In the world of cars and more specifically the world of automotive enthusiasts, there are many different subcultures. Cars in general can be divided between import and domestic, and within these lie several more subcategories; JDM, Euro, hotrodders, resto-mods, Ford fans, GM fans, Mopar fans, exotics, and more. Within those subcategories there can be yet more divisions between different eras of cars, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and so on. Within each of these many subcategories of car, you can find a diverse subculture of car enthusiasts that love their particular niche of car. As different as they may be on the surface, what these many subcultures of enthusiasts do share, is an unmistakable love for cars and pride in the machines they own. One such subculture is the import scene, sometimes known as “tuners”, they included primarily japanese made vehicles with modification and customization heavily emphasized and valued. The so called tuner scene, now is one that has blossomed into something much larger than the fringe niche it once was, gaining wider acceptance. This was not always the case.
There was a time where the only widely accepted cool cars, had to be made in America and powered by no less than eight cylinders, or had to be exotic high strung machines of the German or Italian persuasion. A car powered by four cylinders, a hatch back, or *gasp* front wheel drive, was seen as something you were “stuck with” because you couldn’t do better. An oil crisis later, and prolonged period of malaise era vehicles put out by the domestics, brought about a shift in the cars that people bought and used, and perhaps an even greater shift in peoples’ attitudes toward certain cars. The result was a growing number of people embracing and loving their Honda, Toyota, Nissan, etc., and seeing them as more than just a cheap transportation appliance. This was further encouraged by the many incredible cars coming out of Japan during what has become known as Japan’s golden era of cars in the early 90’s. So a new enthusiast community was born, but in Chicago at least, this new generation of import fans, had little recourse when it came to car shows and events. If it wasn’t American iron, the mainstream thought, it just wasn’t cool enough to have a show. There weren’t any import shows to speak of, and most made due by holding informal meets, or a small booth space housing a few cars at a mostly domestic car show. That is, until Hot Import Nights came into town.
Hot Import Nights, was the first major show I can remember being held in Chicago that catered to this new tuner subculture. In addition, they did so in an unconventianal way, holding the show indoors, with the lights off, loud music, strobes and lasers flashing away. It was as if someone parked a hundred cars inside a night club, with a full crowd in attendance ready to party. That an organization like Hot Import Nights, an established name in California, came to Chicago, meant something to the import communtiy here. It was an arrival of sorts, a validation, muscle cars weren’t the only cool cars worth celebrating. The spectacle of the event was unique to this new generation as well. They dispensed with the 50’s rock and bop music and throw-back asthetics of sock hop America, instead embracing hip-hop and electronic music with glow sticks in full twirl. It was an important milestone in the evolution of the tuner scene here, and without question Hot Import Nights was at the heart of it. HIN, as it is more commonly known now (acronyms are in, full names are so 1994), has carried this torch for 20 years now, and still remains true to the core values it first started with. HIN was instrumental in creating the culture that exists today, and even as the scene has evolved and changed in the many years since, it still remains a relevant part of it.
The strange irony with HIN, is that it feels like a bit of a throw-back show, experiencing a piece of how things were done in the 90’s and early 2000’s, even though it has an obvious youthful lean to it. Perhaps that’s just me feeling nostalgic, but as much as the import scene has evolved in Chicago, without HIN it just wouldn’t seem right. There is plenty more to see from HIN, keeps scrolling and enjoy, thanks for reading!
– photos and writing: Robert Sixto