Everybody I know will tell you that I love magazines and books. Love them. In fact, I’ve had subscriptions to no less than two dozen magazines over the years, and test-drive countless other titles a year off the newsstand. They don’t even have to be in English, or be about cars. Why is this being discussed on an automotive-themed webpage you ask?
Simple. Innovation. Essentially, I look to periodicals and picture books to get new ideas that I can then apply to my car. No really! I’m an import guy at heart, but I’ve had subscriptions to Truckin’, Mini Truckin’, Transworld, Thrasher, Popular Mechanics, Car Craft, Turbo, Sport Compact Car, Super Street, Astronomy, Guitar for the practicing Musician, The Duelist, White Dwarf…you get the idea. I’m also constantly looking to buy picture books…the coffee table type…when they go on sale at local retailers. Any picture can have an idea for my project, be it my car, my house, my games room, my garage…the hard part is catching the innovation and recognizing it for what it is.
Being open minded and “worldly” as I like to call it will give you that competitive edge too, because you have more all around experience to draw from. I once bought a motorcycle book for $10…hundreds of photos. Gave me a great idea for an exhaust that I haven’t used yet on my ae86, actually for any pipe in general, but I’m sure I will in time. I picked up a super car book for the pictures in it so that I knew what their current trends were. Super car touches in a regular car is a hot idea if you can pull it off properly. When I had TV, I watched every car show there was. Trucks! was the most inspiring show of all because I learned from it. It was all the fabrication involved, and Stacey never once isolated the subject matter to trucks alone. What he taught could be used anywhere. Imagine that, an import guy inspired by a down-home 4x4 show.
Based on all of this, I’d like to suggest a few places for all of you tuner types out there to improve your game a bit. Things for you guys to check out for ideas…it’ll give you an idea as to what’s going on outside of the box you live in.
I guess the first magazine to start with would be the first one I saw that sucked me into the whole import thing…Turbo Magazine. This magazine was on the cutting edge of tuning techniques and science. If you want to make the kind of power that makes you giggle like a pre-pubescent school girl, this was the one for you. Its not exactly a great buy in terms of volume (it’s thin) but it has the wild cars with the four digit power figures and all the computer and tuning tips you can think of. I liked them more years ago because they weren’t all about turbos or trying to flag you down with their tedious “replacement for displacement” theory…but they're still fun to read. In fact, they used to champion superchargers and nitrous oxide too! Dull issues exist, but check the month after…more than likely they’ll have something that will blow your mind. It was an all-modern magazine featuring fuel injection technology and all out power…and who can argue with that?
Sport Compact Car was another great magazine, although they seem to have periodic identity issues. One issue they’re an “only small car magazine”, the next they’re all road racing, then grass roots….you get the idea. Either way, they were a good read. Thick title, lots of pages for your money. They don’t tend to get mathematical or into specifications…they cover ideas, theory and what it’s like to drive the machine rather than measuring its every aspect and spraying those numbers all over a page. They were not afraid to do old, or even ancient. Technology to them is just another tool, and this is the place where you’re going to see weird things like Opel road race cars and supercharged Mx-6’.
Its worth noting that both Turbo and SCC are gone. They were absorbed into a mega-media conglomerate during the "good ol' days" of the import scene only to get cut from the roster when the market went in the tank a few short years later. For whatever reason, rather than saving either recognizable title and amalgamating the other into it, they chose to cancel both and then create a new title known as Modified. This magazine is still in business and all Turbo/SCC subscribers were swapped onto this new title. Modified is far less technically oriented than Turbo was, and less driver oriented than SCC. In short its more like another Super Street...wings, fancy paint etc. Its changing its stride and becoming better as time goes on, but I would never have picked up one to take home if it hadn't been forced upon me.
Why can't someone make a magazine that features cars and technical information that actually keeps pace with the maturation of its readership!?
Nostalgic Hero is a magazine I fell in love with when I was in Japan. I’d heard about it for years and went looking for it the second I had landed. I wasn’t disappointed. This monthly magazine in Japan is full of old cars. Period. The older the better. Full colour with glossy pages. As a guy who loves clean, quirky cars…this was a gold mine, and I’ve only just gotten a subscription to it locally. Featured subjects include famous race cars in original, un-restored states, interviews with designers, engineers and drivers, famous race featurettes, the Young Fogey column documenting the old car of a comparatively young person or group of people as well as nostalgic tidbits like 70’s police shows and things. They also have a Nostalgic Garage feature every month showing off someone’s car collection and where they store it. We’re talking about cars that are still driven, in mostly museum quality condition, in trims that you’ve never seen or heard of. Subaru n360 anyone? Needless to say, I love this magazine just for what it is, and everyone who’s seen it has thought the same. Check it out.
80’s Hero is a sister magazine to Nostalgic hero. I’m not sure it has even achieved monthly status in Japan yet. I was lucky enough that I was in Japan just in time for its first two issues, and I was impressed. It doesn’t have the subject rarity of, say, a championship racing s30z, but it was still nice to see some well kept cool 80’s cars documented in OEM condition. I’m sure it will wind up being impressive in its own right. The other thing about both magazines that I forgot to mention is that they feature ads from restoring companies in Japan. Shops that make fenders, doors, even whole chassis and cars! OEM mirrors, signal lights…just like having a Japanese Year One store. Most of them are online, so if you know any Japanese or have friends who live there, you should be able to get the parts you need for your project that fit right the first time, from someone who actually knows the car well.
