Hot Rods are unique in that they are limited to old American classics. That’s not to say you can’t build any other car in the style of Hot Rods, but they are just that - an adopted aesthetic; not the real thing.
Since Japan is better known for Drift, insane body kits, and the 90s sports car explosion - an event like the Mooneyes Street Car Nationals may seem like an anomaly. However, the sheer size of the event (a warehouse sized space in the center of Yokohoma was almost too small) hints at Japan's overshadowed, impressive Hot Rod culture.
The cars at Mooneyes ran the gamut from stripped down, flat head V8 bearing, straight line desert racers to glossed, pinstriped and chromed beauties. Some cars even spilled over into Low Rider territory with completely independent hydraulic suspensions while others mixed muscle car styling into the mix with some of those transition period cars from the mid to late 50s.
Among the overwhelming number of proper hot rods were also some that adopted the Hot Rod mentality. One standout car was a C110 Skyline modified into an impressive union of old school American muscle and newer JDM styling.
The body was JDM in appearance - complete with a blacked-out hood, bolt-on fender flares, and an oil cooler perched front and center on the bumper. However, the internals were all American. The owner fabricated bespoke front and rear strut towers to allow the car to run 1950s NASCAR spec suspension geometries, while the implanted V8 motor wore both original NASCAR restrictor plates and period accurate 4 into 1 exhaust collectors.
The Beginnings of Japanese Hot Rods
Turns out that the Japanese Hot Rod culture has its roots in the post-war reconstruction. When the occupying American soldiers set up shop after the war, they wanted to bring their own cars. Since the US Military controlled the government at the time, those American cars were guaranteed registration.
Over time, the sheer number of American cars brought over meant that no one would bat an eye at tearing apart an American classic to make a hot rod. Combine that with the Japanese Culture and it becomes less surprising that people decided to build hot rods.
See, Japanese society tends to be very restrictive. The challenges of containing a large population in a small area resulted in a society that favors minimizing oneself – essentially meaning that one should take up as little mental, physical and sonic space as possible. Therefore, the societal rules for native Japanese people are very limiting – don’t talk loudly, don’t drink in public, and don’t stick out.
So, it seems sort of natural then that hot rod culture in all its loud, moonshining, in-your-face quality would be a nice release from those rules.
But an additional side effect of the “stick to yourself and don’t bother anyone” attitude is that people are free to pursue hobbies to whatever insane degree they want to. Therefore, the people who got into Hot Rods went in deep. Many people attending the event showed up in Japanese stylized, 50s era denim and canvas, complete with patches and painted on slogans – even if their own car wasn’t entered in the event.
The abundance of hot rod ready American cars, a need for an escape and the ability to dive as deeply into a hobby meant that people who were interested in Hot Rod culture could easily participate. And the size of Mooneyes is a testament to the sheer number of people who wanted to participate.
Hot rods are so popular in Japan that several companies there just specialized in shipping parts from Los Angeles to Japan. Or to put it another way, one of those importers justified his business with “How can we compete when these people seem to love Hot Rods more than we do?”
You can see more photos from the event at the Native Customs Facebook Page.