Some 70 years ago, lurking in the shadows of downtown Los Angeles in the small satellite of Japantown, second-generation Japanese Americans—otherwise known as Nisei—gave birth to the Nisei Week Japanese Festival, an event its founders hoped would help celebrate Japanese culture in America. Sixty years later, Ken Miyoshi’s Mainstream Productions partnered with Nisei Week organizers, creating what is arguably the West Coast’s most revered Japanese car show.
I’ve never been much of a car show guy. The missing hoods, the color-clashed engine bays, the windshield vinyl roll calls—it’s all too much for somebody who has spent most of his life trying to figure out how to make whatever it is he’s sitting inside of go faster. Despite all of this, though, I never miss a Nisei Showoff. That’s partly because of the heritage associated with Mainstream Productions—the outfit that brings us Nisei Showoff and that brought us the original Import Showoff series some 15-plus years ago—and partly because the cars that show up, well, don’t suck.
For the past 13 years, the vacant J-town parking lot positioned behind the backdrop of L.A.’s skyscrapers has played host to nearly 200 of the West Coast’s upper echelon of modified Japanese cars. In typical Miyoshi fashion, only the best of the best are admitted, for his policy is and always has been that of quality over quantity. Don’t be fooled into believing that Nisei Showoff is one of the largest import car shows in America, though, because it isn’t. It is, however, one of the best.
Nineteenth-century poet Oscar Wilde once wrote that “fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” Similar correlations may be drawn upon car show trends of the Honda ilk. Fortunately, there were plenty of Hondas at this year’s Nisei Showoff whose owners need not pay any attention to nineteenth-century poets. Thomas Fitzgibbon is one of them. His Odyssey minivan goes against almost everything that the car show brethren consider holy. For one, it’s a minivan—one that isn’t perched above rare Japanese wheels that cost more than the whip itself. The paint isn’t even all that nice. Under the hood is where everything changes, though. In the likeness of the mid-’90s North American touring cars rests the ubiquitous, normally aspirated, reverse-head H22A. Straightforward this swap is not, and to see it basking under the hood with its individual throttle bodies and custom-designed header in the midst of Civics that put equal emphasis on sticker placement as they do power production is refreshing.
Erick’s Racing has it figured out, too. The company’s pair of vintage pickup trucks, one of which gets by with a turbocharged S2000 engine, proved as much. Although cross-platform engine trickery’s arguably gotten out of hand, there’s never anything wrong with pairing Honda’s premier four-cylinder VTEC engine with classic Datsun pickup truck sheetmetal. Boost doesn’t hurt either.
Honda Challenge race car driver Andy Hope and his Circuit Monsters CRX also make the list. A seasoned driver and Honda veteran, it helps that Hope’s B16A-powered CRX isn’t hard on the eyes. Hope’s CRX wasn’t the only track car that made its way to Nisei Showoff this year. Right next door sat Tom Liang’s track-beaten hatchback, and a row over the Raceline guys spread out a host of race-ready Integra Type Rs. Real-deal race cars, every one of them.
As you might expect, those weren’t the only greats, but coming from somebody who’s never been much of a car show guy, that’s enough to make Nisei Showoff worthwhile, year after year.