For the past 19 years Ken Miyoshi has been putting together the Nisei Showoff car show during the Japanese festival of Nisei Week - "Nisei" meaning "2nd generation" in Japanese. Each year the Little Tokyo Historic District in Los Angeles, California hosts a nine-day festival celebrating the Japanese culture we have all come to love. Aside from food, one cultural aspect we've heavily embraced here in the states is the cars. Back in the day, Nisei Showoff was actually a night cruise on the streets of Los Angeles that included classic Japanese brands such as Datsun, Toyota, and Mazda.
This year, the Nisei staff brought together a collective of 350 show cars that competed in different categories under a hot August sun. The overall winner, Jesse Sabater and his custom wide-body Nissan GT-R, took home a nice $500 check and six-foot tall trophy. Also new this year was the collaboration between Nisei Showoff and Stance Nation, which explained the massive crowd and varying aftermarket styles.
While there was much to see amongst the rows of parked vehicles staged behind the Los Angeles skyline and music playing from the DJ booth, a few builds really grabbed our attention. One of the crowd favorites was a Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 that Vivid Racing brought out. Then there was Rywire's Civic E-AT at the Falken booth that looked sexy as ever with its immaculate engine bay. Further to the back of the lot we found a row of BMWs with some rad Liberty Walk aero. Finally there was this: Big Mike's JDM 1973 Toyota Levin seen below. Imported stateside back in '88 and never before featured in a U.S. tuner mag, we pulled the car-crazy Mike Muniz(who was pulled over and cited excessively after the show for vehicle infractions - not speeding - in this Levin) . aside to find out more. Interview below:
What attracted you to the Levin?
BM: "I'm from the Philippines originally and when I was younger in the Philippines all of the guys that had the fastest and cool cars always used the Levin. When I finally came to the states, I still wanted one but couldn't find one with a clean body. So I turned to friends that lived in Japan, one of which was looking for the same body style. He found two of them that were in the middle of restoration. But he couldn't afford it because he was having a baby so I ended up buying them."
What Japan-to-U.S. vehicle shipping hoops did you have to jump through?
BM: "I didn't know about the laws, about registering it here or anything like that. So I brought both cars over in 1988. To make it semi-legal in my mind, I thought it would be easier if I converted it to left-hand drive because every car here is left-hand drive, but that didn't matter. I still wasn't able to register it. For the first few years it was registered as a kit car until I was able to register it the right way."
For the first few years it was registered as a kit car until I was able to register it the right way.
What engine did you drop into it?
BM: "It has had several different Toyota motors: 2TG, 3SGTE, a turbo motor and then finally I went with the rotary. I was at the track one day and I got drive one of the rotary cars, the R100. The car was incredible, easy to manage and high revving, so I went with the rotary. I actually went with a rotary turbo first, but it was too overpowered. Then I went NA. It was built by a performance shop in Australia."
I actually went with a rotary turbo first, but it was too overpowered. Then I went NA.
How much did it cost in 1988?
BM: "It was $1,500 USD per car. So it was $3,000 for both, plus $5,000 for shipping. I had to rent a container, which fit both cars. My buddy that shipped it is a shipper for Japanese furniture. So we stuffed everything in there and shipped it here."
What about the second Levin you purchased?
BM: "The other car I have [not pictured] is still right-hand drive, still a 2DG, still all original in Datsun orange. It's actually my daily driver. I brought it to Nesei last year. I didn't start to work on it until 10 years later. By then it was so hard to find parts that I actually bought a show-winning Corolla like this in San Diego, and took all of his parts off and put it on my JDM car."
Are you associated with a shop?
BM: "No, but I used to be with TNT Motors. That was back in the early '90s - it's already gone. I have shops I go to for little work here and there like Race Toys for exhaust work but everything else at this point is built by me, in my garage. I'm a mechanic by trade."
I have shops I go to for little work here and there but everything else is built by me, in my garage.
How many vehicles do you have in your garage?
BM: "I have 4 TE27, 2 Truenos and 2 Levins, and an '82 Porsche 928 with a Boeing Jet Turbine motor. I also have a '96 Pro Street Impala that runs in the 7-seconds with a twin turbocharged 409 small block fueled on alcohol. The jet turbine car runs, but the current brakes can't handle stopping it. I can fire it up and drive it up and down the driveway but not at any real speeds; see what happens is a jet turbine gains centrifugal force so when you're powering it and then let go of the throttle, it's still pushing the car.
I have 4 TE27, 2 Truenos and 2 Levins, and an '82 Porsche 928 with a Boeing Jet Turbine motor. I also have a '96 Pro Street Impala that runs in the 7-seconds...
I'm currently restoring a '72 Trueno Sprinter in to museum quality with the help of Toyota Japan Museum. It has the same body style, but different front end and rear as this Levin. All of the parts are all new stuff. I take pictures of all of the nuts and bolts and the museum tells me if it's the correct hardware. For example, if it is a wrong bolt for the fenders then they help me find it. If they can't find it I look in other places. That's taking longer than anything else."
The combination of the Nisei Showoff's usual attendees and the popular "stance" enthusiasts made for one exciting show. It truly encompassed the tuning trends here in the states with the variety of old-school Japanese tuners, high-horsepower builds, and even the stance cars. It was a history lesson for the young new tuners and a newsflash on current trends for the older crowd in attendance. We can't wait to see what next year brings.