Leave well enough alone. Be grateful. It’s good enough for government work. Work with what you have. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Don’t you know kids are starving in Africa? For many, what they have—what they’ve been given, what they’ve been able to scrape together through their own means—is enough.
And then there are the outliers who demand more, and push themselves to achieve it. For them, standard-issue is merely a starting point. Not that what they have is insufficient, but where there’s the opportunity to make something one’s own, they seize it and get to work on realizing their vision. They tinker and tweak and what-if and thumbnail and spitball; they’re so busy working that only when they look up can they realize how far they’ve come. Frequently, their efforts become a tangible reflection of their experience and their determination. Done properly, the result is also reflective of the journey it took to get there.
Scott Kanemura is one of these outliers. Inevitably, the Torrance, California-based promotions-company owner starts small: a splash of ink on his arm, a lowered (if dilapidated) early Toyota Hilux in his driveway. Next thing you know, his entire back is a mural combining Japanese and Christian imagery, and his little Hilux is pumping out 739hp and 641 lb-ft (at 24psi) to the rear wheels.
The ink started as a simple memorial to his father, Frank. “He had my name and the names of all of my siblings tattooed on his arms,” Scott recalled, “and after he passed in 2006, I got his name in kanji on my arm.” Soon Scott added a koi, a brocaded carp that is a Japanese symbol of hard work, with a name that is a homonym for affection. Quickly his ink expanded to a pair of half-sleeves, until finally he went for the big one: a full back piece. “I’m not the smartest person around, so I’m willing to work harder and longer than most. [Once again] I picked a koi. In the bible, the devil is referred to as a dragon or serpent; if you look at the tattoo, there is a dragon’s head on a koi. That’s my inner self: sometimes a hard working koi, and sometimes influenced by not-so-good things turning me into a dragon. The samurai is God; He is killing the dragon-headed koi. The meaning [is my desire] to kill my inner evil before it turns into a dragon and to bring me back on the path to be a nice person.” The story tells itself, if you know what you’re looking at. That said, “I really don’t give a crap about what other people think, or if it’s not based exactly from the bible.”
Scott’s “inksperience” gives you an idea of just what happened with his slightly mental Hilux. “My tattoos snowballed from a little kanji character into two half sleeves and my whole back. Likewise, the truck was supposed to be something to tinker with and it snowballed into this import-style monster.”
Now, a word about “import style” here. Scott has been into the import scene for better than three decades now, so he’s seen a lot of trends and styles come and go. “You know how lowriders aren’t just a car, they’re a lifestyle? It was the same thing with import style, but it got diluted over the years. When we were growing up, it didn’t matter if it was a Toyota, a [US-made] Pinto or a [European-built] Capri... back in the day, it was more about style; lowered, with widest rims you can fit, and of course power. It didn’t matter where the parts came from; it doesn’t matter if it’s made in Compton or Japan, as long as the parts are quality and cool. Nowadays it’s JDM this or USDM that, but... I’m trying to bring import-style back to its roots.”
And those roots mean getting the right parts for the job, wherever they come from. Initially, the little pickup was only to be lowered and treated to a rebuilt 18R-G; things spiraled out of control when Scott decided to drop a spare 2JZ between the fenderwells. Two things send off alarm bells here. First, he had a spare, built-up 2JZ just lying around? And second, he did this because, believe it or not, he thought it would be the cheap way out. Wrap your head around that. “I’m building a ’69 Toyota Crown with ADF (Advanced Design and Fabrication in Whittier, CA) to compete for the Ridler award at the Detroit Autorama, and I had this 2JZ built for it. Then we changed our minds and decided to go with a Century V12 in the Crown; suddenly, there was this extra engine.”
“When this happened a couple of years ago, I thought, there’s no way I can sell this engine for what I have into it. No one will buy it in this economy. At the same time, I didn’t want to buy a rebuilt 18R-G for the Hilux for $1,300. So instead of buying another motor, I dropped the 2JZ into the Hilux.” Even Scott doesn’t want to calculate the costs involved, instead describing as his “left arm and right testicle.” Yet this decision informed everything else he’s done to get his Hilux in the state you see it here.
