Serving as one of the top importers of used Japanese cars in the U.S., Japanese Classics LLC. essentially gets the pick of the litter, so to speak. Experts at locating quality Japanese icons and some oddball models you might not even know existed, the group has made a name for itself for somehow tracking down the cleanest examples of fan favorites and offering them to you, the potential buyer, in 100-percent federally legal status. So, it should really come as no surprise that beyond wheeling and dealing fine Japanese metal for the masses, they themselves have a few "keepers" in their stable. Visiting the Fortune Auto booth at SEMA 2019 revealed a project that they've been hard at work for the last year and we couldn't get enough.
The process started with a 1966 Roadster, which has actually been in Japanese Classics owner Chris Bishop's possession for the past 12 years. He'd mildly restored it at one point in order to get it back on the road to enjoy but admits that it was nowhere near the level that it's currently at. Even butted up against the white wall backdrop of the Fortune Auto booth, the Roadster is incredibly small. Think NA Miata with slender hips and, in fact, the length and wheelbase of the Datsun are about the same as that of the Miata you're visualizing.
You're coming up with different potential OEM paint colors to call out the green that's been expertly slathered across the sleek body. Although the effort is appreciated, there's no official factory designation assigned to this one, as it was custom mixed in-house at Japanese Classics. Sharpened fender flares, a lower front fascia and fresh chrome bits like the front grill, head and taillight bezels and door handles could have been coated in black for that modern, aggressive feel, but that would have criminally taken away from the car's appeal.
The precision rounded glass up front is a result of carefully taking off about half of the original windscreen for that sporty '60s vibe that had everyone who entered the booth looking, touching, and grinning. It's the kind of modification that could have gone horribly wrong and looked tacky if not done correctly, but as with the rest of this project, the crew nailed it.
Wheel choice is something that can keep you up at night pondering "what if," and with this car's color and shape there are a few different directions they could have gone. In the end, we don't know if there's a better choice than retro-style Work Equip 40 rollers that feature a bold 4-spoke design—in this case using a matte finish with a highly polished deep step-lip.
You've seen British Racing Green combined with red leather interior more than enough times to know it works well together, but in this instance the green used is toned down considerably and the interior doesn't have that almost plastic look that sometimes accompanies red leather.
Almost maroon in appearance and contrasted by hints of black, the Relicate leather treatment covers custom seats that were, again, designed in-house, and even includes a custom luggage piece that straps down behind the seats. It's the kind of interior you'd expect to find in a James Bond movie, minus the ejection seat and annoying cigarette smoke.
At this point, Japanese Classics had done more than enough to warrant all of the attention its Roadster received during SEMA week, with its sexy lines and gorgeous interior treatment. I was sold. Then they popped the hood, and I was speechless.
A rebuilt factory engine with perhaps a little chrome or maybe a set of period-correct carbs would have been enough to get the thumbs up, but with the hood hinged forward I was met by an Autech SR20DE! Even more impressive was the fact that the attention to detail in the bay was on par with the exterior.
Bishop tells us they have over 40 hours invested in the valve cover alone. Those hours of labor include cutting the original S15 cover in half and mating its front half to an S13 valve cover's rear half for a one-off look.
The ignition wires you're used to seeing sandwiched under one end of the spark plug cover or sprawled over the side of the valve cover and into each plug silo is a thing of the past because this cover received a welded-in channel that allows the wires to cleverly pass through its flank and into position.
Even the oil cap is comprised of two different caps combined for a low-profile, one-of-a-kind appearance. The entire valve cover process wasn't easy and it's the kind of modification that probably took way too much time, but in the end was absolutely worth the headaches involved because it's mind blowing.
For a week we were surrounded by some of the best that our industry and the domestic world have to offer. We saw astronomical horsepower-producing beasts, high-dollar show cars, and everything in between, and still this micro-sized convertible with a thousand different custom touches was held at the top of our list.
There are very few cars we come across that we can walk away from completely satisfied, not wishing the owner had changed this or added that, but with this example it's game over—we wouldn't change a single thing.