Ever dreamed of owning a Hakosuka Skyline or a TA27 Celica GT liftback? Of course you have, or if you haven’t, then you need to spend more time reading up on classic Japanese cars and less time following Lady Gaga’s Twitter feed. Good places to start your old school JDM education include 7tune.com and japanesenostalgiccar.com, and if you live on the West Coast, then a visit to the Japanese Classic Car Show is also a must.
Once you’ve done your homework and have been properly seduced by the timeless lines and old school cool of the JDM nostalgia-mobile of your choice, you’ll want to point your browser at JDMlegends.com, a relatively new business (established in 2009) by none other than Trey Cobb, the founder and owner of Cobb Tuning. Trey may not be gaga over Gaga (though he may be coo coo for cocoa puffs), but he’s clearly got a passion for classic Japanese cars, as does JDM Legends shop manager Eric Bizek (formerly in the hard parts R&D department at Cobb Tuning). With Trey’s business savvy and Eric’s mechanical skills, the two have successfully imported, restored and sold more than a few seriously sexy JDM nostalgics, perhaps most notably a truly spotless RB26DETT-powered ’73 Skyline.
If an RB-swapped Kenmeri Skyline doesn’t pry you away from Gaga’s tweets or that bowl of chocolaty cereal, then we’ve officially lost all hope for your automotive soul. For the rest of you, you’ll be interested to know cars that are at least 25 years old can be legally imported into the United States (15 years old or more being the Canadian standard), but the red tape of legally importing a car from Japan is more than a little daunting. And that’s where JDM Legends swoops in to save the day. Not only do they handle all the importation and registration headaches, they also offer restoration services should you want your classic JDM dream machine to have that new-car smell (OK, they probably don’t guarantee a new-car smell, but you can be certain it’ll be in tip-top shape mechanically and as restored cosmetically as your wallet can handle).
As shop manager Eric put it, “It has always been our desire to be able to serve our customers as an honest, reliable source for importing vehicles from Japan without having to deal with the mountain of paperwork and red tape involved. When you purchase a vehicle from us, all of the hard work is taken care of, and we provide you with a legally titled car that is all bundled into one easy price — no hidden fees or shenanigans. It’s also our goal to be able to provide our customers true turnkey vehicles that have been meticulously inspected and restored while providing as much information as possible along the way so that our customers feel as comfortable as possible about the condition and quality of the vehicles we sell.”
If you visit the JDM Legends website, you’ll notice they’ve mostly sold Skylines and Celicas. This is totally understandable given the sexiness of these particular hunks of J-tin, but it’s also a strategy of the shop to specialize in these machines and a few others. As Eric explained, “We can import any JDM model vehicle our customers desire, as long as it’s 25 years old or more, but we feel that specializing in a few makes and models will allow us to become more proficient at the sourcing and restoration process of these particular vehicles.” That being said, Eric also listed a number of other Nissan and Toyota models as machines they consider their strong suit — tasty stuff like Nissan Bluebirds and Fairlady Zs, Toyota Corollas and Starlets, along with rotary-powered Mazdas (Trey started his automotive career at Rotary Performance).
When we asked Eric and Trey how JDM Legends differs from other Japanese car importation specialists, they had this to say: “One of the main ways we differentiate ourselves from some other resellers is the sheer amount of information we provide our customers with as to the condition and quality of vehicles we sell. As you can imagine, purchasing a 40-year-old car from Japan sight unseen can be a bit of a scary process for most people, so we work very hard to make sure that every aspect of the condition of our vehicles is known upfront. We start off with a 140-point inspection that goes through every parameter of the vehicle from the roof to the tires. We also provide our customers with detailed compression and leakdown numbers that indicate the condition of the engine and as many detailed pictures as the customer desires, as well as walk-around and driving videos so that there are no surprises when a customer receives a car from us.”
As impressive as JDM Legends’ approach is to making nostalgic J-spec cars painlessly and reliably available to American enthusiasts, you’ll probably find their blog equally impressive. Eric has clearly put a lot of time and effort into the blog, and here’s why: “For me, the entire reason behind our blog is not only to show some of the behind-the-scenes action, but also to demonstrate the quality, craftsmanship, pride and passion that goes into the restoration of every car we sell.” There’s also some really entertaining stuff on the blog related to Cobb Tuning’s motorsports activities, ongoing project cars like the Beams 3SGE-powered RA29 Celica GT hatchback they’re building as a shop car, and a recent trip they took to Japan in search of a little extra classic J-car knowledge.
As far as advise from these old school JDM experts when you’re ready to go shopping for a classic Japanese car of your own? “Research, research and more research,” Eric says. “The better equipped you are about the most common problem areas of the particular car you’re looking at, the more you will know what to look for. Rust is probably the biggest issue we deal with, so don’t be afraid to ask for pictures under the carpets and of the frame rails, side sills and floor pan. Also make sure to request pictures of the trunk, especially the area where the spare tire sits (the trunk or hatch seals can sometimes fail, which leads to water collecting in this area). Electrical systems can also be problematic, so it never hurts to make sure that all of the turn signals, headlights, taillights, et cetera are in proper working order. It’s also a good idea to get a picture of the VIN number and location on the car to make sure you aren’t going to be stuck dealing with tampered or non-matching VINs.”
If you’ve officially caught the classic JDM car bug, you can either learn to read and speak Japanese and then attempt to take on the shopping and export/import process yourself, or you can let JDM Legends do the legwork for you. Your call, but with Cobb Tuning’s long history of high-quality products and equally high-quality customer service carrying over to JDM Legends, it seems like an easy decision to us. “We try to invest as much honesty, integrity, passion and pride as possible into every vehicle that leaves our shop,” Eric says. “What you have to take into consideration is that Trey and I are enthusiasts first and foremost. The day we have to cut corners or hide potential issues with our cars in order to make a sale is the day we close the doors here.”