The annual Mooneyes Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show has been showcased on Speedhunters from our earliest days. I visited the event for the first time in 2017, and ever since had been longing to return. Six years later I finally made it happen.
For the last few events, I’ve enjoyed Dino’s reports from the Hot Rod Custom Show’s Saturday set up. His love for custom culture is strong, but not strong enough to trade hot rods for GT-Rs at the Nismo Festival, which falls on the same Sunday every year. But with me being in Japan for a short visit and the Mooneyes show high on my hit list, it worked out nicely for both Dino and I this time around.
Dino always mentions that set up day has its perks, as you get to see all the show vehicles in motion and hear their engines as they’re moved to their pre-determined positions in the giant Pacifico Yokohama convention center. Not needing to negotiate your way through a 10,000-strong crowd to capture clear shots is also a bonus.
What the Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show set up day lacks however, is atmosphere. The live bands and all the people who dress up for the occasion in their favourite rockabilly outfits, Mooneyes gear and pin-up style dresses, make the main day something special.
‘Atmosphere’ is a big, empty word, but while I was standing in it, listening to a psychedelic surf rock band play for all the people in the ‘International Village’ area, I almost shed a tear.
Emotions hit me when I was reminded that this show was started back in 1992 as a way for Mooneyes Japan to help preserve global hot rodding. And here I was, 31 years later, celebrating the ever-flourishing American custom car and motorcycle culture in Japan.
It’s all thanks to Shige Suganuma, owner of the Mooneyes brand for three decades, who calmly walked around the area, greeting friends and fans from all over the world.
The Ride & Drive In
The main event started at 8:00am on Sunday morning, but kicked off properly an hour later when a small number of guest participants with some of the best builds made the most remarkable entrance to a show that I have ever seen. When 9:00am hit, these cars and bikes rolled into the convention center to huge cheers from the assembled crowd.
Plenty Of Blazing Classic Trucks
The 31st annual Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show’s theme was ‘Plenty of Blazing Classic Trucks’, so there were quite a few pickups on display. Old school Chevy and Ford trucks shared a special area with pristine modern projects based on the Toyota Hilux and other popular Japanese pickups.
At the back of the truck area, I found something that put a big smile on my face – a bunch of light commercial Nissan NV200 vans, each one totally unique. I have nothing but respect for anyone that decides to customize workhorses like these.
Falling In Love With The Crown
Japanese cars are always well represented at the Hot Rod Custom Show, and I instantly fell in love with all ways you can customise a Toyopet Crown. Yes, they weren’t even Toyotas back then.
I know people in Japan probably don’t see these cars as anything too special, but as someone from Europe who had never experienced one in the flesh before, they really piqued my interest. I knew the Crown existed as a sedan, but seeing coupe and pickup versions of the model surprised me in a good way. The Kujira Krown above is a perfect example of how traditional Japanese and American lowriding aesthetics can successfully be mixed together.
Along with the Crowns, the show featured plenty of other old school (and newer school) Japanese vehicles that possess the Mooneyes spirit.
With suicide doors and air suspension this Nissan Cedric is a perfect Cadillac look-a-like, while the little pinstriped Toyota Publica van is one of the cutest vehicles I have ever seen.
More Modern Takes & The Weird
Although they were greatly outnumbered by classics, every now and then another modern car appeared in front of me. Custom builds like this Dodge usually require a completely different mindset.
If I was ever going to see a badass, wide-body Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon like this one, it could only be in Japan.
The G-Wagon was wild, but here’s a build I couldn’t even imagine in my wildest dreams – a safari-spec De Tomaso Pantera. How do you even starting thinking about creating something like this?!
But wait, there’s more – this time a widened DeLorean DMC-12 with a Porsche Pink Pig-inspired livery. The best part is, the creators left the car’s austenitic stainless steel visible, deleting the ‘pink’ aspect from the iconic racing design.
These two custom Toyota Hiaces were also a treat. One rocks the lowrider aesthetic, while the other looks more like something you’d create in Need for Speed.
Car culture comes in all shapes and sizes, so it’s no surprise that the Mooneyes Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show also celebrates scale modelling with its own special area.
There’s so much joy to be found in these scale models. Everything from Hot Wheels dioramas to 1:24 scale cars – some with mind-blowing detail – had a show of their own in Yokohama.
The Best Kustoms
This retro-futuristic motorcycle hauler named Ultimatum took home the main prize at last year’s Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show. Starting life as a 1950 Chevy 2-door, the custom creation is the work of Japanese hot rod legend Junichi Shimodaira, who runs a hot rod, custom and lowrider shop in Nagoya called Paradise Road.
This year’s ‘Best Of Show Automotive’ award went to Tomoko ‘Tomo Bunny’ Hattori, with her 1949 Chevrolet Coupe named Lady Amber. It’s a classic, slammed ‘bomb’-style custom with air suspension, a chopped top, and a killer paint job. Honestly, there have been so many subtle changes made to this retro cruiser that you need to be someone who knows the ’49 Chevy very well to pick them all. For everyone who doesn’t, a dedicated Instagram account shares the full story of the modifications.
Did I Miss Anything?
I walked the show around 10 times, but each time noticed something new or spotted another detail on a car that I liked. It was only at the end of the day that I saw this ‘space ship’, which slightly resembles a Subaru 360.
The Flat4 Beetle area was crowded all day, so I avoided it until the very last hours of the show. Flat4 is a VW specialist workshop located not far from Mooneyes Area-1 in Yokohama, and is also a car culture destination. They brought a bunch of old school Volkswagens out to the show, each with a distinct look or function.
I’ll wrap up with this collage of images, showcasing every aspect of the 2023 Mooneyes Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show. The mix of old and modern worlds, different styles, and of course people makes the event a true one-of-a-kind.
Once again, I can’t wait to come back to Japan, reunite with friends, and taste a bit more of the country’s special car culture. Hopefully it won’t take another six years though…