If you and I have ever discussed car shows – the formal kind, where people buy tickets and there a prizes – you’ve probably heard me say something to effect of how I feel car shows are generally a place where people show off how much money they can spend on vehicles they never actually use. I know I’ve commented how it probably won’t be long before major car shows entries will be judged by who has the most cash in a neon-lit plexiglass box on an arena floor surrounded by exotic, scantily clad women.
[images: Zachary Nazeck, Fresh Grocery Getters]
Over the last four years, I’ve learned a lot – about global gearhead culture and, indeed, what it means to truly be a gearhead. Each of us has a perspective. The various motoring sub-cultures allow us to distance each other, but our shared automotive interests are what ultimately stands firm as the foundation upon which a truly international brotherhood is built. We can let our differences keep us apart, or we can open our minds to different perspectives and really experience automotive nirvana.
Perhaps the greatest perk to running this little magazine is meeting gearheads who view their projects differently than I do. My efforts to put my own opinions of what “playing with cars” looks like aside and simply share the diversity of car culture with you has allowed me access to communities I probably would have never sought out otherwise. It’s really cool.
Which I why I’m so excited to share this conversation with you today. Brian McCann is co-founder of AZ Exiled (azexiled.com). Originally from Fairbanks, Alaska, he’s spent the last 13-plus years here in sunny Scottsdale, Arizona. And he’s spent the majority of that time working in the mortgage and banking industry, currently working as an underwriter for Wells Fargo.
Brian attributes his ability to spend so much time playing with cars to his not yet being married or having any kids. To him, it’s just like being 6 years old, but with full-sized toys. He can’t imagine that status will last a whole lot longer, but for now, he considers this is “unfair advantage.”
[bd] Tell us a little bit about your vehicles.
[bm] Currently, I have a fairly notorious built block, single turbo, widebody [Nissan] 350Z putting down 650WHP and torque on Q16; about 530WHP on pump gas. It’s been in several shows, goes to a ton of local meets, and has won some awesome awards.
To keep it all running, I’m glad to have people like Ed Stikeleather at EAC (http://www.extremeautoconcepts.com) to help me through the hiccups of owning and maintaining a high horsepower, force-inducted car. (Thanks dude!) We (EAC) are also currently in the process of a full on VIP build on my Chrysler 300 using Accuair, Garson, Junction Produce and UAS products. (Both cars receive vendor support from VIS Racing, with thanks to Fred in Marketing.)
I like over the top cars. I just always have. I was a big follower of Nakai-san’s RWB line up of cars starting well over 5-6 years ago. I’m glad to see the public has taken a liking to them as well, and the trickle down of real race car driving and drifting into the functional, drift box kind of look and mentality. I dig it. Its cutting, welding, doing free mods, functional things. It’s real hot-rodding, a la 2014.
As for my own cars, I tell myself to start classy – subtle – but it always winds up with a freakshow of a car. I have too poor of mechanical luck already to actually race anything I build, so I build these things to go low ‘n’ slow and not really as functional as others tend to like. I never mean to begin that way, but it always ends up that way in the end.
I told myself after the unfortunate issues I had with my first turbo 350Z build, I would buy a simple daily and leave it alone. I owed myself some calm, automotive relief. That went out the window in less than a year. Now my daily is undergoing a full the VIP/Bippu-style build as we speak, and we’re back to cutting out huge sunroof holes, re-working the full interior, installing lighting, tweaking the body, you name it.
Sometimes I wonder if all of us car guys are sick. Not in a joke/meme kind of way. As in truly, clinically obsessed, but every week I tend to see someone far far younger than I (maybe even a grade schooler) staring open-mouthed at my car. This kid has no idea what he’s looking at, but he knows he likes it. I think that’s the special, innate thing afflicting all of us. If that’s part of the psychosis, so be it, count me in. I’ll let these cars keep taking my money. [laughs]
[bd] What makes your built block notorious? What awards has the Z won?
