COVERAGE> Zen Garage Exhibition in Little Tokyo

Zen Garage Giant Robot Eric Nakamura Len Higa Shinya Kimura chopper cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

As part of its continuing “Salon Pop” series, Giant Robot and the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Little Tokyo (Downtown Los Angeles) unveiled the concept exhibition, Zen Garage, developed in collaboration between the JANM and Eric Nakamura, founder of Giant Robot. If you’re unfamiliar with Giant Robot, let me give you a 10,000 ft level overview.

Giant Robot is a brand that started out as a magazine devoted to art and the cooler aspects of Asian-American pop culture. Even though I personally am not extremely well versed in the world of art, Giant Robot is an inspiration to me, because it started in 1994 without any kind of budget or corporate backing (much like the MotorMavens website). Since then, Giant Robot has grown as a brand and as a movement – Giant Robot Magazine can now be found in major bookstores; there are Giant Robot stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles; there’s even a GR/Eats restaurant in West LA! I remain fascinated by homegrown brands that have blown up organically and become success stories, and this is why Giant Robot’s involvement in Zen Garage was interesting to me.

On top of all that, I think it’s pretty interesting for an exhibit like this to exist within the walls of the Japanese American National Museum. We’re talking about an museum that isn’t even purposefully focused on cars. The JANM focuses on the experience of Japanese people in America, from World War II internment camp relics to artwork by Mike Shinoda of rock band Linkin Park… they don’t normally focus on cars or car culture, so having the JANM recognize these cars and motorcycles as art… is a pretty big deal in my opinion.

I was able to attend the exhibit’s opening night, but due to heavy Los Angeles traffic, I only made it for the last thirty minutes of the show. Armed only with my camera and one lens, I quickly walked through the exhibit space and grabbed these photos in short order.

The industrial, barbaric looking motorcycle above is as much of an art sculpture as it is a motorcycle. It’s called the Spike, and is the brainchild of motorcycle artist/fabricator Shinya Kimura. We’ll talk more about Kimura and the Spike motorcycle later – stay tuned!

Zen Garage Giant Robot Eric Nakamura Len Higa Shinya Kimura chopper cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

Apparently, this first generation Scion xB “monster truck” is not vinyl wrapped. I was surprised when I found this out! I thought the designs were just printed out on vinyl, but Eric Nakamura from Giant Robot told me that it was actually spray painted by hand… using spraycans! This xB was developed by the handiwork of David Choe, a pop culture artist that got his start with spraycans and graffiti.

The monster truck concept is really different, and I think the fabricators did an excellent job putting this Monster xB together. According to Eric, this original David Choe-painted monster xB is worth more than all of the other vehicles in the Zen Garage exhibit combined! When I asked why, he explained, “there are original smaller scale David Choe paintings that cost something like $200,000 now. Just imagine – he painted this entire xB, and this car is a lot bigger than those other paintings!”

Zen Garage Giant Robot Eric Nakamura Len Higa Shinya Kimura chopper cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

Speaking of Scion xBs, here’s a photo of the second-generation Scion xB in the exhibit that was built as a collaboration between Eric Nakamura of Giant Robot and Len Higa of Oni Motorworks. Dubbed the Super Famicom Car, the entire project was built as an homage to retro videogames that Eric and Len enjoyed when they were kids.

See those red Nintendo-style buttons on the doors? Yup, that’s how you open the doors – and the doors also make different video game sounds! Also notice the Mooneyes moon discs that have been either painted or powdercoated to match the rest of the car? The retro-videogame project theme was planned and executed perfectly!

Zen Garage Giant Robot Eric Nakamura Len Higa Shinya Kimura chopper cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

The car’s interior featured video game controllers, which allowed passengers to play the custom coded video game projected on the wall – Return of the Quack.

While most people were enthralled by the video game, I couldn’t help but notice the chop-top windshield, which was even curved! It looked incredibly cool. Asking Len about it, he explained that it was fabricated out of cast acrylic; he heated up with a silkscreen heater and then formed it by hand, with the help of friends Gary Castillo and Ben Schwartz. (Yes, we’re talking about the same Ben Schwartz who was a professional Formula D driver just a few years ago.)

Zen Garage Giant Robot Eric Nakamura Len Higa Shinya Kimura chopper cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

The Super Famicom Scion xB gives new meaning to the term projector beam headlights. Inside the OEM headlight location sits a video projector that shoots the image of the video game on the wall. Also notice the video game cartridge in the grill?

Zen Garage Giant Robot Eric Nakamura Len Higa Shinya Kimura chopper cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

This is Giant Robot founder/publisher Eric Nakamura, taking a moment to play Return of the Quack.