The obvious Japanese magazine to talk about is Option and Option 2. I am no lover of either, and I’m not sure what the hype is about…but we North Americans seem to love our Japanese Option’s. Maybe it’s because Option was the first one to crash on our shores. Maybe it’s just because Dai Inada’s a cool guy. Either way, it’s essentially the Japanese version of Sport Compact Car. Some how-to’s, some themes, loads of new parts and advertisements…it’s definitely the finger on the heartbeat of Japanese tuners. If it’s cool, it’ll be in Option first. Plus, they have their “lonely mechanics” section in the back for those of you who are into that sort of thing.
Now, the real subject matter at heart here is…you probably have an ae86 like I do. That means that you’re probably out there looking for information about your car like I always am. It also means that you know online resources, while vastly improved over 5 years ago, are still too limited to really give you a good idea as to what you’re getting into. We’re light years ahead of where we were…but it still isn’t far enough in my mind. English resources are limited, and the ones that we do have just aren’t as good as the Japanese ones. Books bridge that gap through pictures. They provide information directly from the source, Japan, in a comprehensive style that can only come from someone who’s seem it all during more than two decades of playing with the same car. Seriously, who’s better with an ae86…someone in California with a website, or a book written by someone who’s studied them for twenty years and has unrestricted access to the greatest ae86 related minds on the planet? I can tell you without one trace of irony that I learned more from talking to Mr. Kumakura from Techno Pro Spirit in two hours than I’ve learned from anyone locally in the entire time I’ve owned the car…which I bought in 1993. If I can get that in a book form, I’m living easy because I have a repeatable source of good information with free access. Sounds like a cookie jar, doesn’t it? So, based on that…having a picture can really tell you a lot. Its all about learning from THE SOURCE…this is key.
I guess the first book that you, the junior modder should know about is Hyper Rev. Hyper Rev is a magazine (book?) put out by News Mook that is semi-periodical, and chassis-specific. By that I mean, new issues come out all the time, and they’re only targeted at one car. Specific to the ae86, the first Hyper Rev for it was released with the advent of the ae111 fwd 20v Corolla Levin back in 1999. I also have Vitz books where one was released for each body style (because I own a Platz). The thing you have to understand is, each issue is comprehensive…it covers every model of that car…ae86, ae92, ae101, ae111, ae121. These magazines are fascinating reading for several reasons. First of all, almost full colour. Secondly, they feature dozens of tuning shops, the specs of their demo cars and parts they recommend or sell. The books also feature interviews with people important to the car, media about the car, important race drivers, maintenance and modification issues, how-to’s…you get the idea. But by far the most important reason for getting these books is…they feature hundreds and hundreds parts for every chassis. The book is neatly organized into subsections…chassis, suspension, engine, exhaust, etc. All manufacturer’s parts are featured with full colour photos, specs and PRICES. All contact information for the manufacturer is given, from phone numbers, website, email…even a map on how to find them if you’re driving! At the back of the book they even have a wheel guide showing your car with dozens of different wheels on it, all from the same angle in a clear environment so that you can see how it would look before you buy. Needless to say, these books are capital A-mazing and will definitely give you an idea as to the tuning trends and parts availability for your car. They also give you an idea as to how the car’s tuning has evolved over time because you can see how each manufacturer’s approach changes in each book. They’re super-affordable at about $40 a pop and available both online and in Japanese book stores worldwide. You may find that local sources are more expensive. Hey, importing isn’t cheap and you’re going to have to pay a fair price…but even $40 is worth it.
Another neat book I found by accident in Japan is the Levin Trueno memorial. As you may know, after the ae121, the Levin and Trueno were cancelled in Japan in favour of the just-plain-ol’ “Corolla”. This book was put out by a publisher to celebrate the life of these two cars, going back to 1972 and the TE27. It features literally dozens of original Toyota brochures, magazine articles and documentaries on famous race cars of the era. It was a neat little piece of history to flip through, that’s for sure. If you’re not into history, its not for you though, as there are no real tech tips or anything featured here. A kind of neato-thing it had was a full colour original reproduction of the TE27 owner’s brochure as a pull out.
Levin Trueno Magazine is a must have. It’s that simple. This series of books was originally released in two lines…engine and body. I can’t remember exactly how many books of each subject there are, but it’s a lot. These books are fabulous because, simply put, they show you how to tear down and rebuild your entire motor or body of your car and properly restore it from the ground up. Step by step. Bolt by bolt. Picture by picture, in full colour. If that isn’t good stuff, I don’t know what is. I certainly wish I’d had access to something like that when I was building my car because I can tell you first hand that it would have saved me a lot of time and money. I’m not saying that you should run out there and buy them all though…that’d literally cost you $1000 dollars. Read on.
