Car culture: challenging JDM misconceptions (opinion)

Confession time. This writer is a middle aged man in love with JDM car culture. Before a certain Fast franchise hit the big screen, before Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, and The Rock – it was my thing.

It’s a journey that began in the year 2000, with the purchase of an immaculate 1988 Honda CRX Si. It was my first vehicle from the brand, powered by a D16ZC DOHC engine (rather than the legendary B16 VTEC), yet it still produced a heady 96kW at 6800rpm.

This doesn’t sound much but in a car that weighed under 900kg, it made for a seriously fun little coupe. The Subaru Levorg in the driveway today tips the scales at 1853kg, with 225kW, making for a similar power to weight ratio.

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Back to that little Honda though. This was the beginning of a love affair which has lasted nearly 25 years. And yes, there’s been some dabbling with Euro spiciness, but something always pulls one back to the land of the rising sun.

Nissan GT-R
The Nissan GT-R is another fine JDM example

But something struck me the other day. Am I too old for this obsession and a relationship with all things Japanese automotive? Are muscle cars or classics a better option? Those are the questions this writer has pondered for some time.

There’s no doubt JDM was a space traditionally embraced by a younger demographic. The buy in used to be less than big hulking V8s from the US or Australia. Supra’s and RX7s were relatively inexpensive. My CRX for example, cost well under $7,000 AUD to buy.

But that’s changed, and nowadays, the buy in for a clean, unmolested example is more than $30,000. S13 Nissan Silvia’s were and are the same. Those Mazda and Toyota offerings we mentioned, well the sky’s the limit, depending on spec and condition.

The point is, what was once an easily accessible car culture is now comparable to a lot of new cars, which offer far more in safety and reliability, and sometimes even more performance for the same or less.

JDM car culture
JDM cars come in all shapes and sizes

Unless you’re a real enthusiast or can afford more than one car, buying into JDM car culture isn’t a cheap exercise anymore. By way of an example, at a recent car meet in western Sydney, we saw everything from EK Civics to MX5’s.

There were plenty of monster Nissan Skylines, RX7’s and Supras on hand too. What was reassuring though was that of demographic of people attending said event was just as varied as the cars.

There were parents with kids (inspiring the next generation perhaps?), older folks, and younger people, aged in their early 20s, all mixing together and sharing their love of JDM cars and the culture that goes along with it.

Also surprising was the disproportionate number of Subaru WRX and STI models on display, from a classic GC8 WRX, through to the recent raptor eye variety. While not cheap, and with not a single example standard (no doubt with plenty spent), it made us wonder why.

car enthusiasts
JDM car enthusiasts gather at Sydney Motorsport Park

Perhaps it shows that the WRX platform is one that’s accessible to a lot of enthusiasts and the new hero in town, much like Honda’s were when yours truly was starting his own JDM love affair. The variety in the builds hasn’t changed from back then either.

The funny thing about car culture is that sometimes it’s pigeonholed into certain demographics and only certain types of people can like certain cars. But the beauty is its all-encompassing nature. There’s no right or wrong.

Sure, us older folk might find some aspects a bit cringe, but that doesn’t make it bad. Cultures by their very nature evolve over time and should be embraced. I’m sure our parents thought we’d lost our minds when we dropped half our savings on a MUGEN part.

These machines, particularly for enthusiasts like us, are there to be enjoyed, either on a deserted, scratchy backroad or at a meet, mixing with like-minded people. I’ve met some of my best mates because of cars and culture that goes along with it.

car meet
A JDM car meet in western Sydney

Sure, we don’t agree on everything, but that’s part of the fun. A few beers, some spanners, fresh parts and friends. It’s cathartic for the soul and in this overly protected world, it’s one of the few liberties we have left where we can truly be ourselves. See you on the touge!

Andy Hempsall
Andy Hempsall
Having grown up on the wrong side of the word, Andy has an odd obsession with small and over revvy cars (particularly JDM based vehicles). He’s owned a variety of modified cars over the years from CRX’s to an ultra rare Ginetta G32 turbo. Since moving to Australia, Andy has written for and edited a number of 4WD publications and now works as a freelance photographer.


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