"In Japan, the way they style older cars is not as over-complicated or crazy as most people in the US think it is-- I wanted to show people that."
He's absolutely right. Much like many facets of other cultures that are widely known, liked, and imitated in the United States, there is a habit of taking elements that we like and/or think are cool and exaggerating them, and forgetting (or omitting) elements that we don't like (or don't find as interesting). But Jamiel wanted to bring the simple, subtle style of many of the "shakotan" cars in Japan to the United States. He wanted to be true to all of the cars that he was seeing that were impressing him so much-- using so little. A true Toyota fan, he couldn't have had a better platform to do this, then his Toyota Crown.
Alot of people in the United States have no idea what a Toyota Crown is. And that's fine, because before I saw Jamiel's Crown at a local night-time meet-- complete with purple road hazard flasher-- I didn't either. There is a reason for this, and it's simple. They never saw the US market again after 1973. So, if it was made after 1973, and it's a Toyota Crown-- it's right-hand drive. The Crown has been used to fill many different roles in Japanese society since it's inception in 1955; most of which it still serves to this day. From taxis to executive transport, all the way to use as police vehicles, the Toyota Crown is a very versatile road-bound people carrier. It's one of Toyota's longest enduring model lines still in production. This is thanks, in part, to all the various trim levels that have come and gone. They ranged from regular family sedan options all the way to what became the standard for Japanese executive sedans (including, but not limited to: dual-zone climate control, front and rear heated seats, 4-way adjustable power seats, audio systems control in front and rear, acoustically calibrated speakers, automatic headlights, reading lamps for all seating positions, electrically adjusted tilt and telescoping steering column combined with a steering wheel, seat memory features, and more), and remember-- this was the late 70s. In the case of Jamiel, he was lucky enough to find a "Royal Saloon"-- the highest trim level at the time. And he found the car, actually, already in the United States.
Long before getting the Crown, Jamiel was already a "Toyota guy". He's had several Cressidas (both sedans, and a wagon), a TE72 Corolla, and most recently-- an A60 Celica coupe. But he tells me that he wasn't always a "Toyota guy"; much less an "import guy". Growing up with his father, who was very into cars of all kinds, he gravitated at first towards American muscle cars. But he recalled a very specific "AHA!" moment-- and it happened in one of the 4 Supras that his father has owned. The Supra was of course-- lowered, so when his father took a speedbump at speed-- head on-- Jamiel said his head just about hit the ceiling. But he enjoyed that experience so much, well-- here we are today.
The Crown showed up locally before it was under Jamiel's ownership. But when he saw it, he knew that was what he wanted. Luckily enough, that local owner (who is also an importer) was already a friend of his. He tells me that he's thankful for that for a number of reasons, but not the least of which is that it got him a "good deal" as a result. So, here he was with one of the only, if not THE only, 80s model Toyota Crown Royal Saloon on the east coast. So of course he did what any of us would do to a minty stock Japanese car from the 80s-- swap and chop the suspension to lower the damn thing. In the true "mix-and-match fashion" (that we at notfast. love so much), he looked outward for whatever parts, Crown-specific or not, to lower the car. As it sits now, he ended up cutting the rear springs and leaving the factory rear struts, but the front is where it gets interesting. Currently supporting the front end are a set of Chevy Nova struts surrounded by late-model Ford Mustang springs (and they've been cut, of course). He tells "It's kind of amazing to me how many people will tell me that I'm 'not even low' (laughs)." But of course, as he is telling me this, we are scraping frame going across a flat bridge. So, I will let that fact speak for itself. And the kicker is-- he wants to go lower.
This year, he was finally able to make a trip to Japan with some friends of his. You may know them as TEAM ROWDY out of Atlanta (If you've never heard of them, do yourself a favor and look them up now-- the cars are all incredible). While in Japan, they did what most enthusiasts would (and should) do: Tokyo Auto Salon, the Toyota MegaWeb, Nissan DNA Garage, Tomei, the TEIN factory, and they went to several of the circuits. He says he was able to meet more people then one usually would (as a tourist) when he went to the circuits, because before ever leaving the US, he was already studying and practicing spoken Japanese. Especially so, at Mobara Twin, where he and the group met SHOUT ROGUE and Freee's, two well-known Japanese drift teams. But needless to say, the other high-point of the trip was getting to see all of the cars we all see in photos (and the cars that we don't) with his own eyes. He was able to compare how the cars were actually styled in Japan against how they are styled in America after being influenced by the Japanese style. And this just made him all the more confident in his styling decisions for the Crown sitting in the garage back home. "Less is more" seems to be the overarching philosophy when building a shakotan car in Japan.
The details play a major role in why this car is so great. Both the details added by Jamiel, and the details added by Toyota in 1985. The Royal Saloon and its multitude of options were indicative of the abundance of money being made by Japanese automakers as their sales began to skyrocket worldwide in the mid/late 70s. Many of the options evolved into more and more options offered in the later Japanese executive sedans coming out of Toyota, Nissan, and other lesser known marques. The first thing you notice when you see the car is the iconic front end. Aside from the elegance of the grille/foglight combination and famous Crown insignia, the GX71 lip splitter that Jamiel has added retains the overall nature of the car but with some added retro-sportiness.