Luckily, the Hilux’s chassis was a sturdy starting point. “The frame was already boxed from the factory; it’s not that flimsy C-channel stuff. [But] not much of the original frame is left at this point; the front clip is original, but narrowed, and under the bed the frame has been C-notched to lower it. The only part not modified is under the cab.” That includes a rear suspension that’s been converted from leaf springs to a completely fabricated four-link trailing arm system with QA1 coilovers.
Getting back to Scott’s definition of “import style,” there are also a surprising amount of non-Japanese mechanical parts on this Hilux. The engine sports Carillo connecting rods. The rear end, a Ford 9-inch unit with a 3.53 final drive, was built by Currie Enterprises and uses Strange axles. The front suspension is based on Ford Mustang II architecture. The radiator came from Ohio’s favorite speed parts dealer, Summit Racing. There’s even the untreated white, primer and rust exterior, a shocker in the world of imports, but less so in the context of the “rat rod” movement which has taken such a hold of the old-school American hot-rod world over the last couple of decades. “Gives it character, and no one else would have all that rust and primer and paint,” Scott says.
Unsurprisingly, Scott’s Hilux remains a work in progress. Already, since these photos were taken, the bed has been mini-tubbed, and more plans are afoot. “Next up, we’re putting suicide doors on it and shaving off the cab’s rain gutters in order to smooth it all out.” Which means that for the man who thinks that too much is never enough, this story is far from over.
1972 Toyota Hilux pickup
Owner Scott Kanemura
Hometown Torrance, CA
Occupation Hustler at KMA Promotionals
Engine Toyota 2JZ-GTE; A/C and power steering mountings shaved from block; custom air intake; Wilson 90mm throttle body; intake matched to throttle body; custom billet flange for GReddy intake plenum, 212 intake manifold, 23R intercooler with custom plumbing, oil cooler, 23R intercooler with custom plumbing and relocation kit; HKS 272° cams and gears, head gasket; Supertech valvetrain including valves, dual springs and retainers; ARP head studs; head ported, port-matched and machined by Tom Fujita at Port Flow Designs; CP 87mm pistons; Carillo rods; twin HKS/Garrett GT2835 2.5-inch turbos and manifolds; ADR custom 2.5-inch downpipe; TIAL blow-off valve; custom water and oil hard lines; custom billet aluminum motor mounts; Bosch 044XZ fuel pump; Fuel Injection Clinic pressure regulator, rails and 1100cc injectors; Radium fuel surge tank; Unorthodox pulleys; modified stock oil pan; Summit Racing radiator with custom hard lines; ADF custom-billet valve cover; Radium oil catch-cans and overflow canister; Painless wiring; Honda K-series coil packs
Drivetrain Toyota R154 five-speed manual transmission; ratios: 3.251:1 First, 1.955:1 Second, 1.310:1 Third, 1.00:1 Fourth, 0.753:1 Fifth. OS Silken triple-plate clutch; Beech Performance shift lever; HKS JDM shift knob; custom driveshaft; Currie Enterprises 9-inch rear with 3.53 gearing and Strange axles
Engine Management HKS F-Con V-Pro ECU and EVC boost controller
Footwork & Chassis Chris Alston Mustang II-based front end; fabricated four-link rear; QA1 coil-over shocks
Brakes Project Mu four-piston four-pad calipers; 14-inch rotors
Wheels & Tires 17x9" -10 (front)/17x10" -20 (rear) Volk Racing TE37V; Yokohama A048 225/45R17 tires (front); Toyo 265/40R17 tires (rear); RayG Formula lug nuts
Exterior modified front bumper; cut rear fenders and bed; shaved bed hooks; welded tailgate; Hella H4 headlights
Interior STACK gauge cluster; custom billet aluminum by ADF; 8-point roll cage; Recaro seats with custom rails by ADF; MOMO Mod 78 330mm wheel; Tilton pedals
Thanks You: Eric Toyoshiba; Advanced Design and Fabrication (ADF) in Whittier, CA; Jessie at Arce Muffler; Jon Kuroyama; Howard Watanabe at Techno Source; Eddie Lee at Mackin Industries; Yoshi Iizuka at Project Mu; Mike and Kenji at GReddy; Ryan Nufable, Amy Tsuneishi; Mike Quan and Howard Hoshiko from HKS USA; everyone at KMA Promotionals