[bm] I guess my Z is a bit notorious due to my activity on the national and local forums in the past few years. There’s always going to be haters. That never bothered me really since, well, since I’m a grown, adult man, but it’s REALLY cool when the opposite occurs and people actually support your ride. That’s been the case lately. I feel pretty fortunate to have people around me who kind of offer what I can only call “positive affirmation after lots of blood sweat and tears.”
I started out with a 1st place win for Best Import at Pizza and Pistons II, a 1st place Hottest Import at Desert Street Scene’s Metro Meltdown show, and, finally, a “Cleanest Car” win and 2nd place in the Nissan category at Hot Import Nights here in September.
[bd] Clinically obsessed. I totally get that. You say, “Man, I’m tired of burning the candle at both ends. I want something simpler, less involved.” Next thing you know, you’ve sold your turbocharged, 90s sports car for a carburetted, 80s truck. Of course, you stick with what you know, so now you have an 89 Mitsubishi truck with more vacuum hoses and solenoids than your 4G63 ever did! Wait. That’s me.
Why do you think we can’t leave “well enough” alone? Is there such a thing as “well enough?” How would you define it?
Yeah, that’s my major problem; maybe more than most people. It’s NEVER enough. I always change my mind. I always rebuild. It drives my friends and family crazy watching it from the side lines. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s not about looking cool, or the thrill of driving a fast car. I guess if you were to think of a painter painting a picture – the end result is come to through careful consideration and skillful execution – but the joy for the painter mainly comes from the act of painting.
I won’t call myself an artist in that whole sense as I’m using parts someone else already made, but I AM trying to venture into the truly custom body work arena very soon. Expect some big changes on the car; most have already begun since these pictures were taken.
[bd] I like to think I’m decently versed in gearhead jargon. I mean, I know the difference between a donk and a bubble, but I have to admit this is the first time I’ve heard of “bippu.” I’m somewhat familiar with VIP, but could you give our audience a better idea what this scene is all about?
[bm] There’s a lot of history behind this and just as much conjecture. I’m certainly not the reference for all things VIP as I’m learning about it now too, and I’ll add the disclaimer here that I’m not Japanese, nor am I from there, but what I’ve come to know was that VIP and Bippu are one in the same. “BIP-puh” is the Japanese pronunciation of VIP as a word versus letters.
Some say VIP cars came from the Yakuza gangs, but I read at one time it was really just a JDM car team that ran cars like the now familiar VIP style. One of them turned out to eventually be the owner of Junction Produce and so on and so forth. Things grow and now we have a full automotive facet called VIP. The short of the long here is that Bippu are tuned luxury cars, originally the more expensive, JDM RWD sedans. The focus is on absolute top notch quality, execution and cleanliness. The stuff you can get away with on drift cars is about the opposite of the VIP cars, so no zip ties or cracked side skirts.
Extremely low cars, wide wheels fit tightly with negative camber, luxury materials used inside, etcetera. Even though some people are still purists to the look of the first handful of cars like this, the scene really has a much wider following now, lots of different marques being VIP’d out. The Taiwan scene is nuts. Some of the stuff I’ve seen coming out of there is unreal craftsmanship-wise, but a bit too much for me. I like the classy JP or K-Break look, and I gotta be honest… I dig the blingy Luxury style of Garson.
[bd] Solid. I learned something new. Bippu. Did some Google image surfing on Garson (yikes!) and K-Break. Interesting. Back to the mechanicals, tell me a little bit about this “poor mechanical luck” you mention with the turbo Z. Considering the extent of modification to your current vehicles, how can you be lucky in one regard, but not the other?
[bm] My tale is the same of many others with high boost, high HP, boosted VQ engines: an initial build time far beyond what was expected, lots of peripheral problems to sort out, and very little actual time on the street versus being in the shop for one thing or another. It’s just the nature of the beast really. The tolerances Japanese cars operate under as so tight in the first place. And then we want to triple the HP? Talk about overwhelming systems in a car.
You just get to go down the line replacing all the things you swore “should be fine as is,” Current demands, heat issues, etc.. Maybe not so much of an issue if we were all modding brand new cars, but when your block is new and your alternator and even power steering pump are 10 years old, you can have issues you would have never thought about before. This is why its sage advice to tell people interested in built-block forced induction cars to make sure they have a reliable daily driver car. Period. End of story. You want to think you’re craftier, more prudent – that maybe you’re luckier than everyone else – but with FI cars, noone’s special. Things break. When they do, it sucks. Be prepared.
