This story might feel familiar.
Jordan Robinson is a parts guy by trade (dealerships and body shops) and loves 80s Toyotas and older Japanese cars in general. He helped co-found the Japanese Classics of Virginia car club (JCVA), which hosts a few mountain cruises every year, and has owned some pretty fly Toyotas.
Why all the love for old Toyotas? How did you get there?
To be honest, when I was in high school I wasn’t super into cars. My biggest car memories growing up were, as a kid, thinking the Viper was just the best thing ever. This was probably due to having seen a few episodes of the short-lived TV show “Viper” which featured a gadget filled gen1.
Fast forward to middle school, where one of my best friends gets really into watching drift videos online (this was probably pre-youtube), 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Italian Job, Need for Speed Underground, and Forza Motorsport. Once he got sucked into it, I wasn’t far behind. I remember wanting a Mini Cooper S so badly!
[ We all did, brother. We all did. – BD ]
Well, my friend got his first car in early high school to work on before he got his license—a 1985 Toyota Celica GT hatchback—the last year of rear-drive Celicas. He did a manual transmission swap and we worked on it all the time.
After high school, as soon as I was able to afford my own car that wasn’t a hand-me-down, I bought my 1988 MR2 Supercharged. To my 18-year old self, it may as well have been a Ferrari F40. That was 10 years ago, and I still have that car.
Other Toyotas have come and gone in the last decade.
I bought another MR2 shell as a parts car after crashing the front end of mine, then junked that.
There was a red 1990 Cressida I scooped up for cheap with a blown headgasket (classic 7MGE, right?), fixed it, and sold it for a little bit of profit.
Then there was a 1986 Cressida Wagon that I got in a barely running, not-stopping condition and basically transformed into a Celica-Supra wagon with a manual swap, MK1 Supra LSD rear end, coilovers, bigger brakes, Supra seats, all kinds of fun stuff. I loved that car but I sold it once the time felt right. I believe the guy in NY that bought it is putting in a 1JZ.
With the money from that sale, I bought my friend’s 87 FX16 GTS Corolla, stripped it all out, made my own home-made coilovers out of MR2 parts, and now it’s my track beater.
What is it specifically about old Toyotas that I love? I’m honestly not sure. I think it’s because they are often overlooked and I love having something that is different. I also love the quality of the engineering in these cars. Once you fix some of the 30-plus-year old things that are wrong, they are stone dead reliable. I love that.
How does working in the industry impact your hobby? (That is, how can you spend all day dealing with car troubles and then go home and deal with more car troubles? Maybe work involves newer models you don’t care about, so the older Yotas are still exciting?)
This is a great question. Back in high school I worked as a lube/tire tech as a Tire America, and it absolutely destroyed my desire to even touch my car in my free time. Now I’m on the parts end so I’m not turning wrenches for a living.
I cherish my time in the garage, it’s like my sanctuary. Cars are like big, expensive Lego sets, and building them is so much fun. However if I had to do it every day I’d get burnt out again very quickly, I think.
Currently, I work in a body shop so it’s mostly cosmetic stuff I couldn’t care less about. I definitely miss the mechanical side since that’s what I have interest in. Pouring over engine diagrams with the tech to find the exact correct part the first time successfully was really satisfying, which I can’t say about my current position.
The work on newer models is certainly, shall we say, uninteresting. Every now and then something cool will come through but it’s rare. I think we had an S2000 a while back, which was neat. The older stuff, or even newer stuff that’s a bit out of the ordinary is what really interests me, so ordering bumper covers for Kia Optimas isn’t exactly thrilling.
And what’s the story behind JCVA? How did you come to be a co-founder in that space?
It was mostly my friend Mitchell’s idea at first (same guy with the Celica). We used to have meetups a couple times a year, but honestly in the past year or two since he moved to Japan I’ve sort of lost the drive to make that stuff happen.
We still do two cruises through the mountains—“Rollin’ Up the Blue Ridge”—every year, one in spring and one in fall. Those are always a good time.
We mostly made it so that there could be a group for local-ish people that were all into pre-1995-ish Japanese vehicles to talk, without being overrun with Subarus/Toyobarions/Evos/all the other modern stuff that everybody and their brother is into. We really like our weird old obscure cars and wanted to connect with other like-minded people.
I wish I had the time and energy to devote to organizing more events, but my focus has really shifted to trying to make every local autocross event, and start doing events at Dominion Raceway too. I used to be able to spend hours chatting in parking lots with other car people, but these days it seems like my interests have shifted a little more towards the driving part.
You’ve been hooked since before the MR2 10 years ago. How has modifying your machines helped you modify your life?
In terms of how getting into the car hobby has changed my life, the biggest impact by far is how many friends I have now that I met through car stuff.
Especially now that I’m approaching 30, a time in which I think a lot of people find is when some old friendships often start to slip away as people change and it’s harder to find new friends. The social aspect that comes with being a car enthusiast is definitely a big bonus.
Another big thing for me is the cathartic nature of wrenching on a project. While it certainly sucks when something breaks and you have to have it fixed to get to work/for looming state inspection deadlines/etc., modifying or working on a car for leisure is something that really resonates with me.
Having a project where you can plan what you want to do and have tangible results at the end is immensely satisfying and honestly, it helps me stave off some depression or calm down from frustration in my daily life.
Looking ahead to the NEXT 10 years, which of those skills do you think will prove most useful? And what skills do you think you SHOULD be working on?
I think the mechanical stuff might translate into some home-ownership situations as far as home repair stuff goes, but so far it’s been fairly limited. I acquired a welder last summer which is a pretty versatile tool, and I like to think I’m becoming more proficient at welding.
I definitely need to learn some more broad home repair skills like how to replace windows, basic carpentry, home electrics, stuff like that, which seems to be pretty different from wrenching on cars.
I definitely think there are skills outside of the physical wrenching in the car hobby that are helpful as well. Online researching, forum/social media use, event creation/coordination, things like that are all pretty helpful skills but I’ve yet to find a way to make any of that lucrative in my personal life.
[ *cough* Next Level Gearhead Summer 2018 *cough* ]
Where would you like me to point readers to connect with you online?
I’m on Instagram as TheDailyDownshift, I have a few videos up on Youtube under the same name, and my more detailed build write-ups and various other writings are on my blog at dailydownshift.blogspot.com.
I definitely hope to make a website at some point so I can own my own domain name but I just haven’t had the time/money/motivation to get that done.
Also search on Facebook for Japanese Classics of Virginia if you’re in the general area, not to be confused with the similarly-named car import business. No affiliation there.
If you happen to be at an autocross or other event in the central VA area and see a ratty black AW11 or red FX16 come up and say hi!