Witness the evolution of our scene: First was the dragstrip-tearing Hondas. Next was the rise of the show cars. Drifting's been smoking up the tracks for the past few years and Time Attack's made driving lines sexier than Keeley Hazell (Google her, thank us later). But now the scene's about to get all grows up. It's gone past the squeaky-voiced, no hair on the playing field laddy, to a deep-throated gorilla-chested adult. And the name of this new man? Bippu-san. Or if you prefer En-grish: Mr. VIP.
You've seen them at car shows and on the street-big-bodied sedans rocking muted colors and oozing elegance and style. Think Audrey Hepburn after a visit to Pamela Anderson's surgeon. It's a Japanese tuning style that's sexy and sophisticated as hell. And like the first Galapagoan iguana to leap into the seas, it was only a matter of time before VIP cars would hit the US. It's our scene, evolved. To learn about the origin of the new Bippu species, we have to take a HMS Beagle of a trip across the Pacific to Japan, circa early '90s.
It's 11 in the evening, and you just finished dinner with your company. Tired after a long day's work, you long for your bed and some quality time with your hentai anime. Still warm from the last shot of sake, you hop on the Hanshin Expressway, one of Osaka's major beltways, and make your way home. Cruising at a comfortable 60kph in your little Fit, the hum of the road is shattered with what sounds like the shriek of a thousand castrated elephants followed by a blur of light that rocks your car violently from side to side. Startled, you swerve as a sequence of similar rockets fly by. Damned street racers!
An all too common scene in Osaka, street racers in the early '90s would often take to the roads in high speed chases and tire screeching drift battles. Terrorizing the city streets like a bad scene out of Tokyo Drift, Tetsu Q. Public's cries for help pushed the Osaka police towards a crackdown on illegal street racing. As a result, speed cameras, checkpoints and stings were setup to quash the road rebels.
Feeling the heat, many Osaka street fighters looked for a more subtle way to cruise the streets. Since sport coupes were being targeted, innocuous-looking sedans made for a better option. VIP was born. Taking Euro styling cues from luxury-sport AMG-modified Mercedes, modified dark-hued saloons emerged on the Osaka streets, blending in seamlessly with the public.
At about the same time Osaka's VIP culture was coalescing like cold bacon grease, up north in the Kanto area of the Tokyo prefecture, the more thuggish element known as the Bosozoku (Bo: abbreviation for violence; So: short for speed; Zoku: tribe or group), a motorcycle mob turned car hooligans, looked for a new form to roam the streets. Picking up sedans flavored on the incognito tip, the Bos element would cut stock coils and mufflers and slowly cruise about the streets looking to stir up trouble like Frank the Tank after one too many beer bongs.
Unlike the street racers of Osaka, this breed of Bos Bippus was loud and bold. Known to cause havoc and mischief-think Curious George meets the Hell's Angels-the members of Bosozoku were infamous for deliberately driving slow on public streets, causing traffic congestions on the highway, skipping tolls and just plain driving recklessly. Modeling themselves after the elder Yakuza element, they picked large black sedans as their weapons. What better to dirt in than an understated four-door?
With VIP's underground inception, it's only natural for its styling cues to be subtle. Unlike show cars with ostentatious paint jobs and aggressive body kits with wild wings, VIP cars are camouflaged for urban duty. If you're a brash Bosozoku tired of being busted, or a street racer sick of getting sweated, you'd want your key to dangle as low as possible. And it doesn't get any more low key than a flagship saloon built for the executive demographic. It's the mafia equivalent of opening a money-laundering storefront.
Over time, VIP transcended its seedy element. A new form of tuning, it appealed to a wider audience looking to modify a luxury sedan. And for the Japanese VIP purist only a few platforms qualify, with the viable makes residing heavily in the Toyota and Nissan camp. US variants of the Lexus LS and GS, the Infiniti Q45 and M45, as well as other J-exclusives proliferate under the VIP banner (see sidebar). As of recently, however, VIP Style tuning has crossed over into the more affordable realm of subcompact K-cars and larger Minivans. Bippu Fits and Odysseys? Best-to believe it.
