Japan and Germany are about as similar as apples and orangutans, yet when it comes to automotive culture, both are blessed to an extent that you just have to experience it yourself to truly appreciate it. I recently traveled to both countries, and my mind is still reeling from the diversity and depth I witnessed within the unique automotive cultures found in these two very different nations.
Germany undoubtedly produces some of the best automobiles on the planet, with Porsche, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes all battling it out for Bavarian supremacy. I’ve finally realized why that is: because when you have a culture that welcomes speed, highways like the Autobahn exist and cars need to be built to perform flawlessly at speeds greater than 120 mph for long periods of time.
As I’m sure most of you know, the German Autobahn highway system allows you to drive as fast as you’d like in the deregulated zones, but that doesn’t mean the roads are polluted with speed-addicted madmen. Quite the opposite, as driving is taken very seriously in Germany (and most of Europe, for that matter). To get your license and pass the driving test takes actual skill and preparation, not to mention a strict adherence to the “drive right” policy (meaning you always drive in the righthand lane, except to pass). As a result, most Germans possess the ability to drive at speeds that most of us would only dream of being legal here.
Germans also place a lot of responsibility on the individual. You can go lap just about any racetrack in Germany without a helmet or vehicle tech inspection, including the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Some of you may think that’s just plain nutty, but their policy of personal responsibility does, in fact, work extremely well. Almost all of the cars showing up to the racetrack are properly prepped, ready to race, and if something does happen, nobody sues or points fingers at the other guy. Instead, people realize that what they are doing is risky and accept that they’re lucky to have walked away with just bruised egos (and probably hefty repair bills).
Japan also ranks amongst the best in the world of automakers, with brands like Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Subaru topping the list. The legendary Japanese work ethic and attention to detail is no myth, and it has allowed them to build some of the safest and most reliable cars on the market today. As you’d expect, the same mentality is present in the Japanese automotive aftermarket, as you’ve probably experienced when buying Japanese performance parts.
The Tokyo Auto Salon also provides tremendous insight into how meticulous Japanese tuning companies are. There are definitely a few oddball machines and crazy Bosozoku styling exercises on display, but ask anyone who has attended TAS and he’ll tell you that Japanese quality and craftsmanship are second to none.
After the Tokyo Auto Salon, I attended a Battle Evome time attack event at Tsukuba Circuit and was again in awe of the level of engineering and effort put into the track cars. These events are for grassroots competitors, not the big-name shop cars, and some are even daily drivers, yet the level these cars are built to surpasses some of the shop-built cars I’ve seen stateside. To see this level of commitment and passion from a group of grassroots racers was really eye opening and inspiring.
Simply put, the sights and sounds of German and Japanese car culture have taught me the importance of slowing down, stepping back, and really thinking and executing with precision and care on all my project cars. It’s so easy to get caught up in the workaday rush and the need to have everything done right now, especially in the deadline-driven world we live in, where falling behind schedule can sometimes lead to corners being cut and mistakes being made, sometimes without even realizing it.
Thanks to my recent travels to these two amazing countries, I’m now more determined than ever to change my thought process and build, drive, and own my cars with pride and passion. And I hope in the process I can inspire you to do the same. It may require more time, effort, and patience, but the results will make it more than worthwhile.
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