The annual World of Wheels and Tuner Galleria show is a mammoth display of automotive excess. If you love cars, especially modified or customized cars, there is almost guaranteed to be something at this pair of shows that you will enjoy. Of particular note this year, is the Tuner Galleria portion of the show. This subsection of the event, is a one day only show that focuses on more modern offerings that lean toward import vehicles, with the emphasis being Japanese cars. I would unofficially assess that this year’s Tuner Galleria was by far the largest to date. In years past, the second floor hall that was utilized, would have a cloth partition dividing the used floor space from the empty floor space. This year, there was no such partition, as the event nearly filled the entire second floor hall. It has been an amazing evolution to witness, and a redemption of sorts as cars labeled “tuners” were derided at times by folks who just didn’t see anything made in Japan as holding any real value. The tuner section went from non-existent, to a small booth space or aisle, to having part of it’s own floor, and now filling it’s own floor. I am a fan, and I love that appreciation for these cars has grown past them being appliances only.
I love seeing the growth within this sub-sect of car culture as well. In earlier days, if you went to a car show featuring Japanese imports, most of the cars on display would be relatively new, probably no more than 10 years old. Now as the golden era of Japanese cars in the early to mid-90’s approaches 20 years old or more, there is an increasing diversity of models ranging from current model year, to cars that are over 30 years old! Although the market may not reflect it yet, in some ways I feel these older Japanese models from the 70’s are incredibly special and valuable. To re-iterate, in those early days Japanese cars were never even considered special and by no stretch of imagination collectible, they simply were appliances. In that regard, it is impressive that any have survived, and more impressive the painstaking measures many have taken to preserve and\or restore them. This to me is evidence of the ongoing evolution of the import car culture, it has gained ever more depth and substance in the decades that have passed.
The charm of truly vintage JDM vehicles from the 1970’s just can not be denied. These tiny, box like machines have gone from everyday runabouts to something that is truly unique on the street. Pencil thin A-pillars, round glass headlights, wheels that are smaller than some cars spare tires today, and an overall size that is diminutive in comparison modern subcompact cars, they command a reverence of a fragile but respected elder. The number of these cars on display and the quality, seems to be growing with each Tuner Galleria, and I for one welcome it.
Speaking of evolution, it was encouraging to see nearly no examples of terribly exaggerated camber to the point of ridiculousness. Perhaps I am just becoming an old curmudgeon, but this was one trend that seemed to be snowballing out of hand and I am glad to see it gaining little traction in the Chicagoland car scene. Instead, the overall theme was widebody kits with large wheels, low profile tires and aggressive wheel fitment feeling every millimeter of the fenders they were housed in. Lower ride height, to the point of tucking wheels into fenders was common, at times facilitated by air ride suspension that can adjust height on the fly. However, there are a few brave souls that achieve this by static means, meaning they are stuck being incredibly low while venturing the Chicago area streets that sometimes resemble the surface of the moon more closely than what you would expect from a major modern city.
Did I mention how great the older JDM cars were? Well one of my favorites this year was this Celica GT that has undergone some changes since last year, all for the better. It ticks all the right boxes for uber-JDM nostalgia. Wearing a set of Speed Star MKI wheels, but with the added touch of what appears to be a hydro-dipped graphic that sets the deep lips off beautifully. A matte graphite exterior with bolt on fender flares, fender mounted side mirrors, and subtle aero bits on both front and rear, it is a small but intimidating package. The nod to “bosozoku” style with the exaggerated tail pipes, is executed well, giving an extra punch of attitude without looking silly. All these elements give the car a personality, right down to the wooden ammo crate as a back seat and the scarf covered rear deck lid, it all just works. Kudos to the owner of this one, phenomenal attention to details and focus on an overall theme!
The other car that drew my attention, for completely different reasons, was the “Pontibishi”. This car apparently started life as a Fiero, and has been thoroughly re-worked inside and out. It now houses a Mitsubishi drive train mounted in the rear, the venerable powerhouse four cylinder turbocharged 4G63. The body has been transformed with what appears to be a very DIY type of fiberglass custom work. It is a bit rough and unpainted, but I can see the makings of an attractive car here, it looks more NSX than Fiero now. There is zero interior and a beefy roll cage encapsulates the cabin, which is equipped with fairly no-nonsense racing seat, harness, steering wheel and shifter. It appears this beast is fully intended for track duty, which might explain the cosmetics taking lower priority for now. This car got lots of attention, mostly of the “what is this?”, or “they put what in this?” variety. Monstrosity or stroke of genius? I’ll leave it to your opinion, but I personally dig it!
There was no shortage of great cars this year, and I have more shots than I could cram into this blog post. Here is some more of my favorites from this year, hope you enjoy!
photos and writing: Robert Sixto