Although makes may have transcended the flagship saloons, there is still a common theme when it comes to VIP styling-clean. Black is the traditional Bippu color, but other muted hues such as whites, maroons or silvers are acceptable. Full body and lip kits are simple, taking the stock lines and mildly exaggerating them. Spoilers, if any, are small and most graphics are frowned upon. At most, owners will place small crew or shop stickers on the front windshield or on custom license plate frames. Add any anime characters, flowers, tribal or six-foot long Honda or Civic stickers and you'd have to lose a pinky finger. Instead, chrome emblems and grilles are used to contrast the body of a VIP ride.
The feeling of understated luxury is carried over onto the cabin of a VIP car. A dealership's wet dream, factory style accessories proliferate; factory style, being the key words. Aftermarket floor mats, seat covers, wood trims and steering wheel covers give the interior a sense of lavishness. About the only flashy modification you might see in a VIP cockpit is the ICE. Thanks in part to US trends, integrated monitors and audio is executed la flying first class. Other tell-tale VIP traits are rear curtains, rear view mirror ornaments, tables and pillows. If you can't tell, attention is carefully paid to the small details. After all, it's the sum of minute details that separates a room at a Motel 6 and one at a Ritz-Carlton.
As for tuning, the typical VIP car is light on the modifications. Built motors, huge turbos and nitrous are for the birds and racecars. Instead, mufflers, brakes, suspension bars, camber kits and coilovers are about the only things a Bippu boy rocks. Height adjustable airbags once left to the Lowrider world are now popular means to slamming your JDM ride.
While VIP cars aren't going for the "Hottest Engine" or "Hottest Performance Vehicle" awards, what definitely is hot on a VIP car is its wheels. Paradoxically, while most of the exterior is on the hush-hush tip, the wheels scream louder than a pack of Mydol-lacking PMSing banshees. Huge, gleaming rims with aggressive offsets lathered in a thin coat of tire is the final quotient in the buff VIP look. Before you think about re-drilling the 16-inch wheels off your Accord, don't. Bippu's be flossing 20s and up, holmes.
The Wave Of The Future
Now that VIP's managed to slip past Homeland Security, what can we expect? Well, if there's one thing we Americans are good at it's adding a twist of our own ingenuity. Already VIP Style has leaked over to Scions-particularly with the xBs-and Acura-badged sedans have followed suit playing up their luxury roots. Others have taken their VIP rides to US tuners and have thrown in high horsepower I-eat-AMG-Mercedes-and-BMW-M-series-for-breakfast-lunch-dinner-oh-and-brunch setups. And as of recently, thanks in large part to Falken, AutoLuxury and the twist of tuned sporty sedans with VIP-styling cues are tearing down the four-doored Bippu'd walls.
So how does one define VIP? You can't. At its core, VIP defies the norm. It is a form of James Dean-like automotive rebellion against authority, and the search for something different and all-together new. With only a loose set of guidelines, it is what we make of it. It is the future of our scene. It's the maturation of JDM and, like us, it will grow and evolve.
As for me? I'm looking to sell some of my cars. I need come up with some cash so I can find me a used Lexus. JDM may have its Wong but VIP's about to have its Jung.
The V.I.P List
VIP purists get ready to wipe your chin-kasu. Here's a VIP List more exclusive than a Surreal Life cast member trying to get into a P. Diddy party. And in case you're wondering, these rides are sporting the freshest of produce-Junction Produce, that is. www.junctionproduce.com.
In a game of tuning word association, nothing conveys VIP more than Junction Produce. Beginning life as a car club dedicated to luxury sedan tuning, JP gained notoriety on the streets for their custom body kits. Now, with over five boutique locations in Japan, a global distribution, the blackest booth at TAS and a range of products ranging from body kits to wheels to wood trims to a Bippu Hello Kitty, Junction Produce is living proof that you're company name doesn't need to make sense to be mega successful. www.junctionproduce.com
Appetite for VIP whet, yet? Here's a list of VIP-related tuning companies to get you inspired (read: broke as a joke).
AutoLuxury forum www.autoluxurystyle.com
VIP forum www.vipstylecars.com
VIP Aero Parts
Auto Couture www.auto-couture.com/index_en.html
Junction Produce www.junction-produce.co.jp/english
Ken Style www.kenstyleusa.com
La Club www.jin.ne.jp/win/new-top.htm
Air Runner www.airbomber.com
Bold world www.boldworld.co.jp/index1.html
Universal Air www.universalair-jp.com/index2