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

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

The JDM car scene first took hold in Japan—specifically Osaka. In the late ’80s, car enthusiasts started to take notice and fall hard for Japan’s sports cars, giving birth to JDM car culture. The Fast and Furious movies only helped further the movement into the spotlight, raising it to fever pitch levels. Suddenly car lovers were scouring the pages of auto trades buying up Honda Civics to modify.

Not all Japanese cars can be categorized as JDM–only those made by Japanese automakers specifically to be sold in Japan could be considered so. Cars like the Nissan GT-R, Mark IV Toyota Supra, Mazda RX-7 FD3S, and Honda NSX soon became the holy grail. To this day, the mid-to-late ’90s cars remain the most covetable, gaining legendary status even amongst the uninitiated.

But contrary to popular perception, JDM is not all chrome-plated rims, spinning, and flashy body kits. It’s about bringing out the beauty in the beast and its maximum performance through modifications that don’t compromise the original physical design of the vehicle. It’s about taking something mass-produced and turning it into a one-off, poured over with time, sweat, attention to detail, and a lot of love to create something unique.

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

GETTING INTO THE CAR SCENE

I grew up watching movies like Fast and Furious. Obviously street racing is very dangerous, I don’t condone it whatsoever. So I had to find another avenue for car hobbies. I’ve started going to the track because you can push your car as hard as you want without fear of breaking laws. My friends got me into JDM car culture. We’re talking about cars from Toyota, Nissan, and Honda—these are all highly modifiable. You can swap engine parts very easily and for low cost. I really enjoy the customization those cars offer and how unique you can make them. It’s like having a representation of yourself you get to drive around in.

There’s Euro cars from Germany and Italy, and then there’s American cars. I tend to lean towards Japanese. JDM is probably my favorite kind of car niche. They’re a lot more affordable, and you can make them look really clean.

It’s funny, when I first started getting into cars, I was just straight up afraid to drive. I’m 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, which is basically where people book or rent out a large parking lot and everybody brings their cars and shows off their builds. You go by and ask people questions about their cars and their engine bay. 300-400 people just pulling up, showing off their cars. That really sparked my interest for it and got me into the scene.”

CAR CULTURE: TYPES OF EVENTS

QUARTER-MILE TAKES

“One of my favorite things is quarter-mile events. Going to drag-strips, you basically see how fast your car can go from zero to 60. You just launch it off the line. Your car is basically parked, and then you mash the gas down. And if you have a manual car, you try to shift it as well as you can and place the fastest time in a quarter-mile. So however fast you can do a quarter-mile—and some people are able to do insane numbers; under 10 seconds is normally the goal for people.”

DRIFTING

There’s drift events where you go around and see how well you can drift your car around the track. Or just straight up track racing where you drive around the track and try to get the fastest time.

MEETS

There are meets almost every single weekend, all around the country. If you’re in LA, one of the bigger, easier meets to go to is DDE, which is a YouTuber. They host this really dope meet in Westwood. It has all these supercars. There’s Supercar Sunday which happens in Malibu, it’s one of the biggest ones. There are all these million-dollar cars there, and they go on a cruise every Sunday in Malibu. It’s a dope place to go to and just appreciate and look at the cars.”

THE RULES

1. “Respect the build. You’ll see some ugly stuff that’s just horrendous, but you can’t be an a-hole to other people who are just trying to appreciate their car. And I think one of the coolest parts about the car scene is everybody gets to customize their vehicle to their tastes. So, respect everybody’s build.

2. Don’t be the a-hole at the car meet who’s revving their engine, doing burnouts, and trying to get us shut down for having a peaceful gathering. That’s a big no-no.

3. Be respectful on the road. You don’t wanna put anybody else’s life in danger. If you wanna speed, go to the track or drag-strip, but don’t put anybody else in danger.”

TOP 5 CARS TO MODIFY

MIATA

“I’m telling you, they’re solid cars driver’s cars. They handle extremely well. They don’t have too much power. Good car to learn on and really cheap to modify.”

HONDA CIVIC

“They’re really sick—low key. Being a JDM fan, we appreciate all cars. Honda Civics are really dope.” 

TOYOTA 86 AND SUBARU BRZ

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

VOLKSWAGEN GTI AND GOLF GTI

“They’re spacious and pretty practical. Gas mileage is pretty good–highly modifiable.”

MUSTANG GT

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

WHAT I’M DRIVING

“Right now, funny enough, my daily driver is not even a Japanese car. I just got the G82 BMW M4. It’s a rear wheel drive. It puts down around 510 horsepower. I think it’s rated to be the competition variant; it’s got an automatic gearbox. It’s an eight-speed. I’ve just started building it.”

Photo Courtesy of BMW

THE DREAM CAR

My goal is to get a [Nissan] R34 GT-R, the prices are skyrocketing right now, which makes it difficult. In the United States they’re straight up illegal because US has an import law. But there’s another law that states that after a car reaches 25 years old, it can be imported without issue; 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, the R33, the Hakosuka that are legal because they’ve reached that 25-year-old thresh mark, but the variant that I really like is the R34. It reaches its birthday in 2024, so the first ones will to start to get imported.”

DON’T GET SCAMMED 

“I like going on Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp, but those are kind of sketchy if you don’t know what to look for, so I would say go to a dealership and make sure that the car that you’re buying has all of its service records, is accident-free, obviously not a salvaged title. AutoTrader’s a safe place to look through. 

Don’t get scammed y’all, for sure, please don’t get scammed. We’ve all been there; we’ve all bought lemons. Make sure you’re overly cautious about what you’re purchasing.”

FIRST STEPS TO MODIFYING YOUR CAR

“Some of the stuff I’ve learned that are the quintessential beginner pieces for your car is: I wouldn’t modify anything straight up performance-wise to make it go faster, because obviously, you’re a beginner, you wanna get the core details of things in place.

I recommend:

  • Some coilovers/springs. They slip in your suspension and make your car handle better. They also make it fit at a better ride height for driving, whether you’re going through the canyons or you’re taking it to the track. All around, it makes your car handle better. 
  • Ceramic coating. It helps protect your paint if you’re doing a show car build.
  • Obviously get some new rims and tires. 19 or 18 inch rims are the best if you’re taking your car to the track because of the way they rotate so they don’t lose as much of the engine power. Anything bigger than that you’re gonna start losing horsepower a little bit.”

“Overall, just have fun.”

CHECK OUT MARCUS

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.