A few years after releasing the original series, the publishing company of Levin Trueno Magazine condensed all of the information in both of their book lines and put out two books: Levin Trueno Magazine Master Engine Book and Levin Trueno Magazine Master Body Book. These are the two to have. All of the information, none of the cost. I think these were about $50 each when I was in Japan, and were available at your conventional book stores in the magazine and/or automotive sections. Needless to say, I bought three complete sets when I was there. Plus, it’s a huge cost savings. Don’t get the sense that only restorations are covered either. I have only flipped through the books lightly since I got them, but there appeared to be a fair amount of modification in there as well, from motor tricks and performance swaps like 20v’s to chassis reinforcement and spot welding. They literally cover every mod. Also, because the books are car-specific, all the advertisements are tailored to you, the ae86 driver. Definitely hot hot hot. The other nice thing is that, because the books were technically new, the books were updated with current tuning trends and advertizements. Guess where I found my brake upgrade?
AE86 Super Tuning was a book I picked up on a whim. It really looked like a ghetto mod type book when I first picked it up, but I wasn’t about to risk leaving it behind. It turned out later that it’s a book of full colour pictures of ae86’s, top bottom, sides, undercarriages etc. And lots of them are actually semi-famous N2 and Hot Version Cup cars to boot. I learned more from this book in its photos in 5 minutes than I have from most North American ae86 magazine articles. It even has a neat section on wheel fitment where they not only show you what the wheels look like on your car, but also show how wheel dimensions affect the car’s overall wheel base and ride height using real-world-measurements and a plumb bob. It also heavily featured several under-the-radar garages that I now want to go visit because they made some very cool shit.
I think the most important book I picked up was the last one. It’s called The AE86 Owners Bible, and it wasn’t cheap. At about $150, this hardcover is full colour, 8”x10”, and several hundred pages long. If you can read Japanese, this is your ae86 holy grail. If you can read pictures, it’s not far off of that either way. As near as I can tell, this book is actually seven books that have been combined, including the TRD Levin Trueno Special Edition Tuning Bible. Essentially, this book covers everything from start to finish: Why you want an ae86, how to buy one and what to look for in a used one, how to do all of the maintenance work required to get it up to snuff, how to drive it properly, tools required to work on the ae86, how to restore the car from top to bottom and how to modify every single facet of one from mild to wild. Basically this entire website twice over, all fact, no opinion. It also features sections on the ae86’s technology, specifications, the sixteen or so different ae86 chassis models (and you only thought there were two!) features and options, and the original Toyota brochures for the Levin and Trueno in full colour reprint…which is about 50 pages of photos by itself. This book is brand new, and it is stunning. I’ve had a copy for about a month as of writing this, and I haven’t even had close to the time to digest it all, it’s that good. But, I only know one place to get a copy…the land of the rising sun.
I think I’ve made the point by now that there’s a lot out there that you can make work for you as long as you’re innovative. Read as much as you can. Most of these Japanese books have specifications that are universal. If you want to know what size the wheels on the Vitz are, the part of the text that says 16x7+35 is universally understood. Most of the Hyper Rev books have a universal chart for each shop that shows the specs of the feature car, ecu specs, engine and parts specs, suspension specs etc all in real world numbers that you can compare. 100PS, 6kg/mm and 264deg/9.2mm all mean the same thing in any language.
Surprisingly, I council staying away from DVD’s. Companies like Hot Version and BMI put out regular series’ of DVD’s showing Japanese tuning and racing culture, and these videos are good…but they’re not really educational. They’re great fun to watch, however. The problem comes in the translations. At least now Hot Version, Option and the like make their own translations…but it used to be that someone else would dub translations. This resulted in total inaccuracy, misinformation and made a lot of people look really stupid. Keiichi Tsuchiya does not say “Yo Dog that was Hella tight yo”. It just doesn’t happen. Pretending that he does is just stupid. So, unless it’s original Hot Version, BMI or Option stuff, I’d stay away.
I’d also watch out for North Americans in Japan pretending to be an authority on what goes on there. For starters they’re unbelievably rude on camera, do whatever they feel like with no respect for Japanese culture or its customs and are genuinely annoying. Secondly, they teach NOTHING. You won’t learn anything from watching them. Also, the information they present is both biased and incorrect. The only exception to this that I have found is one called JDM Insider. While I’ve only seen the one episode (#2), I thought it was almost brilliant by comparison, and I would recommend them to anyone who’s looking to start exploring in the Japanese car scene. The two guys who host the video are North American Japanese, so they’re fluent in English and Japanese…and the customs of both countries. They also explain everything that happens as they go, which is information you’re not going to get anywhere else because they are actually industry people. They know what they’re talking about. Behind the scenes exclusives are everywhere, as well as translated interviews with famous drivers, shop owners etc that you won’t find from the twits that make the other vids. What would you rather watch, a DVD where the hosts get invited into Manabu Orido’s house for a tour while his family is home, or a DVD of some annoying white guys getting kicked out of Up Garage while filming using a camcorder? Automotive Jackass just isn’t my thing, especially when it’s used to mock a culture that you’re a guest of. I’ll take the guest-cruises and midnight action with CarMake T&E thank you very much.