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J is for Japanese

Published on Sun, Apr 29, 2018

By: Glenn Oyoung

Petersen Automotive Museum – â€śThe Roots of Monozukuri” and “Fine Tuning”

Like AMEX, membership at the Petersen Automotive Museum has its privileges. One of those privileges is getting a jump on the crowds whenever the Petersen unveils a new exhibit.

Still fresh off its head-to-toe remodel that ended in late 2015, the world’s pre-eminent automotive museum continues to surprise Los Angeles natives who are just now venturing in to see what’s changed. The futuristic exterior shell and completely revamped interior are obvious candidates for the “before – after” collage treatment. What’s not as obvious is the growing level of creativity and risk-taking that the Petersen’s more recent exhibits exude, stoking the excitement of auto enthusiasts young and old.

“The Roots of Monozukuri” explores not only the early cars of Japan, but the philosophy and spirit of Japanese automaking.

The latest Petersen exhibits to set Instagram accounts ablaze are â€śTHE ROOTS OF MONOZUKURI: CREATIVE SPIRIT IN JAPANESE AUTOMAKING” and â€śFINE TUNING: JAPANESE/AMERICAN CUSTOMS.” These Double Dragon brother exhibits celebrate the prolific Japanese automotive industry. During the launch of the “CUSTOM REVOLUTION” exhibit Jason Hartwig, Petersen’s Director of Eduction and Programming, shared with me that his research for “Monozukuri” (interpreted as “the art, science, and craft of making things”) took him back to the Edo period (1600-1860s). My response as a student of East Asian history, “You had me at Edo.” I was counting down the days to the launch, and was not disappointed. “Monozukuri” delivers a history lesson and helps the public understand how the Japanese automotive industry “became a force to be reckoned with” by breaking down key aspects of monozukuri including engineering, craftsmanship, lean production, and utility.

interpreted as “the art, science, and craft of making things

This is more than the typical lesson in kaizen (continues improvement), this is a tribute to a way of thinking that led to what we see in America today – a Toyota/Honda in every other parking driveway (and lest we forget the enthusiasts out there – a Subaru and Nissan at every other space at your neighborhood cars and coffee).

The exhibit includes perennial crowd pleasers like the Toyota 2000GT and Mazda Cosmos, which can be trusted to stop JDM enthusiasts in the know dead in their tracks. The intrepid team at the Petersen also moved mountains to secure other iPhone-dropping cars like the first Honda imported to the States, the 1968 Honda N600 and even older cars that presage the coming tide of Japanese cars like the 1936 Toyota AA. I cannot imagine the logistics bills that the Petersen and their OEM counterparts received. Suffice it to say, moving all these priceless classics into L.A. must have been a huge undertaking.

“Fine Tuning” picks up where “Monozukuri” leaves off. What happened when the Japanese automobile industry matures worldwide? Why, what happens when every country’s auto industry matures – enthusiasts get their hands on the cars and try to make them faster/cooler/sexier.

That’s exactly what this exhibit celebrates, from the drool-inducing 1974 Mazda RX-3 racer on hand to the unicorn Skyline 2000 GTX “Kenmeri,” to the pair of AEM race cars prepped by the legendary Steph Papadakis – a pioneer of the last two decades of import racing. Fittingly one of them is the record-breaking 1998 Honda Civic drag racer that represents the “Fast and the Furious” epoch of tuning. Bookending the drags car is AEM’s Scion tC drift car – representing the current import racing craze.

It’s on this side of the house that for many museum visitors of a certain vintage, myself included, that the intellectual gives way to the emotional. As it is so common throughout the auto industry and the car culture as a whole, cars that you either had in high school through your 20s (or wanted to have during that transformative period of your life) become more like time machines that transport you to that magical time.

The Petersen has always prided itself on having the coolest, most interesting cars on display. As it evolves and embraces its mission to educate, it is clearly leaving no stone unturned to shine a light on all aspects of car culture, regardless of what kind of car or country of origin. This latest pair of displays is no exception, and is sure to start passionate conversations – and further propel Japanese classic car demand and values – for the months to come.

For more information the Petersen:

“THE ROOTS OF MONOZUKURI” and “FINE TUNING” run through April 2019.

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