodly reason, when we heard the familiar hum of a Datsun 1200 nearby.

A brief moment's inspection of the desert floor revealed - remarkably - a 1971 Datsun 1200 fastback speeding across this desolate landscape. I grabbed my camera and was only able to click off this one blurry shot of this most-dedicated Datsun motorist. Do it in a Datsun!

Toyota Yaris Club Concept at SEMA! oh, and there was a new Corolla, too

Much hype was made over the unveiling of the '09 Corolla and the '09 Matrix at this year's SEMA Show, but those cars proved to be a yawn.

What was really cool, and received far less attention, was the Toyota Yaris "Club" Concept by FiveAxis. This car evoked club racers of the 50s and 60s, when you could go to the track in a street driven roadster and race wheel to wheel.

Oh yeah, here are the new Corolla and Matrix....the rally-inspired Matrix concept was cool and really looked great in its red metallic hue. It merited about a 45 second pause in the mayhem of SEMA...really, that's a compliment. The Corolla? This unobtrusive model continues to move upscale in its latest, bland-tastic iteration. But while the Corolla line may not be the most exciting ride out there, Toyota continues to sell hundreds of thousands of them each year in the U.S. Would I have noticed the '09 without all the press surrounding its release? Probably not.

Without further adieu, THE 2009 TOYOTA COROLLA:

Corolla interior:

2009 Matrix (not exactly the showroom stock model):

Matrix interior: