Inside Japfest: Why Japanese cars are still loved by UK tuners

Inside Japfest: Why Japanese cars are still loved by UK tuners



Japfest 2024 attracted more than 3500 cars and around 20,000 spectators to Northamptonshire

We find out why JDM cars of all ages and types still hold appeal for all ages and types

Modifying - fixing, improving, making more obnoxious - cars in the UK has been alive and well since, basically, the invention of the cars.

The first Japanese car sold in the UK came in 1965. But it took another 15-20 years before the modification of Japanese cars became ubiquitous in the car scene.

And since then, despite the coming and going of the Max Power era, the Japanese car modification scene is still alive and well.

Young people continue to get involved in the Japanese car scene and spend their time, effort and money on personalising the look and performance of their cars. 

Models such as the Mazda MX-5 have become a go-to car for these young enthusiasts while blue-chip collectors have started hoarding Nissan Skylines and Honda NSXs.

*JDM - a beginner’s guide*

Japanese manufacturers tended to produce special variants just for the Japanese market, which were then imported by enthusiasts all around the world. These cars were specifically called JDM (Japanese domestic market) cars. 

These JDM cars differed from the global export models in several ways, ranging from different trim levels to differences in the performance. 

The craze for Japanese cars generally and JDM cars specifically grew in the 1990s and early 2000s, with video games, movies and motorsport highlighting the raw performance and customisation options available for them. 

One of the most famous movie cars during that period was the Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R from 2 Fast and 2 Furious, used by Paul Walker’s character in the opening few scenes of the movie. 

Similarly, the Gran Turismo game got kids involved in the JDM car culture very early on and these kids now tend to appreciate and buy the cars they used to play with in the game. 

*Why the modification scene is still strong today*

We had the opportunity at Japfest 2024 to catch up with a few people who grew up in that era.

The event attracted more than 3500 cars and around 20,000 spectators to Northamptonshire from all over the country for a day dedicated to the finest cars from the land of the rising sun.

Japanese car culture has always been churning in the background and this event has highlighted the enormity of it. The cars displayed had something for everyone, ranging from kei cars to 1000-horsepower Nissan GT-Rs.

Matt Hamlett, 31 years old and a Japfest veteran, turned up to this year’s event in his Bayside Blue Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R V-Spec edition and instantly drew a crowd. 

He has been a regular at these events for more than a decade and his love for Japanese car culture is represented in his garage, which houses a Subaru WRX STi (blob-eye) Prodrive edition, R35 GT-R and a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9, along with the R34.

He said: “Japanese car culture is special because each car represents the owner and the owners like to do most of the work themselves, giving every car a personal touch. You can see the same make and models, but each car would be unique.”

Mazda MX-5s have been a favourite of Japanese car enthusiasts and this event had so many of them, covering all four generations. 

Liam Hartley, 27, is the owner of a Spirited Green Mk3 Mazda MX-5 and another Japfest veteran. He lives the Japanese car culture by making small modifications to his car in his garage and is "aiming to have an OEM+ track weapon soon".

Unlike Matt and Liam, this was the first Japfest for 50-year-old Simon Baker-Chambers. He was one of the lucky few to have bought a Toyota GR86 last year and has been getting into the lifestyle since. 

Having owned several European cars, Simon’s decision to buy the GR86 was purely the love of driving. He said: “My GR86 is currently stock but will not be soon. I have a few subtle mods which I am excited about.”

Like Liam, Simon enjoys the affordability and the community around the Japanese car culture and is a very active member of a couple of forums and car clubs.

Which sums up the scene today. Come for the value - supercar-baiting performance for half the price -  and stay for the community, support and fun.

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