The Japanese Domestic Market, referred to as "JDM" by those in the know, is one of the most unbelievable cultures of car modification. Sporty Coupes, Luxurious Sedans, and even economy vans are turbo'd and lowered, given gargantuan wings, and widened to fit massively cambered wheels. Of course, not all of these mods happen at once, but any of these combinations are possible.
Japan has a unique set of taxes and vehicle regulations, where cars more than 15 years old are very expensive to drive daily. This means lots of cars are retired with low mileage, and this, coupled with Japan's stringent road testing, means Japanese tuners have an ample supply of fresh cars to start their mods on. It helps that these tuners have a seemingly endless market of upgrades to choose from, and with the cost of cars not prohibitive, all sorts of experiments take place.
No stone is left unturned with these JDM mods. Insane aero upgrades, weird North American cultural collaboration, and commuter cars that do brake stands—none of it makes any sense, but it's all for real. People's imaginations truly run wild with their JDM creations.
Ever think you’d see a Civic prepped for the race track blitzing down the freeway with a masked man at the wheel? Bet not. Can you picture a Lambo lower and wider than stock, with neon under-lights and Yakuza mob boss at the wheel? It’s hard, isn’t it? Scroll down to see 20 of the most unbelievable JDM mods.
20 Tōge Monsters
Japan has a unique high-risk racing culture. Twisting rural mountain passes, known as “Tōges,” are torn apart late at night by race-tuned JDM monsters. On the outside, these cars appear mostly average, to avoid attention from authorities. But underneath are race-stiff urethane bushings, tight-ratio gearboxes, bucket seats, and stupid amounts of power. Turbocharged Toyotas and high-revving Hondas let Tōge racers rocket up the steep, technical mountain slopes. The Civic is, of course, a classic chassis to turn into a Tōge torcher, as is the legendary Toyota AE86. These cars provide the perfect blend of handling, power, and low weight needed to shred tight S-bends and switchbacks. What makes Tōge mods so unbelievable is that these performance upgrades are being pushed to their limits. These are "go fast, look good later" types of cars.
19 Super-stanced Cars
“Stancenation” is the outrageous nephew of negative camber, the suspension adjustment where wheels are slightly tilted in at the top so the tires grip harder in corners. When used with restraint, a little bit of tuck looks nice and sporty on a Lancer or an MX-5. But as far as I can tell, this car is broken. Or will be soon. This sedan has come a long way from its mundane, low-camber, high ride-height birth. Ignoring known hazards like potholes or speed bumps, a simple right turn seems like it would be impossible. For those not within the stance sect, excessive camber doesn’t make a lot of sense. You can’t go that fast, your tires wear terribly, and ride quality must certainly be compromised by the wonky angles. But hey... it looks good, right?
18 Crazy Exhausts
It would've been too easy to go with the cliche, angry hornet ricer exhaust. Another car culture unique to Japan—Bosozoku—involves some fairly extreme accessories. The trend originated in motorcycle clubs, where the distinctive styling was used to make clubs bikes stand out. Predictably, the trend carried over to cars. All sorts of oversized parts can be found on Bosozoku cars. In particular, they like long exhausts, as you can see here. This culture is unbelievable; no one ever thought they would see exhaust tips as long as the car itself. One can only assume the longer the exhaust tips, the more impressive the car is. Bosozoku enthusiasts gather in the parking lots of race tracks and compare the size of their exhaust tips— an interesting hobby, to say the least.
17 Giant Splitters
Sticking with Bosozoku, let’s look at the other end of the car because it’s just as outrageous. Splitters can be really cool—a little plate of carbon scraping along the road sounds sick. As well, at higher speeds, they can develop lots of useful downforce. I’m not sure what this thing does besides make one hell of a statement. The paint is matched, which is a nice touch, and the rest of the car is fairly refined for Bosozoku. Compared to the fairly stock body lines, Godzilla’s lunch tray really stands out. Why it's so thick is beyond me, and where the aesthetic appeal is, I also am missing. Bigger is not always better, regardless of what you're told. Just look at this splitter for reference.
16 Super Supras
The Supra was catapulted to stardom in the first Fast and Furious, the orange Toyota sliding its way into the heart of fans and the center of JDM vernacular. The cartoonish coupe is an iconic car—and for good reason. The Supra can be built into one of the fastest cars in the world. Period. Sub-six second quarter miles is idiot fast, and the 2JZ that comes in the Supra can be built to make over 1,000 bhp, with some YouTube videos claiming 1,500 bhp Supras exist. From a straight six, that's pretty unbelievable. The turbo arrangements that make this power possible are equally incredible. Fast and Furious may not have been 100 percent authentic, but they were dead on with casting the Supra as the ultra-fast hero car. Because that’s what it is.
