Bosozoku Style. Form Over Function

It would be easy to dismiss the car above, write a funny comment and move on to the next feature. You will however notice that underneath our crankandpiston logo there are four important words: car, culture, lifestyle AND community. Leave your prejudices at the door as we travel through time and space back to 1980s Japan and explore the wonderful world of Bosozoku style.

B?s?zoku literally translates as “violent running tribe” and was the name of the youth sub-culture biker gangs that peaked during the early 1980s. Gang members were easily identifiable by their tokk?-fuku (Special Attack Uniforms) as worn by Kamikaze pilots during the Second World War and their illegal activities normally took the form of public disturbance. What really interests us though is their chosen form of transportation.

The Bosozoku bike became a flamboyant form of expressionism combining elements of American custom choppers and, perhaps more apparent, Vespa and Lambretta customization popularized by the mod subculture of 1950s/1960s England, UK. Over-sized fairings, raised handlebars and ridiculously lengthened exhaust pipes were all standard fare and subtlety was not high on the priority list.

In referencing cars with similar styling attributes, it is necessary to use the term ‘Bosozoku style‘ as few (if any) of the owners were gang members. Occasionally this is abbreviated to Zokusha (‘sha’ meaning ‘car’) and you may also hear them being referred to as ‘Shakotan’ (low height cars) or simply ‘Kaidou Racers’. Either way, Bosozoku style has entered the collective consciousness and is the term most regularly used when specifically talking about the more extreme styled cars.

Cosmetically, the similarities between Bosozoku bikes and Bosozoku style cars is apparent and it is easy to see how the connection was made. Exaggerated body modification and somewhat disproportionate exhausts are the most obvious styling cues as are the inevitably garish colour schemes. This truly is form over function, so it may come as a surprise to learn that the origin of this style was born on the track.

Group 5 Super Silhouette Racing in Japan spawned some awesomely monstrous and powerful machines during the late-1970s and early-1980s. With so much power on tap designers had to get creative in devising aero-packages that would keep the car on-track and yet not breach the stringent regulations set down by the FIA (Federation Internacionale de l’Automobile). Legends of the Super Silhouette Series, like the S12 Silvia, were born and you are probably already making the connection.

The daddy of them all however was the Nissan KDR30TomicaSkyline. This fire-spitting demon of the track produced almost 600bhp from a 2.0l, four-cylinder engine (LZ20B) and sported an elongated rear end for high-speed stability. The snail-scraping front splitter and high-level rear wing only added to the drama and it is easy to see why people would try to emulate this look on their road car.

It wasn’t long before this street modifying culture descended from the sublime to the ridiculous and became more concerned with aesthetics than functionality. Perhaps it had to do with Bosozoku style being represented, in an exaggerated form, in Manga comics and owners drawing their influence from these rather than the track. Perhaps it was the arts and crafts nature of the scene as nothing was available on the shelf (it was not uncommon to utilize a perfectly functional wardrobe door as a three foot splitter!). Perhaps it was just the human element of outdoing your neighbour and extending your tail pipe by that extra metre for maximum kudos. Either way, Bosozoku style became increasingly exaggerated and joined the ranks of the other Japanese auto-art forms like Dekotora (decorated trucks) and Itasha (anime decorated cars). However, it would be wrong to think that this style just disappeared.

Categories: Road


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