Zen Garage Giant Robot Eric Nakamura Len Higa Shinya Kimura chopper cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

Since it was opening night after all, Eric also took the time to walk with individual friends, providing some insight to the different things on display at Zen Garage, like Len Higa’s O2 Motorworks Honda CB77 cafe racer bike.

Zen Garage 1961 Honda CB77 Superhawk Len Higa motorcycle cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

Here’s the side view of Len’s 1961 Honda CB77Superhawk,” which is powered by a 305cc Honda engine with high performance cams installed. According to Len, he bought the bike sometime in 2007, and worked on it in his spare time. The bike wasn’t in a finished state until 2009, although it constantly evolves.

In order to get it to the look it has now, he had to sandblast the frame, cut off a bunch of useless OEM tabs and weld in mounts for the seat and gas tank. Len says that he used .063 aluminum to make the gas tank and the seat from scratch, including the body-line bends on the tank! The fact that people can form super clean bends and curves into flat pieces of aluminum sheeting just baffles my mind. It looks so cool, it really makes me want to learn how to weld! Len explained that he built the rounded aluminum tail section as well, and had the upholstery on the seat custom stitched up to match.

Zen Garage 1961 Honda CB77 Superhawk Len Higa motorcycle cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

To clean up the look of the bike, Len installed vintage Magura clip-on handlebars, which attach to the front forks. Most people probably wouldn’t be able to tell, but the front headlight is actually smaller than the OEM 6.5″ light because Len wanted the bike to look lighter and more streamlined. Len sourced a 5.25″ headlamp from another Honda bike at a salvage yard, and custom formed the headlight brackets out of aluminum.

Zen Garage 1961 Honda CB77 Superhawk Len Higa motorcycle cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

What we’re looking at here is the OEM drum brake hub, attached to Akront shouldered rims, laced with stainless steel spokes. I just love the vintage mechanical look of the entire bike.

Zen Garage 1961 Honda CB77 Superhawk Len Higa motorcycle cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

This photo shows the riding peg cover, which was fabricated out of cast urethane, instead of the normal black rubber piece that covers the metal peg.

Zen Garage 1961 Honda CB77 Superhawk Len Higa motorcycle cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

Now THIS is a trip. This is the OEM Honda gauge cluster, which features a tachometer and a speedometer in the same unit. However, this particular tach/speedo combo is different than most of the ones we see -  the tach runs clockwise like normal, but check out the speedo! The speedometer runs counterclockwise as part of the same gauge! Pretty crazy!

Zen Garage 1961 Honda CB77 Superhawk Len Higa motorcycle cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

Here’s a rear view of the custom made gas tank, showing the curvature of the metal. Also notice the vintage British gas cap on the tank, which dresses up the formed aluminum tank. The downward slanted handlebars have NOS (new old stock) Magura grips, which is period correct from the 1970s.

The rear view mirror was found at a salvage yard; it had to be cut, bent, and rethreaded so that it would thread right into the round aluminum bar stock, and could be clamped onto the existing handlebar location.

Zen Garage 1961 Honda CB77 Superhawk Len Higa motorcycle cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

The engine has dual 27mm Keihin carburetors, which have round slides that open when throttle is applied (instead of normal throttle flaps). Slide carbs are typically more responsive the traditional “flap” carbs. In fact, Keihin FCR slide carbs are very popular for usage on naturally aspirated engines such as Toyota 4AGs and Honda B16s.

Zen Garage 1961 Honda CB77 Superhawk Len Higa motorcycle cafe racer Japanese American National Museum

This is the fabricator that’s responsible for building the 1961 CB77 Superhawk, and owner of Oni Motorworks – Len Higa. Prior to building motorcycles, Len amassed experience working on concept cars, learning from the older Italian and Argentinian metal craftsmen and fabricators on his team. Even before that, he worked at Apex’i USA as part of the team that worked on the Apex’i D1 Grand Prix competition FD3S Mazda Rx7 driven by Yoichi Imamura and the Apex’i drag Civic.

While the Zen Garage exhibit opened on December 30th, it runs until February 13th 2011. If you live in Southern California, I highly encourage you to get over to Little Tokyo before Valentine’s Day to check out Zen Garage at the Japanese American National Museum! While you’re there, stop in at Bowls LA and get some ramen at Daikokuya or Orochon! You’ll be glad you did.

:: Antonio Alvendia

Zen Garage at the Japanese American National Museum
Giant Robot
O2 Motorworks

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22 Responses to “COVERAGE> Zen Garage Exhibition in Little Tokyo”

  1. Cobb says:

    Some amazing work, I’m really digging the bikes

  2. Dan Cyr says:

    Sweet exhibit! Definitely some neat stuff there. I think the Super Famicom car is the best though. I always wanted a Famicom, so I would totally buy this if it were a production car. Definitely my kinda ride.