15 Batman Bus
When North American culture makes it to Japan, some pretty weird things can happen. We’ve seen their take on the American game show, and it’s pretty weird. Now, we see a new interpretation of the Batmobile. Gone are the sleek black lines and the rugged armor plating. Instead, there are neon-yellow winged fender flares. And a two-story tall purple spoiler on the roof. It’s unclear when Batman would need a bus, but now, he has the option. Perhaps, he can take his enemies for day trips before doing battle. At least there are still Lambo doors—gotta keep it exotic after all. The splitter seems to, in fact, be a small porch. The palette and style cues of Batman stretched onto Bosozoku proportions is a pretty unbelievable combination and one that can only be found in JDM culture.
14 Huge Rear Wings
"Aero," they say. Better grip in those high-speed corners, you know? It’s questionable—the efficacy of a steel plate perched on stilts—but hey... it looks like they're having fun. Giant rear wings are commonplace among race cars, carefully designed to interact with other aero elements on the car and generate maximum downforce and maintain the handling balance of the car. A Civic with a lunch tray on the roof may not react in quite the same manner as an NSX with a factory spoiler. It’s unbelievable the heights and lengths tuners will take their wings to, with there seeming to be a belief downforce is directly related to the enormity and elevation of the wing. It's common knowledge wings look fast, so perhaps, the extra visibility provides some extra speed. Just watch out when the home-brewed mounts snap at straightaway speeds. That aluminum spoiler makes a scary frisbee.
13 Turbo Suzuki Drag Van
My Mom drove a Grand Caravan, and it was appalling how slow it was. Passing on rural highways was always a dance with death. How a little more power would've been nice! If only we had turbo’d the hell out of our sleepy commuter, stripped the interior, and stuck an intercooler to the front bumper... It’s good someone somewhere decided to do all of the above. This Suzuki looks like a demon. It should be doing grocery runs, not quarter miles. Seeing an economy car billowing tire smoke invokes a lot of emotions—excitement, wonder, fear, and, of course, desire. There’s a lot wrong with this demonic little van, but it shouldn’t be right. Minivans aren’t meant to look like this—period, so why start following the rules now?
12 Quad Turbo 2JZ
Quatre, Cuatro, four, or 4—it doesn’t matter. There are four turbos on this motor. It’s not like this is some mutant museum showpiece either. This turbine-laden rocket sits in the front end of an S14 Nissan Silvia, built in a quiet Japanese town by local speed shop Caroline Racing. This projects leader, Tauro-San, cites American jet dragsters as his inspiration, so, of course, there's a thrust lever on this rocket. A what? It’s the shift lever from an auto transmission, tacked onto the transmission tunnel, to... you know... control thrust—from your four turbos. In case there wasn’t already enough turbine-thrust business involved with this car, a small turbine jet engine sits on the trunk lid, pointed straight down, for more downforce—maybe more thrust, too.
11 Street Racing Kanjo Civic
Kanjo is crazy. These are race cars—like fully caged, high-revving, purpose-built race cars. Late at night, mental Japanese drivers put on race suits, boots, and gloves, and hop in their hot JDM whips. But they skip the helmets for masks instead to protect their identity because they're racing at hundreds of kilometers an hour on highways in illegal cars. Pretty unbelievable. These guys don’t have to worry about the cops catching them. Why’s that? Their cars are faster than anything the Japanese police have at their disposal. Civics are, of course, the most popular choice for Kanjo tuners, as they're endlessly build-able and dead nuts reliable. And when you're trying to outrun the cops, you don’t want your car to break down.
10 VIP Cruisers
The practice of slamming luxury sedans has been a favorite of the Yakuza for decades. The classy cars stay under the radar of police, and a little bit of stance and giant rims ensure it doesn’t look like your Grandpa's estate sedan. An airbagged, big-bodied four-door with a low front lip is going to look tough—no question. The murdered-out color schemes and 17-inch chrome Enkeis only make the package more attractive. It’s pretty unbelievable these stylish cruisers were used by to gangsters to avoid authorities and shootouts with rival gangs. Lucky for you, a lot of VIP cars are legal for import to North America, and it's more than likely you have no Yakuza ties to fret over—all the style, no risk.
9 Initial D Trueno
There's a Manga for everything—even drifting. Initial D was a Manga published in Japan from 1995-2013, focusing on the world of Tōge racing and high-performance cars. The Manga seems to have made the lifestyle attractive, as fans have recreated one of the more popular cars from the series—an AE86 Trueno—in the real world. This is a carbon copy of the car in the Manga, save for the internals, as the original is comprised only of paper. It’s unbelievable a cartoon inspired a person to recreate a fictional car absolutely identically. It would be as if we went out and built Harry Potter’s flying car tomorrow. Seems pretty impossible, but if it's been pulled off in Japan, what’s stopping us?
8 Oversized Intercoolers
With a big turbo comes a big intercooler—a really big intercooler... intercoolers so big that front bumpers are forgone in lieu of exposed frame and acres of gaping grille. You need a lot of really fast, really fresh air to keep train-sized turbos cool and happy. This is a mod rooted firmly in JDM culture, as turbos are quintessential pieces for any true tuner. Small displacement engines and similarly small cars mean no space for big burly V8s, so power needs to come from elsewhere. It’s wicked seeing that much expensive piping and chrome hang off the front of some drift missile. Obviously, a driver with thousands in upgrades, fully exposed and unprotected, puts performance before the price of repairs—a true racer.
