Japanese Classics is far from your average vehicle importer. Founded in '11, the company has 13 employees—11 based in its headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, while two dedicated employees live abroad in Japan searching for the perfect vehicles to import. One thing that sets Japanese Classics apart from other importers is that it also sources and installs OEM replacement or aftermarket parts for any car it imports. "If a customer wants a specific exhaust or aero kit, we'll find it," explained owner Chris Bishop. This is definitely a plus, but the way we discovered the company is through its passion for building cars itself. Every year, Chris and his team take a vehicle they've shipped over and turn it into something for the show circuit. "To me, it's more than just selling cars as a dealership," Chris told us. "It's more like a family here, working on projects late at night. We're all passionate about building cool stuff that hasn't really been seen in the U.S."
This '86 Nissan Sunny Truck wasn't just an unlikely choice, it's one they never planned on building. One bad check and a flaky customer later, Chris had come to the conclusion that they weren't supposed to sell it just yet. With only 39,000 miles and some light modifications made, it was an ideal project car.
The original plan was to adopt 09racing's popular "Hako" front-end conversion, but after much deep thought and seeing Dominic Le's "Hakotora" make waves at SEMA a few years ago (and also being featured in our February '16 issue), Chris opted for a look truer to its classic and original design. A simple Hakosuka-style front lip was added along with 09racing's Sanitora flares. A custom gray paint finished off the exterior.
The Sunny needed to sit low, so Fortune Auto built a set of one-off coilovers for the front, paired with 09racing camber adjustable top hats. The truck came to them with modified leaf springs, which were too soft—it bottomed out over bumps, especially after they dropped it 3 inches. The fix for the rear was a pair of coils from a motorcycle, which let them firm up the ride and adjust rebound as needed. "Now, it's almost too low," Chris says. Almost. "Normally, I like to have at least 1.5 inches of clearance on a static car like this." He then pointed out that the Sunny is at most 1.25 inches off the ground. In this case, it wasn't a problem because the front end of the pickup is so short. "I daily drove it for a week and never scraped once."
Wheel choice had to be period correct, so Chris chose 14-inch Hayashi Racing Command wheels that were refinished by Pine Engineering in New Zealand before landing in Virginia. "Wheel size was a key part of the build. In Japan, these [trucks] are usually built with 12-, 13-, or 14-inch wheels," he continued.
Fourteen-inch wheels are about the biggest that should be run on a truck like this, but the tires are harder to find according to Chris. He wanted the truck to look like it was built in Japan rather than in America; with options for wide 14-inch tires nearly nonexistent in the U.S, a set of uniquely sized Toyo Proxes T1Rs had to be imported as well.
Japanese Classics parted ways with the Sunny pickup last December, shipping it to its new owner on the West Coast. But being the true enthusiasts they are, they're already working on two new projects for the coming show season: a four-door R32 Skyline and another Sunny truck with an SR20 swap and 510 front-end. If this Sunny is any indication of their good taste, attention to detail, and use of authentic JDM parts, then there's no doubt you'll be seeing more of Japanese Classics in a future issue Super Street.