Look out. It’s another tuning trend from Japan
By RICHARD S. CHANG
Standing in the middle of a convention hall outside of Philadelphia, Takahiro Taketomi looks a bit like Bogey. His eyes are stern and focused and ringed by the charcoal hue of lost sleep. His short black hair is neat and smoothed and shines. He doesn’t smile. In fact, he speaks with a grimace and like he is always about to light a cigarette.
Taketomi is one of the self-proclaimed founders of VIP style, the next great Japanese micro-trend to surface in America. “Bippu style,” as it is colorfully known in Japan, starts with a high-power luxury sedan. The car is slammed on ultra-thin tires and trimmed with boxy body kits. At first glance, a VIP style car might look like any tuner sedan on its way to Hot Import Nights, but there are specific details that set it apart.
A VIP style car might have a billet grille or metallic trim lines or polished wood inside. Window curtains are big. So are aftermarket emblems and hood ornaments. The look is a bit like Scarface Goes to Japan. And legend has it VIP style has roots in the yakuza (organized crime in Japan). True or not, Taketomi makes a strong case on its behalf.
Through a translator, Taketomi tells us he built his first VIP style car, a Nissan Cedric, in 1993. Three years later he founded Junction Produce, which specializes in products for VIP style cars. Today it is one of the best-known marques in VIP tuning and has its brand on everything from body kits to wheels to cuff links and bracelets. Junction Produce is also the first company of its kind to make a big push into the United States.
According to Taketomi, true VIP style tuning is limited to only 10 Nissan and Toyota models: Nissan President, Cima, Gloria, Cedric and Fuga; Toyota Celsior, Century, Aristo, Crown and Majesta. That’s it. Since most of those models come with powerful turbocharged engines in Japan, VIP style cars are rarely tuned for performance. More important is that they’re slammed as low as they can go on the widest wheels possible. Most of the other tuning parts somehow assist in this goal.
VIP stylers use air suspensions to raise their cars to install the wheels and tires and then lower the car on top. Tires are stretched beyond their limits to fit on oversized wheels. Extreme offsets are used so the wheel lips kiss the fenders. And it’s not unusual to see 245/30R tires on 19x10.5-inch wheels—the tuning equivalent of Fat Albert wearing the shorts of his enunciation-challenged friend Mushmouth.
Kelvin Tohar of Falken Tires, which is helping to spread the word in America, says, “It’s not the safest thing to do and Falken doesn’t recommend you do it for daily driving, but it’s the style.” Falken has partnered with Junction Produce to hawk its line of FR452 tires. In exchange Falken promotes Junction Produce at tuner shows and SEMA events, like the International Auto Salon, where we met Taketomi.
Tohar, who has his own VIP style Lexus GS 300 that he calls by its Japanese moniker Aristo, tells me elegance is the underlying statement. “At car shows, most [owners] won’t raise their hoods because it disrupts the flow of the car,” he says. “Even the Junction Produce exhaust is more of an aesthetic.”
Elegance is the word that’s repeated like a mantra by VIP style owners and companies. But it’s a strange sort of elegance. VIP style companies like Junction Produce, Wald and Auto Couture have logos that look vaguely Oxford Street but are more a Japanese version of mafia royalty, without any ironic subtext, like you’d imagine the parts delivered in purple velvet bags, à la Crown Royal.
And the parts aren’t cheap. Outfitting a car VIP style can run up to $20,000 and beyond. But as Tony Montana says in Scarface, “You gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.”