JAPANESE CAR CULTURE 2017
FROM THE LAND OF RISING SUNText and Photos: Reinis Babrovskis
Japanese invasion: on July 9th Belfast was taken over by hundreds of Japanese cars; it meant only one thing: the return of the highly successful “Japanese Car Culture” (JCC) show that debuted last year. As before the event was hosted at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in the heart of Belfast, Northern Ireland and attracted large crowds and entries from both NI, Republic of Ireland and UK. The event proved once again to be a major success, all thanks to the guys behind Car Culture NI.
For an automotive show to launch with such success in such a small country like Northern Ireland is difficult, but JCC really managed to pull that off. Last year’s event proved the “car scene” needs something fresh, a time away from the “Sc3ne cars” on same wheels and air suspension and the return of the JDM cars scene that used to be so popular here was literally the best thing to happen here.
THE MORNING OF THE SHOW DAY
On arrival at 8AM everything seemed quite enough. I actually got scared for a moment - where are all the cars? I knew the gates for cars didn't open till 11:00 but I was certain everybody would be down early to claim the best spots inside. But my concerns were promptly destroyed as a few minutes past the eight o'clock mark the street was brought to a standstill by hundreds of finest JDM vehicles. The hall started to fill up, to the limit where it was impossible fit in anything else. Literally...
And so the cleaning began. Sometimes people really do not realise the effort some of the car owners put into their prides of joys before a show. Countless nights beforehand might be spent doing the last mods to the vehicle, not to mention the cleaning process. Sometimes it is painful to watch how careless some of the people are at the show. I saw endless people touching the cars, leaning against cars and even placing a child on top of a bonnet to take a photo, REALLY is that necessary?
Since this was the only car show this year I was really bringing my car round I decided it needs some proper love beforehand. There is nobody better on these shores than PMG Autocare, so my car was left in for a full paint correction and Gtechnique crystal serum black hydro protection. I can't thank Pete from PMG Autocare enough for the amazing work he did. Also a huge thanks to Polished Alloys for the great job you did to refresh the Desmond Regamasters on my car.
With the cars being parked so close it was hard to actually keep them clean all day as everybody decided the best way to see the cars was to touch them; however, I had an amazing helper to keep the car all day clean.
Japanese Car Culture is the first and only indoor car show dedicated to the Japanese automotive manufacturers. The show featured a large indoor show as well as outdoor space. Throughout the day the visitiors were also entertained by the drifters from the Irish Drift Championship (IDC) with doing 3 demo runs throughout the day.
The crowds were also entertained non stop by a resident DJ that played tunes throughout the day.
And even though I did beg the higher power upstairs to change the tunes from 200 beats per minute to something a bit more relaxing, it seemed some people in the Blackwater Graphics stall enjoyed them, isn't that right Cheryl?
Talking of BWG - as always they arrived with their amazing race simulator offering a chance to throw about some Japanese classic rally car on the Monte Carlo mountain passes.With the show being so busy sadly I never had a chance to compete with the resident "Stig" - Peter.
And if racing a sim wasn't your thing maybe racing an R/C car was. As always the local talented R/C lads were present to demonstrate how to do it a bit cheaper than the guys outside in the machines that were slightly bigger than the 1/18 scale models inside.
THE JDM CARS
So why do I love Japanese cars? Well because the heritage of the motorsport industry, the drifting, the touge battles - it is all amazing. And when talking of the Japanese cars they really are unique - in design, in engines and in customization. There are very few vehicles that are similar. And whilst the car scene is forever evolving, it seems even thought he JDM scene has a adopted a few things from the VAG scene (bags, interior changes etc) it still remains the superior of the both (for me at least).
GTRs EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK
Well the biggest surprise of the show this year for me was/were the GTRs. How many of them are on these shores, honestly? You are lucky ever to spot one on the road, but seeing as many in one place was unbelievable. And I am not talking about R35s alone, there were so many R34s in one place in made me really proud of this tiny island's JDM culture.
