Monday, September 10, 2012

JCCS Week: "My Favorite Models" by Ben Hsu, Editor-in-Chief, Japanese Nostalgic Car...

It is officially JCCS week, as we look forward to the upcoming Japanese Classic Car Show in Long Beach, California on September 15.  The Lamley Group will be there, and is taking the week to celebrate:

The magazine and website Japanese Nostalgic Car has been a friend and supporter of the Japanese Classic Car Show, as well as a driving force behind the JDM movement here in the US and abroad.  If you are not following their blog, I highly suggest you do.  Every post is an education.  It won't surprise you as well that among the folks at JNC, there exists a number of diecast enthusiasts.  Maybe that is why you have seen the JNC logo on not one, but TWO Hot Wheels cars; the Nissan Skyline H/T 2000GT-X and the Mazda RX-7.

The chief enthusiast over at JNC is none other than co-founder and Editor-in-Chief Ben Hsu.  I asked Ben about what his favorite diecast models were then and now, and his answer was very interesting, especially coming from someone who eats and sleeps j-tin.

Please enjoy the article, and keep coming back as each day we will profile the designs of Hot Wheels' resident JDM expert, Jun Imai.  Happy JCCS week and we will see you in Long Beach...

(Thanks Ben.)

My Favorite Models, by Ben Hsu:

As the editor-in-chief of Japanese Nostalgic Car, it may surprise you to know that my collection of little metal cars contains a lot more Detroit Iron than Nihon Steel. To explain, I'll have to go back to the very beginning.

I've been a fan of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars for as long as I can remember — longer than that in fact, because family albums clearly contain birthday party photos of me with my array of shiny new diecast cars. I remember the cars fondly, but memories of the party itself have been lost to time.

On the other hand I strongly recall my earliest childhood trauma, in which I lost my beloved brown Matchbox Corvette T-Top on a trip to the beach. There was something about the long, wavy hoods of the C3 Stingrays that have always called to me, and I still pick up models of this car when I come across them. The Hot Wheels '69 in both regular and COPO form are some of my favorites.

The diecasts I'm most fond of have always mirrored the 1:1 scale cars I liked at the time. My father always drove American cars — Chevelle Malibu, '65 Mustang, International Harvester Scout — so for most of my formative years Japanese cars weren't even on my radar. I still have a soft spot for '69 Camaros, '69-70 Mustangs and the aforementioned Corvette Stingray, and for a while it seemed I was destined for a big block V8 in my garage.

That all changed on a trip overseas. During a stopover at Narita airport I gazed out the window to see world of undiscovered new cars unfolding before me. I was familiar with Toyotas, Nissans and Mitsubishis, but I naively thought the models we had in America would be the same in Japan. It was like unearthing rare lost albums from bands you've known all your life. Needless to say, I bought a lot of Tomicas on that trip.

Since then, whenever I've had the occasion to visit Japan I always make a point to stop by BIC Camera, Yodobashi, or even 7-Eleven to pick up some JDM diecast. I'm particularly fond of the wide wheeled Tomicas, because the deep four-spoke vintage barrels look so much like the shakotan street cars that I love in 1:1. I also have a strong affinity towards the Tomica Limited Vintage line, which I think are the most accurate 1:64 scale cars ever made. I even pick up Choro-Q and Drive Town cars, because no one does cartoony, superdeformed cars better than Japan.

Around the time of my first trip to Asia, Japanese cars were making big waves in the US. Matchbox seemed to be a bit more generous with Japanese cars than Hot Wheels. The presence of real and diecast sports cars such as the Nissan 300ZX, Toyota Supra and Mazda RX-7 fueled my passion for Japanese sports cars. 

Then the 90s hit and Japanese "tuner" cars were all the rage. My niche obsession became mainstream, but surprisingly there were no diecasts reflecting this cultural shift until the 1999 Hot Wheels Honda Civic Si. It came on the tail end of the trend, but I was glad Mattel had finally recognized an important part of the automotive landscape. 

Still Japanese cars were entering the lineups at a trickle. The reason why I have so much more American muscle in my collection is simple: there's a lot more of them made. Even today, variations of Mustang and Camaro — single models, mind you — vastly outnumber the Japanese cars, regardless of marque, combined. 

At this point I have to give a shout out to Jun Imai. I share his passion for non-Japanese cars like the '69 Mustang and suicide doored Lincoln Continental, but I was ecstatic when the Toyota AE86 Corolla first appeared. He outdid himself when he followed up with the Datsun 510, hakosuka Skyline and SA22 Mazda RX-7 because as far as I'm concerned these cars should have been in the lineup when they were sold new. 

I'm now proud to call Jun a personal friend and he's been a pleasure to work with in terms of JNC's licensing on the latter two cars in that list. Most of all, I'm thrilled that he's been instrumental in injecting some much needed Japanese history into the Hot Wheels lineup. If the powers that be allow him to keep this up, the Japanese side of my collection will finally balance out.


  1. I second Ben's thanks to Jun for pushing through a variety of j-tin into Hot Wheels' ranks. Squeezing two vintage Skylines out of the Blue Brand in a single year is a shocker to me--I'm delighted. I've seen photos of the new early Celica coupe coming, and it'll be another small-t triumph as far as I'm concerned. Plus a repop of the Mk II Supra is coming, a Subaru BRAT is on the way ... bravo, Jun and all concerned! Our diecast collections are richer places for your efforts.

  2. Great post! I, too, would like to thank Jun for all these classic imports. I have the racing Skyline GT-X and am trying to find the all-white GT-R. The FB is also a lovely car to have but I have explained my problem in it's own thread (1st look - 'Super Speeders RX7'). Also, is there a chance to see some photo shoots of the racing GT-X Skyline?

    - Black Wind, Swifty's Garage.