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Japan’s Finest Hot Rod & Custom Car Show

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I find it funny how one of the biggest scenes in Japanese car culture is one with American cars at its core.

Laid out like that it almost makes no sense, but if I were to put the name Mooneyes into it, well, everyone just gets it.

It’s been three long years since I’ve taken a deep dive into this wonderful world that Shige Suganuma and his crew have been curating for decades now.

If you want a little insight into how Shige became involved with Mooneyes in the first place, you can check out a story here.

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With the pandemic making large gatherings an impossibility at the end of last year, things were in a much better place for 2021. However, there was a big emphasis on maintaining physical distancing, mask wearing and general mindfulness – the sort of things that are part of our daily lives in Japan now.

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And it’s thanks to the Mooneyes crew, who in guaranteeing this extra level of caution allowed the Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show to materialize this year.

My approach to this event has always been to drop by on the Saturday and watch the cars arrive and be positioned in the Pacifico Yokohama Exhibition Hall ahead of the main event on Sunday. Apart from being a lot easier to shoot cars without the crowds, there’s more time to chat with owners about their creations too.

Let’s get started…

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Much like Mooneyes themselves, Flat-4 is a brand that is well recognized and respected. The company was started 45 years ago, and for a long time now it’s been one of the biggest names in the VW air-cooled world. At this event they brought out a special vintage drag racer to wow the audience.

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The Inch Pincher Too! is part of the Flat-4 collection, and in its lifetime has raced in the US and here in Japan. It’s beautifully restored, but I still can’t believe that the car and some of its modifications date back to 1954.

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In Japanese mini truck circles, imported Toyota Tacomas are a real favorite. Just look at that engine bay!

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I’ve never really explored this side of lowriding culture in Japan, so who would like to see more?

One of the best aspects of this event is the way it mixes Americana with Japanese kyusha and kustom culture. It’s at the very core of the Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show and other Mooneyes Japan events, and why I never tire of visiting them. Aside from the variety, the organizers manage to hand-pick the right mix of new and old cars, so there’s always that ever-important element of freshness.

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Am I the only one that gets a Ringbrothers vibes here?

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Close to half of the show is made up of custom bikes, and while I didn’t end up shooting many of them, I took time to check them out, because custom bike builders in Japan do some amazing work. Many emulate styles that are tried and tested, but it’s the ones who incorporate unique Japanese details that always get my vote.

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While much of Saturday morning is spent positioning cars and building the booths themselves – which can range from ridiculously intricate to beautifully minimalistic – getting the cars to shine is also a big part of the prep.

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The guys from Andy’s Rod Works made sure their ’32 Ford was both spotless and gleaming.

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Any Mooneyes show is the perfect place to pick up some custom-made art, and the selection here was mind-blowing. When you come to Japan, you can’t possibly leave without a skajan, and the more intricate the embroidery the better.

Of course, due to the travel ban here, there were no foreign guests at the show. Hopefully this won’t be a problem in 2022.

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The main show floor area is always subdivided into groups, with the biggest section saved for an alternating theme. This year it was reserved for hot rods, and as they kept rolling in the display became more and more interesting.

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Not too far away, the roundness of the ’40s era brought a different vibe.

The Japanese car component at Mooneyes events resonates strongly with so many, both in the variety I touched on earlier, but also the way the show brings in the best from very specific scenes. There were a couple of nice drag-oriented Zs, this one packing a very appropriate engine swap. The other, I’ll show you in the spotlight post I have coming up.

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We’ve seen this sublime Datsun B210 Sunny at previous events, but how could I not share it again?! I still don’t want to go into too much detail, as I plan to visit the owner, who also happens to have an amazing garage.

It’s not a Mooneyes event without custom vans, and this smoothly executed and slammed Toyota Hiace on air hits the spot rather well.

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I’m accustomed to it now, but when I stop and think about it, there aren’t too many places you can one moment walk past a custom Shelby Cobra…

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… And the next be looking a drag-inspired vintage keitora.

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But my favorite thing about the Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show is always the selection of Crowns, Glorias and Cedrics. I’ve always had a thing for larger Japanese vintage sedans, and what Nissan and Toyota churned out in the ’70s was epic. I have to make special mention of this custom 2-door Gloria wagon – simply amazing!

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By mid-afternoon the last few cars were entering the giant hall space.

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This included those from Nagoya’s Kappaers KK crew. Yes, these rods are driven hundreds of kilometers up to Yokohama.

And trust me, they look far more impressive up close than in pictures.

Which finally brings us to this, a truly one-of-a-kind Nissan Pao. Because Japan.

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I hope you guys have enjoyed some of these sights from the Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show 2021 set-up day. Next up is a selection of cars that really stood out to me, so check back soon for that.

Dino Dalle Carbonare
Instagram: dino_dalle_carbonare
dino@speedhunters.com

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