Before I joined the ranks at Super Street, I was a quiet, lonely, lost soul who was hired on as the features editor at eurotuner magazine in '06. eurotuner consisted of a staff of two—myself and editor-in-chief Greg Emmerson. Together with Super Street, we lived under the same umbrella (Primedia at the time), and were stationed in a Los Angeles high-rise known as the Petersen Building. Super Street and eurotuner were the only two brands that shared the ninth floor, and it was there where I met Jonathan Wong and the rest of the gang—guys like John Naderi, Ricky Chu, Roel Concepcion, Carter Jung, Charles Trieu, and Sean Klingelhoefer. While I was already fulfilling my dream of working full-time as an editor, I still envied the fellas at Super Street. They weren't just talented journalists, but they were the most chill group of car enthusiasts that also had a knack for having a shitload of fun.
Five years passed at eurotuner and I was hungry for change. During that time, Jonathan had taken over the reins of Super Street and was rebuilding his team. He could have hired a thousand more qualified applicants who knew more about the "JDM world" than I did, but he took a chance on this Euro guy—a guy who never drove a Honda, a guy who barely knew a thing about Time Attack, a guy who was an outsider on the ninth floor...
Fast-forward to today and I've been blessed with the experience of having Jonathan show me the ropes and instill me with the confidence to keep Super Street going. His goodbye came at a time when a lot of unexpected change was happening in the company, but as we celebrate 20 years, I'm thrilled to be able to show you the final iteration of his EF project car. It's also bittersweet that I finally have the opportunity to thank a friend who took a wild chance on me, and to thank an enthusiast who dedicated 16 years of his life to the magazine you're still reading today.
Jonathan, thank you!
SS: Before you started at Super Street, what were you doing?
JW: I was working at a place that was importing Do-Luck body kits. This was in '97. On the side, I was shooting pictures with a point-and-shoot film camera for Ken Miyoshi on a magazine he used to have called SXY during Import Showoff's early days—that's kind of how I got my start in photography.
SS: How'd you get your foot in the door at Super Street?
JW: One of the older editors, Brent Romans, came by to do a story on some products we were selling, and the conversation led to, "Yeah, we're looking for someone to join the staff. Someone just left." So I thought maybe I'd try it. Mind you, I could barely take a picture, and I only "thought" I could write a story. I bothered Matt Pearson for over a month for the job.
SS: Did you know what you were doing on your first day of work?
JW: I didn't know what I was getting into. I wasn't a good writer at all, I didn't finish college (still don't have a college degree), and barely knew how to use a camera. I had to learn and absorb as much information as I could. I was taught how to operate a manual camera, all with film. There wasn't any room for error. I had to shoot 30 rolls of film for one car just to make sure I got it right.
SS: How'd you get the infamous nickname "JDM Wong"?
JW: I was pretty active on a Honda forum called the Hybrid Board (hybrids.jp). I was looking for information and found these guys (Katman and the FF Squad) from Pasadena styling up their cars with Japanese-only parts. Not that using JDM parts was anything new; there wasn't a term like it back when I first got into cars until I saw it on this forum. I latched onto it, promoted it, and then more or less helped spark the mainstream trend known as "JDM."
SS: So you started at Super Street when you could barely drink at 21, and stayed until you were 37. Why'd you stay as long as you did?
JW: I loved being around cars and loved all the people I met along the way. And I've literally seen everything in this industry. I've seen every trend come and go, seen the industry at its highest and lowest, and seen it bounce back. I was there when Super Street wasn't the most respected magazine—it was considered a joke back in the day, but I was there and helped built it up to what it is today. We were just a bunch of silly car guys trying to have fun putting a magazine together, and it resonated with people.
SS: Who inspired you the most throughout your career?
JW: Certainly have to give all my credit to Matt Pearson, simply for believing in a kid who probably had more street smarts than anything. He really took a chance on me. Also, Rich Chang was a huge mentor. He helped me think outside the box and showed me how to approach a magazine. And definitely the guys at SXY mag (some of the guys work at Evasive Motorsports today!). If they didn't vouch for me, I wouldn't have gotten the job.
SS: So let's change directions for a minute and revisit this '90 Honda Civic Si that was introduced in the mag in '08.
JW: This EF project was really just good timing. Jerry Tsai of Pacific Rim was selling it and it was too good of a deal to pass up. The EF was the very first car I had and I always wanted to build another one. This morphed into a mid-life crisis type of car—the car I wish I had always kept, which then became a part of a build-off between Super Street and Project Car.
SS: So how come you didn't go balls-out with a crazy motor and more?
JW: I built it the way I wanted to in high school. I couldn't afford to do any of the modifications it has on now, from getting the wheels I wanted, to the new-school B-series motor, and JDM conversion. It's also painted a color from a car that was my inspiration when I was younger. A guy named Junior Asprer from Redline Racing had a Civic with a similar color I idolized in high school. It's a combination of styling from the '90s with new-school performance (motor/suspension) and rarities (Mugen exhaust, Rocket Bunny kit).
SS: How did you manage to get your hands on the one and only Rocket Bunny EF body kit from Kei Miura of TRA Kyoto?
JW: I never even asked Miura for it. I always joked with him, 'I think you should make this body kit for the EF. Then he'd tell me, 'How about I give it to you?' For four years, it was the same conversation and I never took it seriously. Finally, after Auto Salon this year, his colleague Norihito Watanabe asked me for my address. They took the kit off Miura's car and it was boxed and ready to go before I knew it. I can't really say what I had to do to get it. He was just very generous.
SS: Guess all those years at Super Street paid off!