Micro Machine: The Kei Drift Truck - Speedhunters (2023)

Wonders Of The Japanese Inaka

It’s always fun to see the lighthearted side of global car culture.And when, at the same time, you can also show what can be achieved at the extreme end of the customising spectrum, well, that leads to one of the most unique feature car – uh, truck – subjects of this year. And it’s hot pink!

Cast your minds back to April this year when I headed out into the Japanese countryside – orinaka– to hunt downa stunning example of ashakotanS30 Fairlady Zowned by Oda-san. As exciting as the hunt for the S30 was, an equally compelling reason to be there was to investigate some rather colourfulkeitrucks I had seen a few months prior at the Tokyo Auto Salon.If you know the more curious side of Japan’s custom car scene, ‘Hello Special’ might ring a bell.If it doesn’t, then what I’m about to show you will give you a pretty good insight into the extreme work of this customkeibuilder.

If you follow my posts from Japan, you know just how diverse car culture is here. If there’s a type of car, there will be a scene for it, and if there isn’t, someone sooner or later will make one. I guess that’s how Hello Special came to be.

Oda-san saw the opportunity, and took it. And by this I mean he went full-out and set up a tuning outfit that deals exclusively inkeitrucks.

(Video) The Rotary Swapped Kei Truck is DONE! First Stop: Shred Session at Irwindale Speedway

Keicars and keivans (keireferring a light class of vehicles limited in physical size with a maximum engine of 660cc) are very popular as they are cheap to run and don’t require parking permits to show that you have space to keep a car outside, or close to your house.Keitrucks on the other hand have forever been the choice of Japanese farmers – their small footprints making them particularly well suited to be driven down narrow access roads around rice paddies or similar fields And like anything with four wheels in Japan, they fall into the tuning trap! And that’s when Hello Special comes in.

With this wildKei, Oda-san set out to show what can be achieved at the extreme end of the customising spectrum, and in the process have some fun – recognizing that mostkeitruck owner may only want to add a few dress-up goodies to personalise their pocket-sized pick up. To do so he contacted a long-time friend whose shop is a 30-minute drive back towards the center of Kyoto.

It seems like we might be mentioning Miura-san a lot lately, but truth of the matter is, Rocket Bunny has been at the core of the JDM aero world for quite some time. The way he works has cut design and production times to a fraction of what they once used to be, which in turn has made it more economically viable for small shops – like Hello Special – to produce their own lines of original aero, which is exactly what you see here. Oda-san calls this one theBirichino kit.

Along with the one-piece front bumper which sports a series of integrated side vents and a bucktooth lower lip, Miura’s touch for the little Suzuki pick up included a set of Works-inspired fender flares. This was one thing Oda-san really wanted to go for as it would allow for a far more aggressive fitment when it came to the wheels.

To achieve the look he was shooting for Oda-san fitted Hello Special’s very own ’86′original wheels – a modern rim styled to mimic popular designs from the late ’70s and early ’80s. The 14×7-inch wheels have been color-matched to the rest of that retina-piercing pink of the exterior and had skinny 155/55R14Nankang Sport NS-II tyres stretched over them.

Kei Miura’s Touch

(Video) Rc Drift RWD Tandem S14 & GT86 #gopro

The Miura-designed aero has a deliberate continuity along the side of the truck; side skirts setting the tone with outlined air intakes mimicking the other vents throughout the kit.

You just have to love the side intakes – very Ferrari Testarossa-like!

A tall rear bumper section gives the Carry a rear end you have never seen on the back of akeitruck — all integrated with a diffuser-like grilled outlet at the very bottom.

Ever seen a kei truck with a bed spoiler? Well, now you have!

Oda-san has kept things functional so there’s no crazy amount of negative camber to be seen. The rear end runs a solid rear axle of course, which is why the wheels sit nice and square – albeit sporting just the right amount of poke.

Aside from a Hello Special exhaust tip, which honestly doesn’t really count, the engine remains stock standard. The only real mechanical upgrade is the welded diff, which was made to transform the little farmer’s workhorse into a fully-fledged drift truck! Okay, so ‘fully-fledged’ might be a bit misleading, but when the on-track opportunity allows, drifting is precisely what Oda-san uses his pink pick up for. With literally no weight over the rear axle, narrow tyres and an aggressive enough clutch kick, the Suzuki Carry has no problem getting all crossed up. And with careful use of the throttle (read: pinning it to the floor), it can actually be kept there!

The coolest touch of all has to be the bumper-mounted external oil cooler. How Hakosuka-like of the little Carry!

In Pink We Trust

If you thought Oda-san might have stopped at the exterior with the modifications, you are very wrong.In fact, the most popular parts that Hello Special sells are interior accessories, and literally everything inside the cabin of these little trucks can be swapped out and upgraded. For his drift truck he settled on a few select details.

