Trends are a funny thing, this weird circular progression, that at 29 years old, I am starting to see repeat. Oakley Frogskin glasses – I think I threw mine away in 1994, now they are a hipster's dream.
But the ‘street' car enthusiast scene seems to be a bit more linear. I'd like to share my observations, experiences and predictions from the ‘boy racer' scene outside the States, New Zealand to be precise.
New Zealand is a mystery to many, a small country at the bottom of the world, we are known for a handful of obscure things, (Lord of the Rings, Flight of the Conchords and the All Blacks). But ‘import tuning' (for lack of a better term), should be added to that list. The car enthusiast scene is strong, and in my opinion, NZ has been a trailblazer in terms of new trends and ideas, even if the rest of the world may know little of it. There are a couple of reasons for this; Kiwi ingenuity and more importantly Japanese hand-me-downs. NZ was one of the first countries to take second hand Japanese imports. To stimulate the JDM market, vehicle tax in Japan increases exponentially as the vehicle ages, making it a ‘no brainer' to upgrade to a new car when it is circa 3 years old. And those ‘old' cars need to be dumped somewhere. NZ import duty and tax laws are lax, and when it rained, it poured. They were flooding in to the country at a ridiculous rate and put many dealerships out of business. The over-supply sent prices plummeting. Along with old taxis, trucks and sedans, mountains of rare JDM only models were landing on our shores, they were cheap, and fast. The selection was sickening. The 1990's was the heyday of those Japanese sports cars; the most common formula for 1990's Jap sports cars was 2.0 litre turbo 4wd's. But all the usual suspects were there along with homologation specials that dealers often unknowing would under price. It spawned an import drag scene that initially was dominated by street legal road cars that people would drive home from the track in, (if they were lucky not break anything.) The 1999 Nationals were dominated by R33 Skyline, Nissan GTiR and FD & FC RX7s. 2000 saw the same familiar faces, upgraded, with a few GT starlets that weigh about the same as a Sumo wrestler and were pumping out big power figures. It was a great time to be part of the scene. Like any emerging subculture, the quiet before the commercial storm seemed like the peak in many ways. I used to laugh (sorry) at American forum posters bickering and drooling over JDM Integra type R body parts or STi intercoolers. It seemed so backward. We were spoilt with not just JDM parts, but the actual vehicles. And the best bit was that often fresh imports would be a goodie bag filled with after market, Japanese only, upgrade parts. Even base model Corollas would sometimes be sporting rare Rays wheels, Razo gear knobs or GReddy boost controllers.
Then it happened. That movie. It wasn't the worst movie I have ever seen, (it actually took me 3 years to come around to watch it), but it had a huge impact, worldwide. The Fast & the Furious instantly pushed they whole import car enthusiast scene in the mainstream. All of a sudden the definition of street cred became redefined by the mainstream with people jumping on the bandwagon. Neon lights, flame decals, Veilside body kits and the whole NOS thing. Chrome spinners, (chrome wheels full stop actually); I blame it all on that film. Maybe it wasn't the worst thing, as it gave those people a scene to latch onto which instantly identified them as, well lets say, not the ‘real deal'. It was obvious they didn't have a true passion for cars, and to make a music analogy, it angered and frustrated ‘crate diggers' like me when we were tarred with the same brush as these ‘pop music' fans.
As other countries started to relax their import rules and take more JDM vehicles, prices firmed up in NZ, but there was, (and still is) a steady flow of quality sports cars available, and this has kept fueling the scene. Those Japanese taxis that seemed unloved in the late 1990's all of a sudden found new life. Nissan Laurel's and Cefiros with their RB20/25det engines, (same as the Skyline family), were a huge catalyst in the early NZ DIY drift scene. They were cheap, easily tunable, strong and could do huge dirty sideways slides. The D1NZ is one of the more exciting drift series to watch in my opinion. Sure the big money of the US of Japanese D1 isn't there, but the ingenuity certainly is. The wide range of vehicles and skill levels make it an entertaining spectacle. The real enthusiasts, who are the base of any subculture, have a real chance to mix it on the main stage, which I think is great.
As track days gained popularity all over the world, the new hotness is the ‘time attack.' Certainly inspired by the Japanese scene, I believe it represents the future of enthusiast motor sport all over the world. You don't need big money, and it gives people a chance to enjoy their hobby and find the limits of their skill and hard work in a safe controlled environment. Street racing is a real problem all over the globe, and the encouragement of track day events is the best way to address this issue.
I do fear for the future of ‘backyard' motorsport. We all know how much the all mighty dollar drives things, and there isn't really much money to be made, (compared to professional motorsport anyway). There is a real passion that comes with car enthusiasts. Many creeds, many flavors. But whether you are an old school muscle head, JDM geek, or Euro trash fanboy I think every true car fan knows a quality ride when they see one, so keep it real OK?
This piece was written and submitted by a Jalopnik reader and may not express views held by Jalopnik or its staff. But maybe they will become our views. It all depends on whether or not this person wins by whit of your eyeballs in our reality show, "Who Wants to be America's Next Top Car Blogger?"