As you know the Japanese cars have always had a reputation of being a bit bonkers looking with a hefty dose of madness added to it; one thing they have never been associated with is show and shine, more like smoke and ride, so if you ask me I was very surprised at such categories as “best paint” etc. at such an event. Leave the airrides and shiny wheels to the dub boys I say; the Japanese vehicles have always surprised us with crazy bodykits, engine swaps and crazy power instead.
What makes a car stand out for me then? Well first of all the rarity of the vehicle, the individuality of the vehicle, appropriate and genuine mods that suit the vehicle’s personality. Considering all this I have made a list of vehicles that really stood out for me:
Mitsubishi Lancer A70
This beautiful Mitsubishi Lancer really did deserve the spotlight for many reasons – the A70 model was the very first Lancer model in production. First launched in 1973 these models began the brand’s involvement in rally, winning the Safari Rally and Southern Cross Rally. It is a very rare care and it has been modified tastefully and appropriate to its time; yes it might need a bit of TLC; however, the battle scars from the time teeth can add to the vehicle’s character. For me, this really was the ultimate car of the show.
Oh the Fairlady, nice to see you! The glamorous S30 model from the Japanese manufacturer Datsun, also known as the Fairlady Z, received a facelift in 1974 when the 2.4 engine was enlarged by 0.2 making it a 2.6 petrol engine, hence the name Datsun 260. It was achieved by lengthening the engine’s stroke. A great chassis combined with the standard engine power output of 165bhp in the 70ies made this vehicle an icon in Japan and USA. It is great to see these vehicles being restored and making a comeback into the local car shows.
Nissan GTR R34
Last year’s runner up, this year’s winner; this stunning Nissan GTR R34 is perfection from any angle you look at it. In my humble opinion should have been splitting the “car of the show” title already last year. With too many mods to list this really is an epic build.
Honda Integra DC5
Claire’s DC5 was imported from the land of the rising sun a while ago where somebody really knew how to make the most out of this stunning vehicle. Equipped with genuine JDM goodies and built with a race car look and performance in mind, this is a truly stunning vehicle. Beautiful enough for Claire to leave it as it is and just enjoy it.
This Japanese icon was the undefeated hatchback hero of the roads in the late 80ies and early 90ies. With the powerful B16 engine and stiff chassis it was loved by everybody. Known for the snappy rear at higher speeds it did take a great driver though to get the most out of it. Michael has done an amazing job in restoring this beautiful hatchback to its former glory.
Toyota Corolla AE86
Damo’s Hachi is a great example of how these iconic cars can still look modern and compete with the current sports models out there both in the looks and performance. Finished in stunning red the car really did glow under the spotlights in the show. I wish I would have purchased one before the prices of these JDM historics went sky high.
Whilst there were two of these great Japanese supercars (yes, they were supercars) on display, I do believe this was the superior one. Finished in Daytona yellow/black combo it really stood out from the crowd for me. It is hard to believe how old these cars really are and yet how modern they still feel. The NSX was the first production vehicle ever to feature a lightweight aluminum body and was developed with the help of the F1 legend Ayrton Senna. The NSX was powered by a powerful aluminum 3.0 V6 Vtec engine and driven by rear wheels.
Nissan Silvia S13
Whilst there is much confusion about the correct name for the Nissan’s one of the most popular models 180, 240, S13 or 200, one thing is sure – there is no confusion about how awesome Sarah’s Silvia really is. She is very straight on how she wanted her “baby” to look and that is proper genuine OEM. Still sitting on the original paint and as I was informed never even properly detailed it really is a truly amazing piece of JDM car history in its finest OEM form.
Honda Civic EP3
Barry’s charged EP3 has now really drawn my attention in the last few shows; it is as bonkers as it is beautiful. Whilst there might have been other extremely clean EP3 models on display, Barry has really taken his to the next level with his custom paint, amazing wheels and of course the supercharger.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen
The finish legend had to win four World Rally Championship titles before he was given the honour of putting his name on the vehicle he actually drove to these titles. Released in a small limited production run of 2500 vehicles exclusive to Japan to celebrate the flying Finn, the Tommi Makinen edition has always been rare and desirable car. It handled like no other Evo on the road and offered a mind blowing 0-60mph time even for modern car standards. Did you know that they came in different colours and stickers were optional? Well I am glad this owner opted for the proper full “works” theme. It looks mega.