That includes the soft, quilted pink-camosteering wheel cover, and a silky-smooth carpet panel on the dashboard. What made it interesting to me is how some, if not allof these details, are things you would normally see in the dekotora scene – another Japanese custom automotive sub-genre that Mike brieflyinvestigated last year.

Like the seats below them, the headrests too got the pink camo treatment.

You are looking at one of the most popular Hello Special items available: a heart-shaped tsurikawa train handle strap – something we always see on kaido racers.

Here Oda-san lifts up the passenger seat to reveal the little three-cylinder 660cc KA6 engine that supplies the 50 or so horsepower to the Carry’s rear wheels. Despite what the truck’s exterior dimensions may suggest, the engine’sposition actually makes it quite a nice-handling and neutral-steering little machine.

With the cab literally over the front wheels the front suspension turrets are actually in the footwells. That makes it very easy to quickly adjust the settings on the Hello Special adjustable coilovers!

Judging by the condition of those rear Nankangs it’s sure looked like Oda-san had been enjoying the odd skid – but I was reassured that sort of stuff is always done within the safety of a track.

I begged Oda-san to give me a little drifting demonstration, but there was no way he was going to interrupt the tranquility of the Japanese inaka by throwing his truck sideways and bouncing the engine off the limiter. His neighbours would be far from impressed!

And so my time with one of the most unique feature cars of 2014 came to an end in the middle of the Kyoto countryside – the little Carry’s natural habitat. I left happy to have met one guy that has turned a fun idea into a proper business, catering and building cars that make people happy.

Dino Dalle Carbonare
Instagram:speedhunters_dino
dino@speedhunters.com

FAQs

What does kei truck mean in Japanese? ›

A kei truck, kei-class truck, or Japanese mini truck is a mini truck, a tiny but practical pickup truck available in rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive versions, built to satisfy the Japanese keijidōsha (軽自動車, "light vehicle") statutory class.

How much does a kei car cost? ›

Most kei cars are priced at a little over one million yen. It sounds like that's a lot of money, but when converted to American dollars, you're looking at somewhere around $10,000.

How much horsepower does a kei truck have? ›

The term “kei car” comes from the Japanese term kei jidōsha, or “light automobile.” Whether kei car or kei truck, they were and are built to a stringent set of regulations. According to Jalopnik, the engine can't be bigger than 660cc (0.67 liters) and can't make more than 64 hp.

How fast can kei cars go? ›

The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association also self-imposes a speed limit for kei cars of 140 km/h (87 mph).

How long do Japanese mini trucks last? ›

Mini trucks will typically last around 150,000 miles when properly cared for. If the vehicle is mainly used for transportation and not carrying load it can often last close to 200,000 miles. When buying a mini-truck, the manufacturers usually include life expectancy as part of the vehicle information.

How long do Kei cars last? ›

In 2021, the average lifespan of light motor passenger cars (kei cars) permanently returned in Japan was 15.57 years, increasing from 13.2 years a decade earlier. The average lifespan of regular passenger cars had increased as well over the last ten years.

Are Kei cars fuel efficient? ›

Kei cars are powered by small engines and don't have much weight to carry around, which means they're very fuel-efficient and produce relatively low emissions. This makes them a much cleaner option than traditional petrol or diesel cars.

How fast do mini trucks go? ›

For Japanese mini trucks, the speed could go up to 62-75 mph.
...
How Fast Are Mini Trucks? 7 Examples (+ Rules To Know)
ModelMax. Speed
Suzuki Carry75 mph
Subaru Sambar87 mph
Mazda Scrum49 mph
Tata Ace Mega50 mph
3 more rows
13 Sept 2019

Which is the cheapest car in Japan? ›

Nissan Versa

The Versa is not only the least expensive Japanese car on the market, it's the least expensive new car you can buy, period, with a starting price of $12,825 (including destination fee).

How much weight can a kei truck carry? ›

Typically, Kei trucks weigh no more than 1,800 pounds and have a payload capacity of 400 to 1,400 pounds.

What kind of gas mileage does a Japanese mini truck get? ›

What is the Average Gas Mileage on a Japanese Mini Truck? With 45 mpg or more, the gas mileage is an advantage to the mini truck and makes it appealing for many purposes. This does not diminish the horsepower and they will climb a steep track even when carrying a load in four wheel drive.

Can Kei trucks go on highway? ›

Mini trucks are allowed for street use only in California. You cannot use them on the highway but there are no restrictions on their use for off-road purposes.

Why do Japanese love Kei cars? ›

Kei cars are very popular in Japan because they are inexpensive – about half the price of a Prius, they get the same fuel economy as a Prius, they are very practical and roomy, they are easy to park in crowded Japan, and they have lower taxes and licensing costs.