The current "brake cookers", as he calls them, carry the car just fine at the current ride height; and the color works nicely. But he is on the look out for a new set of classic shakotan wheels (SSR Longchamps, Tomcats, SSR StarSharks, or SSR Mk 1s), the one obstacle is the Crown's 5 stud lug pattern. One thing that he made very clear to me was that the decals that make their way onto the car were either left on from it's time in Japan, decals that are period-correct, or those that have been received from brands, teams, or groups that he personally has a good relationship with-- no more, no less. Under the hood, one of Toyota's only factory supercharged engines, the 2-liter I6 DOHC 1G-GZE is opened up with a set of the iconic TRUST blue race headers.
Now let's talk about the interior and accessories. For starters, as far as I'm concerned, one of the best parts about this car came from Toyota. The brown trim with crushed red velvet interior are a stark, and I think, perfect, contrast to the white paint of the exterior. It's a classic "they don't make them like this anymore" characteristic. Although, there are obviously still carmakers today doing brown trim, and various red interiors-- they never do it quite like this. There is something about it that just screams "made in the 80s". The seats are exactly as plush as they look, and that is even with the beaded seat covers, which-- again, add a nice contrast. Little odds and ends adorn the dashboard-- essential "No Smoking" decal, vent-mounted cup holder, and my personal favorite, the delightfully small O.B.A. 290 steering wheel (complete with S.E.V. Marchal horn button). Even the more modern stereo unit could slip right by you as a period correct unit if you don't look hard enough.
In the rear deck sits the essential period-correct PIONEER TS-X7 speakers. A staple in lowered cars in Japan across many years, the various models of PIONEER add-in rear deck speakers are seen through the rear window of shakotan, bosozoku, bippu (VIP), and most other types of "street style" cars in Japan. He adds in a hint of "bosozoku flash" with the OEM Toyota purple hazard strobe. In the past in Japan, purple rotating strobe lights were offered by carmakers as options to be used to signal for help in case of an emergency, or to signal that one's car was immovable. The bosozoku however would have them on at all times simply to further distract other drivers, and draw attention to their flashy vehicles. I noticed out of the corner of my eye another bosozoku easter egg, wedged between the seat and center console; one of the traffic light sticks! You know the one; we've all seen videos of bosozoku hanging out of the passenger windows waving these light sticks. Hanging in 3 of the 4 windows are heart-shaped tsurikawas (train handles). The car is a testament to the aforementioned "less is more" mentality, and it absolutely shows that it is a formula that works.
This car has one of the shortest parts lists of our feature cars to date, and it still more than holds it's own. The key to building an impressive car, whether people realize it or not, is not always the amount of money spent on parts. I don't think that matters at all. In my never-ending search for cars that have been built with creativity, originality, and effort, as well as speaking with those that build them; I realized that some people can make a lot of what others feel they can only pay for. And futhermore, the placement and juxtaposition of parts, decals, and other accessories are very important to the overall feel of a car. Although some people would disagree-- I see building a car (with serious intent) as an artistic medium. Stay with me for a second. It begins with the canvas (the car), then you have ideas about what you want to create, and then you add and subtract things in a creative manner to make something different, and in most cases-- more appealing than the canvas you originally started on. All the while, the builder is putting in blood, sweat, time, and tears into bringing their idea to fruition. And at the end of the day, just like art, some will like it, some will not, but ultimately the only opinion that matters is that of the artis-- sorry, car-builder. In some cases, like this one, there is also a message. Not necessarily meant to be shoved in your face, and not even really the most important thing-- but it's there. The message in this case, as I see it, is to look at the culture you are imitating and see it for everything that it is, and the value therein, before you just take what you like, leave the rest, and say "it's JDM!"
As someone who hasn't been to Japan yet, I can say almost nothing with authority. But I am confident in my thinking that this is truly a comprehensive study of this particular style of "car dress up" in Japan. But something that Jamiel, myself, and many others all share a yearning for is the environment that usually surrounds these types of cars and their styling in Japan. "People over there do it solely for themselves. It's kind of like a 'mind your own business' mentality. When people go to meets, they go because they are passionate about cars, not to compete with everyone else there. In their culture, respect is the most important thing, and that's what they do-- they respect each other. It's not like that here. Alot of people, here, are 'into cars' for the wrong reasons. People here are so worried about what everyone else is doing. They spend more time 'hating' and criticizing others' cars then they do working on their own. I don't get it. They're stressing over nothing that needs to be stressed about. Just do your own thing and nothing else matters. That's how they do it over there-- you do what you want, and you don't care what anyone else thinks." Jamiel doesn't believe that we (in the States) could ever really recreate the "vibe" that he felt at car gatherings in Japan. There are just too many obstacles for that environment here-- the rampant criticism being one of the main cuprits. And I tend to agree with him. But I digress, i hold out hope that eventually there will be enough people with the "build for you" mentality, that events can be held and retain an environment similarly open/passion-driven to those in Japan.
Photos by: Charley Hoehaver (@centru)