Subaru Impreza WRX Estate
I’ve repeated myself a lot of times this year about Mark and given him out a few “virtual trophies”, but I am going to say it again – this man knows how to make any car a show winning vehicle. Taking a standard family estate, chopping it up, adding custom flared arches, slamming it and doing a lot of custom work takes skill. We can’t take it away from him and credit where it’s due. I absolutely love this vehicle and it really follows the current trend within the dub scene, so mixing it up with a Japanese vehicle is really amazing to see.
CARS I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO MENTION
Honda Civic EK9
Chrissy’s EK9 is well known within the Irish car scene; not only due to its appearances in his hilarious youtube videos, but also for the simple fact his first generation Type-R is really immaculate. Sadly it seems the man had decided to part with it and I am sure somebody will give a nice home to this iconic hatchback.
Honda S2000 Duo
Tim's S2000 is well known within Northern Ireland and you'll be able to read all about it soon in my feature; but in short - Tim is mad, as is his car. Not many people would have the balls to drive around in a purple convertible but Tim pulls it off nicely. Considering this car never stops evolving it also deserves a prize for that alone.
Sorry, not so sorry another Honda S2000. Lukasz is also a close friend of mine and I do know he also treats his car like I do - like a baby. And so he should as the S2K is packing some quality parts. Just last year he made the trip to Poland Raceism's event surviving thousands of miles (and even sleeping in it) just to take part in a show.
This little JDM gem was by far the most unique vehicle in the show. The almighty Micra made its trip across the pond already last year, and it was great to see it returned again, this year; however, the vehicle had transformed even further. There was no surprise the judges felt this car deserved the best engineering title, which I cannot disagree with as this beauty is punching a powerful SR20 inside it’s bonnet along it’s mad styling.
Why, oh why did Honda never release a K20 version of these I am not sure, but the CRZ had always been a cool car in my eyes, more less a blank canvas waiting for somebody to turn it into a masterpiece. Cheryl and Andrew from Blackwater graphics really did the car justice by applying gorgeous livery to their heavily modified CRZ and making it look like a proper race car. No surprise Cheryl got asked to join the rally car line up in WRC Wales. I love it, now guys – just K20 it.
Despite this car being the very first to see as you came into the show, somehow I managed to miss it till the very end of the show. I have much love for the AE86 and GT86 and this particular example was very tasty. I have a “less is more” approach to car modding and this GT86 was one of these examples where smart choice of mods can make a beautiful car look even better. I am not so sure on the wheels but the retro AE86 window “blinds” along with the tasty rear spoiler and quad exhaust system made it look very stylish.
Honda Civic Type-R
And another Honda Civic Type-R that really impressed me on these shores lately is this immaculate EP3 that stood out to me for two reasons: a) the mirror-like finish and b) for the serious turbo power beneath the bonnet. With the EP3 becoming a lot less common again and prices hiking up it means we will see many more cleaner and looked after examples like this more often.
Last year's rarest car obtain a buddy this year and this year's JCC featured two of these amazing machines. Based on the Nissan Micra this weird creature is really amazing example why JDM cars are so appealing.
Nissan GTR R32
This R32 GTR was one the best cars in the show. Build over a couple of years it now features more than 600hp on low boost and looks equally stunning.
Nissan GTR R34
And yet another GTR that I wanted to point out amongst the others on display. If Carlsberg made a car this would be it. Absolutely stunning.
As for the real winners:
The car of the show went to the Nissan GTR R34
Best Engineered: Nissan Micra
Best Paint: Nissan Silvia
Best Interior: Nissan 350Z
Best Retro: Datsun 280
Best Engine Bay: Nissan GTR
Japanese Car Culture 2017 didn’t disappoint; with a lot of shows this season lacking entries and atmosphere it was great to witness that JCC wasn’t one of them. And whilst this was only the second attempt for the JCC crew, they have proven its potential to grow and hopefully we will see it return annually from now on. Thanks guys!