Brothers In Dust: Two Dirt Race Hot Rodders From Japan

Brothers In Dust: Two Dirt Race Hot Rodders From Japan

Grinning from ear to ear, the joy that Genki-san and Kenta-san have for their hot rods is as real as the red dust which covers them from head to toe. Let me introduce you to these two extraordinary gentlemen and head out onto the oval dirt track in Saitama, Japan.

As I walked around this event organised by Side Motors, I tried to pick out a couple of my favourite cars to spotlight. It’s never easy picking the best of a bunch, and this day was no exception. There were cars from the 1920s all the way through to the 1960s, all of which had a character of their own and something unique enough to warrant a second look.

I ended up choosing Genki-san’s 1930 Buick Roadster and Kenta-san’s 1934 Ford Pickup, not just for the cars, but for the owners too.

1930 Buick Roadster

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Genki-san has owned this Buick since he was 19 years old. While some teenagers rejoice at the freedom a hand-me-down VW Polo brings or the thrifty economy of a Škoda Fabia, Genki-san wanted his car to be a little more, well… dangerous.

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And when I say ‘dangerous’ I don’t mean how dangerously expensive it is to maintain and how scarily expensive it is to insure. I’m talking about the driving experience.

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Before events like this one, where drivers can enjoy a good thrash in relative safety, Genki-san used to push this 92-year-old tin can to its limits along the expressways of Saitama. Once, while driving a little, shall we say spiritedly, he hit a bump in the road and spun the car around and into a barrier. Luckily he was OK, but the Buick was pretty beaten up. It was nothing a big hammer couldn’t fix though, and Genki-san soon had the car running again.

With its chopped roof, razor-blade windshield and exposed engine, I don’t think I would be taking this thing out onto public roads. It’s much more suited as a play thing to tool around with at a dirt bowl on a sunny day, and seeing it covered in dust with its parts exposed was very cool indeed.

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The sound trumpeting from the custom side-exit exhaust manifolds is raw and dirty. I’m afraid there’s no aftermarket engine management system, sequential transmission, 3D-printed parts or carbon fibre here, just pure unadulterated mechanical fun. Builds like Genki-san’s Buick strip down what we love about cars – as machines – to their simplest form.

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And it really doesn’t get much simpler than a Chevy V8 bolted to a chassis with four wheels on fixed axles being driven by a lunatic sat in what is essentially a steel bathtub. Pure joy. Are you getting why I chose Genki-san now?

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The amount of dust being kicked up was ridiculous, covering the half-sized windshield, gauges and Genki-san in a heavy powder which I’m sure would remain for weeks to come. I couldn’t help wonder how much dust was being consumed by the engine and what kind of damage the fine grit might be inflicting on its internals.

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The 350ci Chevy, fed air and fuel via triple Rochester carburettors on an Offenhauser intake manifold, may only be making a whisky flask over 100hp, but that’s plenty to get the car drifting around dirt corners all day long.

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The engine is backed up by a TH350 auto transmission and 10-bolt rear diff, which I imagine can easily handle this kind of abuse. In fact, throughout the day and after continuous laps and endless donuts, I didn’t see one single hot rod engine overheat, diff blow or steering knuckle break. They certainly don’t make them like they used to.

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There were plenty of other hot rods at this event I could have shone a spotlight on, some beautifully restored and others with colourful histories. But I wanted to introduce Genki-san and his Buick because he is a proper character. He’s someone who doesn’t follow the social norms, doesn’t do things by halves, and certainly isn’t afraid to be a little reckless.

He ripped up some pretty epic skids, too.

1934 Ford Pickup

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As soon as I saw Kenta-san’s Ford Pickup, I immediately thought of the StanceWorks Model A that Mark shot back in 2018. Of course, Kenta-san’s truck nowhere near as extreme, but I think the idea of what it could be, made me pretty excited.

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Kenta-san, like Genki-san is a true petrolhead, a lifestyle passed on by his father. When Kenta-san was little, he and his father would sit together and watch old greaser movies, and on weekends go to classic car shows and races. One of the films that really influenced Kenta-san was American Graffiti; he couldn’t get enough of Milner’s bright yellow ’32 Ford Coupe.

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The sounds and smells at those classic car shows and races must have been other-worldly for Kenta-san. He tells me he was truly captivated by the old cars and from then on his fate was sealed.

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His first car was a 1988 Toyota Mark II, but four years later he took a trip to Side Motors to scratch an itch. This black ’34 Pickup was in the yard, and Kenta-san knew it was the truck for him.

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It had already been modified into a hot rod by Side Motors, and I can see why Kenta-san likes it. It came complete with aluminium riveted seats taken from a ’60s-era American military helicopter, and is a build not afraid to show its scars. It looks like a living time capsule, slowly decaying, but putting up a fight to survive at the same time.

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American muscle is usually a label reserved for Mustangs and Camaros, but I feel like the title could easily be bestowed on this old battler too. The heft of these old Fords is a reminder of the might of the American automotive industry before the death of Motown. These trucks were built tough and built to last. They carried the weight of a growing nation, and it’s remarkable that so many survive today as hot rods.

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The rebuilt Chevrolet V8 is clearly visible from the side of the pickup, as the original panels have been removed to allow the massive side-exit exhausts to do their thing while looking totally badass. There’s QA1 suspension components all round, which add a nice bit of modern bling to the old girl.

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Kenta-san and his Ford Pickup were throwing the biggest skids on that day, and watching from the sidelines it looked as if he actually had the most control over the car, compared to a lot of the other vintage hot rods playing in the dirt.

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The suspension setup might have a lot to do with that, and perhaps also the extensive chassis reinforcements Side Motors performed. It’s unclear whether this originally had a four-cylinder or the V8 option from factory, but regardless, the rebuilt engine and Chevy 3-speed automatic gearbox were definitely testing the 88-year-old truck’s resolve.

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I could have sat and watched this thing doing donuts in the dirt all day long, but the dust was starting to send me into fits of incontrollable sneezes and with each pirouette I became a little more jealous of both Kenta-san and Genki-san. Unfortunately for me, hot rods like these sell for a premium in Japan, plus I doubt one would even fit in my apartment parking space.

For now, I’ll have to be content with some great memories and a ton of dust in my shoes.

Toby Thyer
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