The Japanese domestic market, better known as JDM, has played an integral role in shaping the sport compact market across the globe since the early '70s. From the first aftermarket turbo kit designed for passenger cars to the conception of carbon-fiber hoods on sport compacts, Japanese manufacturers have led the way in pioneering many of the parts we use at the track or showcase at events on our vehicles today. After weeks of heavy research and brainstorming with numerous sport compact enthusiasts, we sliced and diced our magical number down to 12 products. Products from Japan that we felt were the most influential to the U.S. enthusiast.
It's been 33 years since the first aftermarket turbo kit was introduced as we find ourselves in present society, engulfed with hundreds of aftermarket companies selling turbo kits. Many of which owe a debt of gratitude to the men of Japan who kick-started the movement. In 1974 Hiroyuki Hasegawa, founder of HKS Japan, was accredited with designing and building the first aftermarket turbocharger for passenger cars. The aftermarket turbo kit for the L20B engine found in the 240Z proved to be a ground breaking movement among the automotive performance world. While HKS was the first to design and build an aftermarket turbo kit, it was GReddy Japan who brought to the market the very first 50-state legal turbo kit for the '92-95 Honda Civic. With the U.S. government imposing strict emissions rules, GReddy played it smart by offering a kit that consumers could install without the fear of being pulled over.
Reclineable Seats and Racing Harnesses
While aftermarket reclineable and bucket seats continually flood the aftermarket scene, BRIDE of Japan has continued to show a strong presence in the land of the rising run for over a decade. The BRIX reclinable model, the first seat developed through BRIDE has proven to be popular among Japanese circuit racing competitors, while the more average street enthusiasts were found cruising the streets of Japan in their daily drivers using the same seats.Takata harnesses, renown for its bright green coloring, have been a staple product within the motor sports world throughout much of Japan. Manufactured with strict FIA regulations, the TAKATA 4-point and 5-point harnesses have protected drivers in even the most strenuous conditions such as the GT 300 and 500 Championship series. While U.S. guidelines only approve of SFI certifications on both seats and seatbelt harnesses, U.S. residents and JDM enthusiasts don't seem to mind this minor setback as both seats and harnesses have been on a solid sales incline over the past few years.
Veilside was one of the first JDM body kits sold in the U.S. to catch the attention of mainland car owners-well before the whole F&F craze took to the big screen. Introduced in the early '90s, Veilside quickly gained popularity among Supra and RX7 (FD3S) owners as a new radical concept in body design. Veilside and companies like Mugen spawned the dawn of a new era in body kits as U.S. manufacturers took notice and began designing their own kits while others took the simpler path and began gray marketing the more popular JDM body kits to much dismay. Shown above is a Supra sporting the ever-popular C-I model body kit with additional C-II over fenders installed in carbon fiber.
Which country or manufacturer was the first to develop a street coilover system? We're not exactly sure and don't want to start some heated debate. Regardless, suspension tuning has transgressed into a new generation of performance tuning as today's sport compact cars and their owners demand a suspension that can handle the demands of both road racing vehicles and street-tuned machines. In 1990, TEIN Japan, established in 1985, began production of their suspension products (Type H damper) and became one of the more popular companies to develop a full body coilover setup at a reasonable price. The TEIN H damper was designed primarily for the sport compact market in Japan during an era when spring and shock combinations were commonly used.
In the late '80s, if you were old enough to drive at the time, you found yourself sitting at the local muffler shop for over two hours as the resident welder concocted a pinch-bent exhaust system complete with a popular oval-style muffler known back then as the "Sonic Turbo exhaust." As time evolved, so had the design of the exhaust system for import vehicles. Companies, such as A'PEXi, were one of the first JDM manufacturers to offer a bolt-on exhaust system called the "Dunk" complete with a canister-style muffler which was unheard of or seen at the time. While the exhaust canister was larger in size compared to the oval muffler, the DUNK canister setup quickly caught fire throughout Japan and filtered to the U.S. as the new must-have product.