7 Super Hot Kei Cars
Oh, Kei cars... the dainty darlings of the JDM scene. Sized small enough so they're exempt from Japanese parking taxes, Kei cars are typically sub-80 bhp commuters. But not always. As evidenced by this race-y number, they, too, are fair game for JDM tuners, always looking for a new avenue to explore. Gone is the conservative snail shape of every economy van. Instead, a pointed hood hangs over the grille, and wide skirts fill in any space between the rockers and the road. There's also a hood scoop, which usually means nothing. But there's also an intercooler and piping ducking under the hood. Something seems to suggest this Kei car moves just as quick as it looks. Other than the sin of tacking a wing onto a van, this little ripper screams fun.
6 Widebody Lamborghini
This looks as if it's melting into the road. Anytime a car is at least twice as wide as it is tall, its guaranteed cool. This car is cool. Lamborghini is a brand that delivers outrageousness from the factory, but nothing is enough for the hungry JDM tuner. There can be wider, there can be lower, and there can be more unbelievable. This car doesn't make sense; the proportions don’t really add up. How is something so wide so low? How is there not one right angle on the whole body? What if there's a pebble on the road? It’s impressive to see a Lambo taken to more extravagant heights than its initial iteration, and this JDM special has delivered. The Batman bus from before may be linked directly to The Dark Knight, but this speedy shadow seems more his style.
5 Lambo Doors
It’s scary how easy it is to find bolt-on kits for these doors. For a couple hundred dollars, you, too, could transform your Civic into a Lamborghini—kind of. The doors are pretty much it, but hey... that’s a start. It’s unclear where this mod came from, but it’s clear that JDM heads love it. Go to any parking lot meet, and you'll see at least one person hanging out of their Recaro bucket, Lambo door cocked straight up. Some make a case for these doors being practical for tight parking spots. I guess they have a point. Yeah, it's pretty cool, but c’mon... on a Civic? If you’re going to spend money, why not make it go fast, or tint the windows to hide your identity. Mysterious is all the rage.
4 Gangster Neon Lamborghini
The Yakuza again. These guys really love their cars but sure have different tastes. While some lay low in blacked-out VIP’s, one Yakuza crime boss has chosen a bright-yellow Lamborghini Diablo, with Neon lighting. No concern for subtlety here. A mustard-yellow Lambo with flashing neon lights is a combination many would find unbelievable, but here it is in the flesh. The world is a beautiful place. A wealthy boss wanting luxury Italian cars makes sense, but it’s the decoration that comes out of left field. Do the lights flash the colors of his gang? Is it some sort of dazzling light show to daze and confuse authorities? All that’s for sure is this car is crazy, and the combo of a Japanese crime boss driving a Diablo with neon under lights is frankly unbelievable.
3 Honda Four Cylinders
Honda’s four-cylinder motors are probably the most commonly modded engines in the world. The JDM scene has done everything imaginable to these durable and versatile little four bangers, relying on a massive aftermarket and low costs. Be it like this pretty paint-matched show-prepped number or freak-of -nature 1,500 bhp units, it's unbelievable what can be done to a Honda four-cylinder. VTEC is also the coolest thing pretty much ever and is found in various iterations of Honda’s bread-and-butter power plant. Naturally aspirated Honda dragsters have clocked nine second quarter miles, and the pro-tour turbo’d demons frequently set FWD records. There are also dozens of videos where lowly Civics absolutely walk muscle cars and supercars. Don’t mess with the best.
2 Tow Hooks
Race cars have tow hooks because when they end up wadded in a wall, there’s a good chance marshals will have nothing left to grab but the metal loop sticking out the back of the car. These toe hooks are massively reinforced and are structural members of the chassis. This teal deal hanging off the back of an SI civic isn't quite the same thing, though. In fact, it's not similar at all. Form over function is fine to a point, but a tow hook doesn't look good. It breaks up sleek lines, and it limits how low rear bumpers and front lips can sit. Plus, it just looks goofy. So putting one onto a road car—where it will never be used—just doesn’t make sense. Spending money on an ugly accessory that serves no purpose is a pretty unbelievable trend.
1 240SX V8 Swap
Some car critics have postulated this is, in fact, the most fun car in the world. They have a case. The 240SX is a rear-wheel-drive car with inherently good balance and a wealth of aftermarket options to firm up suspension and beef up the brakes. In a beautiful coincidence, V8 drivetrains bolt very nicely onto the 240SX, replacing the underpowered stock inline four. This swap creates a pretty unbelievable beast. Torque-y V8 power snarls to the back wheels, and the chassis flits through technical corners. Drift rats and time attackers have put this setup to good use, furthering the argument of this mutant being the most fun car in the whole world. After all, winning is fun. And so is a barking V8 in the front of an RWD Japanese Coupe.
Sources: wikipedia.com; jalopnik.com; autoevolution.com