[bd] Looking back, it seems like you’ve had some weakest-link issues building for power. Now your builds are more comprehensive and meticulous. Do you ever think you might have learned enough from the show scene that you could probably get away with doing more “physically demanding” activities with your Z without disaster?
[bm] In all honesty, no, I really dont. I think once you’ve built things past a certain point, you are always going to be chasing the 8 ball. That’s part of what building these cars is about. You either learn to love fixing them or you had better build a strong relationship with a shop and shop friends. I will say that what I learn about function over form on these cars comes not from the shows and meets, per say, as it does from walking past the drift box cars and from watching them really race and move.
Shows cars are fragile by nature. Drift cars are metal shoeboxes on expensive suspension parts with powerhouse engines. And they are driven very hard. If you want to know what stands up to abuse and what does not, look at your local neighborhood gatherings of multi-colored, stanced 240’s. They really can be the tail that wags the dog when it comes to what you wind up building if you don’t want to chance repairs on a car you’re in which you’re still worried about the seats getting dirty.
[bd] To that end, do you have any regrets? What have you learned from them? And where do you see yourself in another five years, automotively speaking?
[bm] Regrets? Sure. I wish I had a cheaper hobby like collecting baseball cards! [laughs] In all seriousness, I do have some very painful regrets with this car, some a bit closer to home than I’ll mention nationally here, but I can summarize by saying I regret the money I had to spend on things I chalked up to growing pains later on; parts I would ultimately sell or trade. One of the good parts of the Z scene is that there is a buyer for literally ANY part you change your mind on. Aside from the time and the headache of changing a car around, the loss on parts is actually minimal. Wait. Did I just say that?
The amount of people I had met through buying and selling parts over local craigslist is actually what started the AZ Exiled website and Facebook group. What it’s grown into now has become part of a huge, emerging local network of crews and events driven solely by Facebook and social media. It’s nuts what we’ve all done in the last 12 months together.
The usual, repeat appearance, 10-car parking lot meets have skyrocketed to 200-car meets, to 350, to over 1000 at a time. It’s cool to see how much thirst there really is for the shade-tree enthusiast. If the industry continues to market to them, it’s going to keep exploding.
[bd] Finally, where can our readers find you online to learn more?
[bm] Find us online at azexiled.com, or on our Facebook group page at www.facebook.com/groups/azexiled. I really do want to make sure I voice my thanks and appreciation for my partners at AZEXILED, as well as those who continue to support my cars and their evolutions. Without them, I’m just a guy with a shiny pile of useless metal in his garage.
Big thanks again to Ed Stikeleather at Extreme Auto Concepts (www.extremeautoconcepts.com) as well as Fred at VIS (VISracing.com) for keeping me going at this point. Thanks guys!
[bd] Awesome. Thanks, Brian. Make sure you drop us a line when the Z is “finished” again so we can show everyone here how it evolved this time.
If you ever find yourself staring at the forum index or a blank Google search wishing there was something interesting to check out, if you ever hear that inner voice say something like, “I’ve seen it all,” snap yourself out of it and remember that one of the coolest things about being a gearhead is there really is no way you could ever see it all.
I’m still not a huge fan of done-up show cars which will seldom, if ever, see track time, but as someone who’s thrown piles of hard-earned cash into engines which seemed to only result in a string of weak links repeatedly mocking and beating me down, I can totally empathize with Brian, here.
It doesn’t matter what you’re into. When you catch a stranger on the sidewalk do a double-take to get a good, long look at your ride, it’s addictive. When the guys in the truck next to you at the light give you a thumbs up, you know it feels good. And the world is full of people into things you’d never in a million years do with your own car, but it’s a mad, mad, mad world and the things we have in common are what empowers us to get the most from our differences.
Maybe being a gearhead is a legitimate, clinical obsession, but if so, I don’t want to be cured.