Why are Japanese cars so boxy? ›

In an attempt to make automobiles accessible and affordable, Japan introduced “Kei cars.” These were small boxy cars that added affordability and comfort to people across Japan. The reason behind the increasing love for the boxy cars points out at the low tax and insurance liabilities that it offers.

Why are Japanese cars so small? ›

Tax incentives

Another reason most of the cars in Japan are micro-sized is because of tax incentives. Standard Japanese vehicles have a tax rate of 3% whereas Kei car tax is 2%. That means you would pay 2 or 3 percent of the purchase price of the car as tax.

Are mini trucks hard to get parts for? ›

One thing to keep in mind is that it will be harder to find some parts for a mini truck than for the common vehicles you see on the street.

How many mpg do Kei trucks get? ›

There are several reasons kei car ownership is now so high. Gas prices are a large influence, and with a CVT and stop/start-equipped Wagon R achieving a staggering 58mpg on Japan's "10.15 Mode" fuel economy test you can see the appeal.

What engine is in a kei truck? ›

Most eligible kei trucks feature a 550cc or 660cc engine, sometimes supercharged, due to Japanese government regulations on the size of a Keitora class. Combine this small, light package with 4wd and you have a nimble, fuel efficient but practical work truck.

Can Kei cars drive on the highway? ›

Kei vehicles must follow the rules of the road and cannot be driven on limited-access highways or roads with a speed limit that is greater than 55 miles per hour.

Do they still make Kei trucks? ›

However, modern Kei trucks cannot be sold in the United States or Canada due to the current regulations. Although, throughout the world, there are many variations of these trucks. From its history, import status to the United States, to its current love and uses, Kei trucks are becoming more popular every day.

What does JDM stand for? ›

Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) refers to Japan's home market for vehicles and vehicle parts.

Why are kei cars so popular? ›

Kei cars are perfect for those who live in Japan because they're economical and cheap to buy, operate, and maintain due to their small size. The fuel consumption is not too bad when compared with larger vehicles, which means they come out cheaper on the pocket.

How much weight can a mini truck carry? ›

How Much Weight Can A Mini Truck Carry? Mini trucks will typically carry 700-800 lb.

Are all Kei trucks manual? ›

Though most kei class mini trucks are fitted with manual transmissions, newer models are increasingly being equipped with automatic transmissions.

How much can a mini truck tow? ›

Mini Trucks Vs. Side By Side (UTVs): 7 Important Facts
Mini TrucksMax. SpeedTow Capacity
Daihatsu Hijet81 mph1323 lb
Mahindra Supro59 mph1620 lb
Tata Ace Mega50 mph1433 lb
Suzuki Carry75 mph1933 lb
1 more row
17 Sept 2019

How much is it to buy a car in Japan? ›

In 2021, the average purchase value for a used automobile in Japan was around 1.55 million Japanese yen, rebounding from a slump to 1.36 million Japanese yen in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The most common price range for a used car was between 500 thousand and one million Japanese yen.

Does Japan drive on the left? ›

In Japan, vehicles usually drive on the left-hand side of the road. Be sure to obey any signs that indicate a speed limit. The legal speed limit is 60 km per hour on general roads and 100 km per hour on expressways.

Are cars still cheap in Japan? ›

In all Asian countries combined, the pricing of new cars in Japan is the lowest. The underlying reason is the large economy of scale (Japan is the third largest economy in the world) which allows the manufacturers to sell their car at a much lower price in the local market.

What are mini trucks good for? ›

Mini trucks are generally available in 4WD or RWD versions. They are typically used on farms or by smaller business to transport light cargo.
  • Courier services,
  • postal services,
  • and certain home appliances delivery.
8 Sept 2019

What is a Subaru mini truck called? ›

The Subaru Sambar is a cabover truck and microvan manufactured and marketed by Subaru as Japan's first truck compliant with the country's strict Keitora (軽トラ) or Kei vehicle tax class.

What are mini trucks called? ›

Mini truck, also called a micro-truck, are tiny but practical light trucks, available in RWD or 4WD version, originally built to satisfy the Japanese keijidōsha (軽自動車) statutory class of light vehicles. Generally they fall under sub 1000cc engine category.

How many miles per gallon do mini trucks get? ›

Specifications. The Acty comes available in a RWD or Real Time 4WD drivetrain that can be paired with a 4 speed automatic or 5 speed manual transmission. Approximately 45 hp is put out through a fuel efficient 600cc engine that can achieve up to 45 mpg.

Is Subaru Sambar reliable? ›

Is the Subaru Sambar reliable? In terms of reliability, the Sambar is decent enough. Over the years it has garnered praise for its durability and affordability. Its popularity is reflected in the fact that Subaru is still producing this microvan.

