Every year that Hot Import Nights rolls back into Chicago to host their annual car show, I tend to get nostalgic about the show and the car scene in general. This year was no different, but I’ll spare you further tales of the “good ol’ days” and “this is how things were”, or “we didn’t have fancy smart phones” and I’ll just get into what the show is about today. The venue for this year was once again the campus of Northeastern Illinois University, nestled in a hidden oasis of wooded natural surroundings among an otherwise dense urban environment. This year, the show utilized a much bigger lot on the campus than it did last year, to great effect as it really allowed for a few more cars and a much better layout that felt less claustrophobic to me. In this setting, there was ample space to pour over every detail of each car as you orbit around it, and just as much space for the large crowd to gather in front of the performance stage throughout the day. As I was getting my shots of cars throughout the day, I also appreciated the back drop of the large monolithic building known on the NEIU campus as “The Nest”. So without further delay, here are some of the highlights of the day.
One of the cars I was more impressed with, was this 240sx at the Xtreme Graphics & Lettering display. Partially because I know how quickly and well done the car was put together. A purpose built drift car, this will soon be seen attacking the skid pads of Drift Chitown in the very near future. It already has plenty of suspension upgrades to put it up to the task, with loads of added steering angle to boot. I expect this to evolve further as time goes on, we’ll call this phase one of the build. It already looks good in Xtreme’s signature green, I can’t wait to see it in action!
The 280Z pictured below, has popped up on these pages before, it’s owner Jarred has even done some modeling for us in the past. I had yet to give it a proper highlight, and seeing it again this weekend, I figured that needed to change. These early Z cars are classical automotive beauty incarnate, it’s almost too easy a starting point with a build. In the case of this Z, things remain fittingly classical and elegant in it’s black and white garb. A perfectly period correct set of gold SSR mesh wheels compliment the exterior well. Under the hood, things are special as well, with what I believe is an RB20 swap, turbocharged straight six. The execution is clean, and factory looking. This is such a lovely car, and I feel like it has slowly been looking better and better as the summer’s gone on. Whatever Jarred is doing with it, it’s working!
Some cars can be built so over-the-top, that they become something barely recognizable from the starting point, and not necessarily always in a good way. The VW in question below, is now just a shadow of it’s former humble Golf self, and has become an ultra posh looking, super hot hatch. This example, is most definitely a transformation of the good variety, very good at that. I love the ultra shaved engine bay, with the VR6 engine seemingly hovering within it. The gorgeous red leather with ornate stitching, covers the Recaro seats and most of the interior, but look in that engine bay again, it’s there too! I like the little details as well, like the vintage Porsche door handles. It all works well, creating an over-the-top look without being gaudy and unbecoming. What a great little dub!
Engine swaps seem to be the theme here, as this next car received one of the most popular engines as of late, a GM LS3 V8. If this should illicit eye-rolls from some, you can blame LS fatigue as the engine seems to have found a home in nearly every engine bay imaginable. There’s good reason though, it works, and it works well. I certainly can’t hate on such a build, especially one like the Infiniti G35 pictured below. When you see how well executed the swap is, you’ll have to appreciate it as well. It is obviously not original, but in this example it somehow looks perfectly at home. “Look how far ahead of the strut towers it sits!”, “You’ll ruin the weight balance!” you might be crying out, to which I’d say those are negatives that are likely neutralized by a likely 500 horsepower on tap. Besides, the legendary RB26 also sits well into the nose of the GT-R’s it called home, and those seemed to do just fine!
I generally keep things pretty firmly car-centric on the site, rarely a photo of trucks or SUV’s is typically found here. However, sometimes one stands out and beacons me to take notice. Such was the case with this 1985 Toyota mini-truck. The mid to late 80’s was a magical time where the word “turbo” became more than something to identify a mechanical component, but a buzzword for something “cool”, or “sick” to use the current parlance. This truck is a perfect time capsule for that period, in a slickly modified package. “Turbo” on the two tone beige seats, “Turbo” on the steering wheel, “Turbo” on the gauge cluster; Toyota did not want you to forget that this thing was turbo as hell. Impressively, the owner of this truck, Rick, actually daily drives it. His next project in the works, another Toyota mini truck, but one Toyota never actually made; it’s a Scion xB with a chopped rear converted to a truck bed. That also sounds pretty turbo to me, can’t wait to see the finished product. Turbo.
The GT86 has become a pretty ubiquitous presence at car shows, often dressed in a widened fender stance. I had first seen the one below at Tuner Galleria early this year, still wearing it’s rare wide body kit (it may have been the only one in the country at the time if I’m not mistaken), but it had undergone some changes since then. It’s Cars 3 inspired livery was now seemingly consumed by bare carbon fiber. Like Marvel’s Venom experiencing a symbiotic transformation, the carbon fiber that had started on the hood and front section of the car, was now creeping rearward. The rear wing had swollen to massive proportions, and the entire car has taken on an even more muscular and menacing demeanor. It is quite impressive, and it stands out even in a world where widebody 86’s are becoming almost commonplace. A striking transformation, I’m almost afraid to see what it will look like the next time out!
Finally we come to an old school Datsun 510. I can not help but be caught up in the charm of these boxy little scrappers. The one below enhances it’s charm rolling on a set of vintage BBS RS wheels, draped in a denim blue paint scheme that is accented by orange racing stripes patterned with the “Datsun” name. Oh, and did I mention it now has an F20 swap, the beating heart of a Honda S2000 under it’s hood? For those keeping score at home, that means 240 high revving horses to push around just 2000 pounds of Datsun. Being around 800lbs lighter than the car it originally came in, the F20 should provide more than enough thrust to make this a properly quick nostalgia machine.
Some fantastic cars showed up to display, but left an impression on me, as is often the case, was the people. I saw people of all backgrounds, all ages, all variety of ethnicity, all having a good time and without a hint of malice or conflict in the air. If you heard or read any news after the weekend, it was a tough one for Chicago in a broader sense. A streak of violence across the city meant an onslaught of disheartening and sad news. That painted a stark contrast to the wooded, peaceful setting we enjoyed at HIN over that same weekend. Those headlines seem to dominate the media landscape, and it is often at the forefront of out-of-towner’s perception of the city we call home. However, on this day, what we witnessed and remember is the exact opposite, a peaceful, jubilant gathering, with food, music and of course cars. The sweltering heat did not dampen the mood, or flare up tempers; smiles remained on everyone’s faces. I felt the generosity of the Chicago car enthusiast family, when several people would offer me something to drink throughout the day, helping to keep me hydrated as I made my rounds. Everyone seemed open and inviting, eager to talk cars with me, and happy to share the details of their own pride and joy on wheels. I bring this up, not to make any kind of political point, but simply to provide a counterweight to the terrible sadness and violence that haunts the city, and to assert that if any community has the ability to overcome the very complex and difficult problems that this violence arises from, it’s Chicago. Thanks for reading!
– photos and writing: Robert Sixto