Drifting and Time Attack
The king of drifting, Keiichi Tsuchiya, introduced Japan to a new sport in the '80s based on technique, and skills, while maintaining absolute car control. Tsuchiya and Option magazine introduced their first drift competition call 'Ikkaten' as rookie competitors like Orido Manabu and Nobuteru Taniguchi honed their drifting skills and gained notoriety at a young age. Today, the D1 Grand Prix has taken the U.S. market by storm as drifting has largely influenced both east and west coast drift enthusiasts to purchase and build their very own Nissan S13 or Toyota AE86 drift machines, complete with robust over fenders, large offset wheels, and intricate body kits that often cost more than the vehicles themselves.Road racing on a sanctioned track isn't a new concept by any means in the U.S., but the term "time attack" is often used by our Japanese friends to describe what we commonly refer to as a "time trial." With JDM street vehicles eclipsing the 500hp marker, Japanese performance tuners were in search of translating power and handling improvments into the fastest qualifying lap around the various courses. Numerous magazine publications such as Super Street and Modified Magazine have taken the "time attack" concept and turned it into a popular event for U.S. and visiting Japan drivers as competitors compete for the fastest lap times and bragging rights across the states.
Front End Conversions
Chances are, at one time or another you either owned or knew of someone who upgraded their cars with a set of clear corner lights. As quickly as the clear corner light trend grew in popularity, it slowly became a dying fad. The more serious JDM enthusiasts stepped things up a notch as they enlisted the help of various companies to ship complete front ends from Honda Type R's or Nissan Silvia's with the goal of replicating their JDM counterpart and authenticate the genuine look.
Keeping up with the latest in JDM trends usually meant either spending thousands of dollars in airplane fares to Japan or more simply visiting the local Japanese book store to purchase the newest Option or Rev Speed Magazine. Option magazine has been an invaluable source for U.S. car enthusiasts for the last quarter century as readers catch glimpse of the hottest trends and growing fads from across the sea. While 2NR began researching many of the JDM influences to filter into the U.S., we managed to track down a reprint of the very first Option Magazine dating back to the early '80s. We also took the time to snap shots of various Rev Speed magazines from distributor's more-japan.com, based in Torrance Calif.
Today's aftermarket JDM wheels and their eclectic designs have been a major contributing factor among the growth of the aftermarket import market. Today's more popular JDM wheels are more subtle in appearance, with less chrome and more focus on performance. According to JAWA (Japan Light Alloy Wheel Association) records, the first three-piece rim developed in Japan was in 1971 by Speed Star Racing otherwise known as SSR. The Mark -1 (MK-1) which looked similar to America's Centerline rims was proceeded by the next generation of three-piece wheels known as the MK-2 during the same year. In 1972, the MK-3 completed the Mark series as the first-known company to develop a true three-piece wheel within the JDM market. Over thirty years have elapsed since the debut of the MK series, but exciting news has recently developed as all three rims have recently been on the comeback trail after more than three generations. Tanabe USA has begun selling new batches of these once-rare wheels to the general public along with its optional center caps. The image shown above portrays the MK-1 on the left, MK-2 in the center and MK-3 to the right.
Carbon-Fiber Hoods and Aerodynamics
Carbon fiber spawns the dawn of a new era as fiberglass body panels, hoods, and wings have become second best to this lightweight and durable product. Carbon fiber has been available for over fifty years with its earliest history in the aerospace and military industries. Although FORD designed a carbon-fiber composite prototype vehicle in 1977, it was Japan who implemented CF onto their daily drivers and weekend track cars. JDM manufacturers began using carbon-fiber products to decrease weight while other companies sold the CF concept from an aesthetical approach, offering its unique looks and contemporary styling to sport compact enthusiasts. Carbon-fiber GT wings, diffusers and canards made their way onto the JDM market as all three products brought aerodynamics and functionality to vehicles participating in time attack or drifting competitions. The HKS CT230R EVO, shod in a full carbon body is a prime example of sophisticated engineering and lightweight carbon body construction as the vehicle set a new course record at Tsukuba Circuit in 2006 with a time of 53.999 seconds. Amazing indeed! Shown here is the Nagisa Auto R34 Skyline attacking the Tsukuba Circuit.
While we can't prove that Japan was the first nation to develop the turbo timer, we found an intriguing piece of history from HKS that dates back to the early 1980's-and by the looks of ancient piece, you know this thing is old school! The turbo timer proved to be an invaluable tool among performance enthusiasts as the engine goes through a cool-down period to prevent premature turbo wear and failure. Today, we find this simple, yet effective electronic device used in every performance turbo vehicle, ranging from mild to wild.
Perhaps the newest trend to catch U.S. influence is known as the VIP or "bippu" craze. Taking a page from Japans generation of older teens and middle aged adults, U.S. car enthusiasts have turned towards the more upscale and approachable lifestyle when modifying their vehicles. Vehicles slammed on air suspension while retaining an ultra-sleek and stealthy look is a growing trend that has traversed around the globe.