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Extra-strength Magic Powder

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Seventies custom-car culture is being reinterpreted in some amazing ways… in Japan. Photos courtesy Sho Kogawa.

Ah, the Japanese car scene. As in America, it runs deep and in a bunch of directions: JDM (“Japanese Domestic Market”), lowriders, American hot rods, ’60s/’70s-era American choppers, “dekotora” (decorated Japanese-built commercial trucks), ’60s-era American customs, the “camber” scene. And those are just the most obvious strains.

But here’s the thing about American car culture in Japan: The Japanese absolutely rule the details. They are so exacting in their research and attention to detail, and their love of all things American is so intense, that we’d submit that they do us better than we do.

Sho Kogawa’s Magic Powder ’70 Dodge Challenger superfreak muscle show car in Koga, Japan.

And, as with stateside car culture, the lens of nostalgia is slowing down to pause over the 1970s muscle car era in Japan, too. Now, if we’re to use, say, the lowrider scene and chopper culture over on our West Coast as precedent, it’d be fairly accurate to claim that we’re seeing the early days (daze?) of the Seventies takeover of custom Americana.

What’s that gonna look like? Well, custom vans – era-correct Econolines, Chevyvans and Tradesmans – are on the menu. Custom Harley trikes? Yep. High-centered “street freak”-axled Chevelles? Sure.

But one particular strain has popped up in a glorious way in Koga, Japan: the muscle show car.

A little background on the muscle show car…

By the early Seventies, the International Show Car Association was in full-tilt, producing an annual competition series that awarded cash and prizes to heavily modified and scratch-built customs displayed at car shows all over the U.S. A decade earlier, custom car shows had become insanely popular, producing mind-blowing, purpose-built themed machines with names like The Uncertain T, Boot Hill Express, The Panthermobile, and The Red Baron.

These things were over-the-top and most of them couldn’t actually be driven, but that really didn’t matter: the model-kit companies, Hollywood, the show circuit, and the pop music industry kept their builders in business. And it got wild.

By the end of the Sixties, though, the Big Three were finally building “practical” dreams that had their own wild names and paint-chip charts and, more important, could be had for nothing more than a downpayment and maybe a trade-in. That muscle-car era ushered in the Seventies in grand style, brother.

So, in those early days, the show-car phenomenon sorta hit the streets: Factory muscle cars were cool, pretty fast, infinitely customizable, and driveable. The aftermarket made bolt-on mods as easy as a trip to Pep Boys, and custom paint jobs got themes, names, murals, and heavy metalflake.

The trend didn’t really last very long, but while it was here, the magazines were stocked with these cars, flanked on both sides by chocolate-fountained boogie vans and scorpion-tailed wizard trikes. Quite the legacy, to say the least.

Muscle show cars, at heart, are just like any other custom: Stance is everything. And in the case of Magic Powder, a whole lot of geometry hidden behind those wheelwells and a set of custom sidepipes to accent the whole thing just work in harmony.

In 2004, Sho Kogawa – an auto parts factory employee by day, gearhead/model builder/toy collector by night – bought a mostly-stock, ’70 Dodge Challenger running its factory V-8 from a Mopar-centric shop near his home in Koga, Japan.

It’s not cheap or easy to own a car like this in Japan: The bigger the engine displacement, the higher the tax. The older the car, the higher the tax. “So,” Sho explains, “riding an American car in Japan, itself, requires a lot of hardship.”

Sho was already a fan of Seventies American pop culture, and as a car guy, the Challenger made total sense to him. But remember, he’s Japanese. Which means he’s also hardwired to innately understand the intersection of both passions in ways many of us – the ones responsible for creating it all in the first place – seem to have either forgotten or dismiss.

First thing he did, of course, was swap the car’s wheezy 318 for a stout 360. And then Sho started collecting era-correct custom parts – the freight class of the long-gone accessories aisle of any self-respecting Western Auto, circa 1974: A narrowed Ford 9-inch rear end and offset leaf springs made room for 15 x 10 slots by Detroit Vintage Wheels and Mickey Thompsons out back, Shelby Cal 500 slots and Delta GTs up front, a modified Camaro front spoiler on one end, an aftermarket luggage rack on the other, and modified Hooker C3 Corvette side pipes with custom heat shields made by a local dekotora truck customizer.

The V-8 that Sho replaced the Challenger’s original 318 with. Even the probably-Dixie-but-who-knows air horn set is era-correct.

The interior maintains the theme with a Hurst Lightning Rods setup, diamond-stitched upholstery, and a small-diameter gold metal-flake wheel, all under the watchful eyes of a cowl-mounted, gold-plated gauge cluster.

And then came the paint. Google this car and there’s an evolutionary history of it, but the current paint scheme has, no doubt, fully realized its potential. As a fan and student of those early ’70s show cars and custom vans, he had to come up with a name. “I was interested in cars (in) American movies,” Sho says, “especially Convoy, Vanishing Point (and) Corvette Summer are my favorite. At that time, Japan had limited means of knowing information about the United States, and movies and TV dramas were the most familiar means to know about that information, so I was crazy looking at them.” Thus, Magic Powder was born.

“I designed this car based on (the paint schemes) of various ’70s street machines, street vans, drag racers, and so on.” Sho continues, “I am inspired by (those) movies, so Farrah Fawcett is on the hood and the mural on the truck in Smokey and The Bandit is on the door.” The acid-tinged layout was a collaboration between the Japanese custom painters known only as MAEMAE and Maverick. “MAEMAE was in charge of pinstriping and (lettering), graphics, and the mural is by Maverick.”

Magic Powder is an exercise in the mysterious art of dissecting and repurposing an obscure American trend in Japan that we ourselves don’t readily understand. But to a car nut like Sho, it all just makes sense. And he watches what’s happening over across the Pacific now, too. “In Japan, the custom car style of the 1970s has started to (become popular) little by little. Vans are the main customs for its American car base, but the Japanese custom car base is being revived with various car models.”

And that base, friends, is what a period-perfect, over-the-top, highly-concentrated, perfectly rendered early ’70s muscle show car launches an entire movement from. “I’d like to bring my own car to America some day. It is my dream to bring Magic Powder to the SEMA Show.”