A Guide to Japanese Car Culture from Black-Ish Star Marcus Scribner

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Black-ish’s Marcus Scribner has been an Emmy-winning star of the show since he was 13 years old. Eight seasons later, and with the series finale on the horizon, we caught up with the actor to nerd-out about one of his off-screen passions: Japanese Domestic Motors, otherwise known as of JDM car culture.

The JDM automotive scene first took hold in Japan, particularly in Osaka. In the late 80s, car enthusiasts began to notice and fall in love with Japanese sports cars, giving rise to the JDM car culture. The Fast and Furious the movies have only heightened the movement into the limelight, elevating it to fever pitch levels. Suddenly, car enthusiasts were browsing the pages of auto shops buying Honda Civics to modify.

Not all Japanese cars can be classified as JDM – only those made by Japanese automakers specifically for sale in Japan could be considered as such. Cars like the Nissan GT-R, Mark IV Toyota Supra, Mazda RX-7 FD3S and Honda NSX quickly became the holy grail. To this day, cars from the mid to late 90s remain the most coveted, gaining legendary status even among the uninitiated.

But contrary to popular perception, JDM isn’t all chrome rims, spins and flashy body kits. It’s about bringing out the beast’s beauty and peak performance through modifications that don’t compromise the vehicle’s original physical design. It’s about taking something mass-produced and turning it into a one-of-a-kind piece, pouring down time, sweat, attention to detail and lots of love to create something unique.

Below, we asked Scribner to break down the basics of JDM car culture, his dream car, a few rules he’s learned over time, and the first steps to modifying your car.

ENTER THE CAR SCENE

I grew up watching movies like Fast and Furious. Obviously street racing is very dangerous, I don’t condone it at all. So I had to find another avenue for automotive recreation. I started going on the track because you can push your car as hard as you want without worrying about breaking the law. My friends introduced me to the JDM automotive culture. We are talking about cars from Toyota, Nissan and Honda, they are all highly moddable. You can exchange engine parts very easily and inexpensively. I really enjoy the customization these cars offer and how unique you can make them. It’s as if you have a representation of yourself in which you drive.

There are European cars from Germany and Italy, then there are American cars. I tend to lean towards Japanese. JDM is probably my favorite type of automotive niche. They are much more affordable and you can give them a really clean look.

It’s funny, when I first started getting into cars, I was just scared to drive. I am naturally a cautious person. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 19; I was super skeptical about it. I just wanted to be driven everywhere. But then my friends took me to a car meet, where people reserve or rent a big parking lot and everyone brings their car and shows off their builds. You walk by and ask people about their cars and engine bays. 300 to 400 people stopping, showing their cars. It really sparked my interest in it and got me into the scene.

AUTO CULTURE: TYPES OF EVENT

TAKING A QUARTER MILE

“One of my favorite things to do is quarter-mile events. When it comes to drag strips, you basically see how fast your car can go from zero to 60. You just throw it off the line. Your car is basically parked and then you mash the gas. And if you have a manual car, you’re trying to shift it as best you can and do the best quarter-mile time. So whatever that’s how fast you can go a quarter of a mile – and some people are capable of doing insane numbers; under 10 seconds is normally the goal for people.

DERIVATIVE

There are drift events where you go around and see how well you can drift your car on the track. Or just a track race where you drive around the track and try to get the best time.

MEETS

There are meetings almost every weekend, all over the country. If you’re in LA, one of the biggest and easiest dating is DDE, who’s a YouTuber. They’re having this really awesome meet up in Westwood. He has all these supercars. There’s Supercar Sunday happening in Malibu, it’s one of the biggest. There’s all these million dollar cars out there, and they go on cruises every Sunday in Malibu. It’s an awesome place to go and just enjoy and watch the cars.

THE RULES

1. “Respect the construction. You’ll see ugly stuff that’s just plain awful, but you can’t be a hole to other people who are just trying to appreciate their car. And I think one of the coolest things about the automotive scene is that anyone can customize their vehicle to their liking. So, respect everyone’s build.

2. Don’t be the car meet asshole who revs his engine, burns out and tries to shut us down for having a peaceful meeting. That’s a big no-no.

3. Be respectful on the road. You don’t want to put someone else’s life in danger. If you want to speed up, get on the track or the drag strip, but don’t put anyone else in danger.

TOP 5 CARS TO MODIFY

MIATA

“I tell you, these are solid cars, driver cars. They handle extremely well. They don’t have too much power. Good car to learn and really cheap to modify.

HONDA CIVIC

“They are really sick, discreet. Being JDM fans, we appreciate all cars. Honda Civics are really great.

TOYOTA 86 AND SUBARU BRZ

“It’s basically the same car, it’s just made by two different manufacturers. They handle very well; low power, affordable, cheap to modify, great for beginners.

VOLKSWAGEN GTI AND GOLF GTI

“They are spacious and quite practical. Gas mileage is pretty good – highly changeable.

MUSTANG GT

“This one is from America. Reliable and good. It’s a bit high for a beginner, but at the same time they are affordable and you can modify them well. So I would say Mustang GT to show the domestic boys some love.

WHAT I DRIVE

“Right now, funny enough, my daily driver isn’t even a Japanese car. I just got the G82 BMW M4. It’s rear-wheel drive. It has about 510 horsepower. I think that’s considered the competition variant; it has an automatic gearbox. It’s an eight-speed. I just started building it.

Photo courtesy of BMW

THE DREAM CAR

My goal is to get a [Nissan] R34 GT-R, prices are skyrocketing right now, which makes it difficult. In the United States they are simply illegal because the United States has an importation law. But there is another law that states that after a car is 25 years old, it can be imported without problems; the first model is 1999. It’s basically a waiting game at this point for the R34. There are previous generations of the car, like the R32, Skyline, R33, Hakosuka that are legal because they hit that 25 year mark, but the variant that I really like is the R34. It reaches its birthday in 2024, so the first ones will start to be imported.

DON’T GET RIPPED

“I like going to Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp but those are a bit sketchy if you don’t know what to look for then I would say go to a dealership and make sure the car you are buying is fully serviced , is accident free, obviously not a salvaged stock AutoTrader is a safe place to look.

Don’t get ripped off, of course, please don’t get ripped off. We have all been there; we all bought lemons. Make sure you are too careful about what you buy.

FIRST STEPS TO MODIFY YOUR CAR

“Some of the things I’ve learned that are the essentials for newbies to your car are: I wouldn’t modify anything directly in terms of performance to make it go faster, because obviously you’re a newbie, you want to get the basic details of things in place.

I recommend:

  • Some coilovers/springs. They slip into your suspension and improve your car’s handling. They also make it possible to adapt it to a better ride height for riding, whether you’re traversing the canyons or taking it on the trail. All around, it improves the handling of your car.
  • Ceramic coating. This helps protect your paintwork if you are doing a show car build.
  • Obviously, buy new rims and new tires. 19 or 18 inch rims are best if you take your car to the track due to the way they spin so they don’t lose as much power from the engine. Anything bigger than that, you’ll start to lose some power.

“Overall, have fun.”

DISCOVER MARCUS

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This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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