How fast can a Honda ACTY go? ›

The Street could reach a top speed of 115 km/h (71 mph), while the four-wheel drive version only could attain 105 km/h (65 mph). Trucks received the HA3/HA4 chassis numbers depending on whether they are two- or four-wheel drive, while vans/Streets are called HH3/HH4.

Are Kei cars street legal in America? ›

Now, as you might already know, the United States forbids the importation and registration of any non-federalized, foreign-market vehicle that isn't at least 25 years old; a rule that applies to kei cars and most desirable JDM models as a whole.

Are mini-trucks legal in Hawaii? ›

Kei-class vehicles are Japanese-made mini automobiles and they can only be imported to Hawaii if they are a quarter century or older. “So they are legal in the United States, but if it's less than 25 years, you're not allowed to import them,” said Department of Transportation spokesman Jai Cunningham.

Are mini-trucks street legal in Florida? ›

(a) A low-speed vehicle or mini truck may be operated only on streets where the posted speed limit is 35 miles per hour or less. This does not prohibit a low-speed vehicle or mini truck from crossing a road or street at an intersection where the road or street has a posted speed limit of more than 35 miles per hour.

How do you pronounce Kei truck? ›

How to Pronounce Kei? (CORRECTLY) - YouTube

What makes a kei truck? ›

A Kei truck (pronounced kay), also known as a mini truck, is a compact, right-hand-drive vehicle with standard rear-wheel drive and available four-wheel drive. The first models rolled out in Japan in 1949 and borrowed design elements from the three-wheeled motorcycle-based trucks of that era.

What does JDM stand for? ›

Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) refers to Japan's home market for vehicles and vehicle parts.

What are those tiny trucks called? ›

Mini truck, also called a micro-truck, are tiny but practical light trucks, available in RWD or 4WD version, originally built to satisfy the Japanese keijidōsha (軽自動車) statutory class of light vehicles.

Is kei a Japanese name? ›

Kei (けい, ケイ) is a Japanese male's personal name; used increasingly as a female's personal name, as a shortening of Keiko.

What does the name kei mean? ›

What is the meaning of the name Kei? The name Kei is primarily a gender-neutral name of African origin that means Sandy, White. Also a Japanese name meaning "Blessed, Respect, Joyous."

Are Kei trucks still made? ›

However, modern Kei trucks cannot be sold in the United States or Canada due to the current regulations. Although, throughout the world, there are many variations of these trucks. From its history, import status to the United States, to its current love and uses, Kei trucks are becoming more popular every day.

Can Kei trucks go on highway? ›

Mini trucks are allowed for street use only in California. You cannot use them on the highway but there are no restrictions on their use for off-road purposes.

What kind of gas mileage does a Japanese mini truck get? ›

What is the Average Gas Mileage on a Japanese Mini Truck? With 45 mpg or more, the gas mileage is an advantage to the mini truck and makes it appealing for many purposes. This does not diminish the horsepower and they will climb a steep track even when carrying a load in four wheel drive.

Do Kei trucks have power steering? ›

A: There are many advantages. The payload of the mini truck is higher than most others. The fuel economy is much higher than most others. These trucks offer A/C, Power Steering, Blinkers, Head Lights, Windshield wipers, Heat, Horn, Push button 4×4, High Low Transmissions, Locking Differentials, Versital Fold Down Beds.

Who invented drifting? ›

The famous motorcyclist turned driver, Kunimitsu Takahashi, is widely regarded as the foremost creator of drifting techniques in the 1970s. Takahashi is a former professional motorcycle and car racing driver and was in fact the first Japanese racer to win a motorcycle Grand prix, back in Germany in 1961.

Is a supra a JDM? ›

The Toyota Supra is not a true JDM car.

We know this because there were specific export models built for the US/European/Australasian markets. If the Supra was a true JDM car then it would only have been sold in Japan (and examples on the road elsewhere would be used exports).

Is BMW a JDM? ›

Obviously, cars like Porsche 911 and BMW 3-Series are about as far from being JDM as possible, since they are produced by non-Japanese manufacturers, which don't even have production facilities on Japanese territory. Some manufacturers have to adapt their cars to suit other markets, they wish to sell at.

Are mini trucks street legal in the US? ›

A mini truck less than 25 years old cannot be legally imported into the U.S. as an on-road vehicle unless the vehicle is brought up to FMVSS compliance.

How much weight can a mini truck carry? ›

How Much Weight Can A Mini Truck Carry? Mini trucks will typically carry 700-800 lb.

Are Kei cars street legal in America? ›

Now, as you might already know, the United States forbids the importation and registration of any non-federalized, foreign-market vehicle that isn't at least 25 years old; a rule that applies to kei cars and most desirable JDM models as a whole.

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