    Cool shots dude!

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Motor Mavens Crew and Scion Evolution. Scion Evolution said: Zen Garage Exhibit coverage by Motor Mavens Crew, pretty sick. http://fb.me/Baps1WX0 [...]

  4. Matt Murdock says:

    Sick! Loved everything about this one. Makes me wish I could see…

  5. @Cobb: YES!!! I’ve been really digging bikes lately as well! I just don’t know too much about them. I need to learn!

    @Dan Cyr: The Super Famicom car was even cooler in person – the feel of the car and the sounds it makes just can’t be communicated through photos. Wouldn’t a top down Scion be too cold for you to drive, since you live in Toronto?

  6. Fantastic photos once again Antonio! I made it to the exhibit opening this past week and I must say that your photos totally captured the real essence of the show. Though the exhibit is small there is enough fabrication masterpieces and art to look at for hours. I am a Cafe Racer lover at heart and I have to jock Len Higa’s Superhawk. Always have and probably always will. But Damn! Shinya’s bike is craziness. I inspected the details of that bike all night. Anyway… Great review! I think I’ll go check out the exhibit once again.

    -Christian

  7. THANKS Christian!

    Wow, I didn’t know you made it out to the show! Let me know if you go again – maybe I can meet up with you! I talked to Len on the phone last night… seeing his bike makes me want an old school Yamaha!

  8. tobROC says:

    Dam I feel so out of the scene sometimes and would have loved to make it out to this event! When your head is buried in deadlines its hard to keep up with the cool stuff that make our industry stand out over the rest! Good coverage. Len is holding it down with his vintage Honda.

  9. EMC2 says:

    Wow, both the Super Famicon car and the bike are awesome!

    I’ve never really been a fan of bikes much, but i’m starting to really dig the old ones, and that example is nice!

  10. @EMC2: Yup! I agree! I’m thinking of getting a vintage motorcycle!

    @Tobroc: Don’t worry broski. That’s how it is sometimes, but keeping busy is a GOOD thing! I honestly wouldn’t have known about this either, but Len sent me a link on Facebook. It’s all good Tob, you can count on MotorMavens to keep you connected to what’s relevant in OUR scene.

    Keep fighting the good fight!

  11. Mike Kim says:

    that xb is dope!! I dont really like scions but that one is sick. that is one hell of a classic cafe racer…dope ass bike

  12. Dan Cyr says:

    Hahaha, yeah it’s cold out here right now, Ant, I can admit that…but there are actually a good 5 or 6 months of the year when it’s actually hot as hell up here. That’s why I’m unemployed and yet still own 2 vehicles. Changing seasons are rad. :P

  13. kyusha kai says:

    Giant Robot, Shinya Nakano and David Choe all in one place! HEAVEN!

  14. wow, those caferacers are awesome!

  15. until February 13th!?!?!?! oh man..I wanna go to this exhibition sooo bad. Can LA just move itself a little closer to Norcal? That’d be perfect.

    Oh yea Antonio, what lens were you shooting with and what was the iso? The shots came out pretty clean bro.

  16. @kyusha kai: yupppp! didn’t know you were an art enthusiast! your Z would have made a friend just down the street… i’m talking about the white S30 parked outside Bowls LA!

    @Arnold: yeah, I love them! Definitely need to learn more about these!

    @Mike: You’re right! I wish we could cut and paste some parts of central cali, and move it to the south or even above the bay! it would be easier for everyone to chill! haha

    I only brought a 24-70mm 2.8L, and I don’t remember the ISO. It was probably somewhere between 1600-3200 ISO? I didn’t use a flash, of course. I have some techniques that help me take better low light photos though.

  17. [...] this one on the geek site Giant Robot. O2 Motorworks Honda CB77 From this site: http://www.motormavens.com/2011/01/c…tional-museum/ __________________ Follow PNW Riders on Facebook and [...]

  18. Pat Daly says:

    Whoever gets the tach and speedo needles to touch in the center belongs right beside the others on the Wall of Courage at that Ramen place you recommended Ant. Dope bike!!!

  19. [...]  photo from Motor Mavens [...]

  20. Nicki Reece says:

    Jeff Miller (owner) of JMI Motoring, Arlington, WA and my son, Richard Reece his partner at the time, were the guys responsible for the awesome Scion xB “monster truck”. Just 2 guys given the opportunity to really shine!!! I was fortunate enough to be able to watch the entire project step-by-step! These 2 could really go far with some more great exposure!!!

  21. HikingMike says:

    Wow that Scion xB is cool… except for the grille cartridge thingy but of course I’m just thinking of it from the car perspective and an xB fan. I hope it’s still drivable like that since it would be a shame if you couldn’t cruise that around!

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