Justin Fox, a name relatively well known amongst the Sydney import tuner/JDM scene, yet strangely mysterious hidden behind the walls of JDMST. He is an enigmatic and yet charming individual and is the founder of JDMstyletuning.com, a forum for JDM enthusiasts that now has a large following worldwide. The forum established in 2005, prides itself on quality tuning and quality JDM parts. Anyone can join and contribute. The regular End of Month Meets (EOMM) are a great way to socialise with other members of the forum and check out their rides. This busy man also founded Sex in Art, VWGolf.net.au (together with Christina Lock) and Bikes Move Us. We managed to catch up with him recently and asked him a few questions.
Benson Lau: What do you work as now?
Justin Fox: I’m still doing graphic and web design for select clients but I spend most of my time running my own sites: Australian INfront, JDMST, VWGolf.net.au, Bikes Move Us, Sex in Art, my blog and now Modern Pet Shop. (Edit: Since this interview was conducted a new project, www.ordinaryextraordinary.com.au)
BL: When did you first get into cars and why did you get into cars?
JF: My Dad was super into cars, so too my cousin from Indonesia who came out to Australia to study in the mid 80’s. My Dad changed cars a lot in his time and every year, without fail, he’d take me to the Motor Show. My cousin, who lived with me at the time, was car obsessed in high school. He often drew cars with huge wheels, Indo style!
BL: What do you remember about your Dad’s passion of cars? What from that got you more keenly interested into cars?
JF: Lots of little things. He had a lot of car magazines which I always looked through. He was always changing cars every couple of years. I got to start them up before school as a little kid. He drove fast and cornered hard. I remembered often sitting in the car, eyes shut with a pen to a pad of paper, at the end of a drive I’d have a pretty dynamic artwork from all the times the pen left the pad when Dad was cornering hard!
He always liked to have the very latest models. He imported his own Honda Accord (flip light version) and got it landed months before Honda Australia started selling them. He also owned a white 4WS Honda Prelude way before anyone else owned one (before it became Wheels Car of the Year). I remember that he had the wheels powder coated white on that car. One afternoon I put a ding in his door when my skateboard went flying into it, he was pretty angry, that made me realise how much he loved his cars (that cars weren’t just cars to him!). Lots of little things.
BL: What was your first car?
JF: I’d ridden motorbikes for a couple of years and my parents offered to buy the car for me so long as I sold my bike. To be honest I’d had enough of bikes at the time. I never quite got confident on them and came close to falling off more than a few times. I remember not knowing what to look for in a car, but I wanted anything but a Honda as my Dad used to always complain about how he wanted more power from his Honda’s. I ended up buying a 2nd hand automatic Toyota Celica (T180).
BL: Why and what did you first modify? What got you started in the tuning scene?
JF: I often visited Hong Kong in those years as my family had business over there. I used to linger in the autmotive section of the Sogo department store. On one trip I ended up buying a gunmetal grey toyota badge for my bonnet, a clamp-on exhaust tip and also some Tom’s Racing Stickers, which I stuck on the doors. Later on I got a loud stero system, painted the rear tail lights and indicators black and bought a 2nd hand set of VW Golf VR6 BBS wheels, which happened to bolt straight on. The guys at Pedders (a chain of car suspension workshops in Australia) cut my springs to lower the car and I got the guys at Midas mufflers (a chain of general car servicing workshops in Australia) to make me a custom exhaust!
BL: Why did your parents want you to sell the bike?
JF: Yeah I regret wanting a bike so bad. I fought with my Dad a lot about the bike and put him and my Mum through a lot of worry. He refused to let me ride one but he taught me from an early age that if it’s food I want he’ll treat me to anything but if I wanted toys I had to go out and make my own money, so I did (Woolworths night packing FTW!). I got my riding license, sold my tricked out mountain bike for $3000 and bought myself my 1st bike despite my parents not wanting me to.
BL: What did you enjoy about the Celica?
JF: It was my first car so I very much enjoyed the freedom of driving more than the car itself. I didn’t have to wear a helmet, or protective clothing, or worry about bad weather. I could blast my heavy metal through the stereo and I could take friends places. I drove it every day, it was more about function than passion (but I secretly did really wish I had a GT4, or at least a hood scoop to make my car look like one!).
BL: What happened to the Celica?
JF: I ran it into the ground. Due to a slow leak from a small hole in the radiator I blew the head and after that it went through the Sydney hail storm which absolutely demolished it. That year of the hail storm I had stopped paying full comprehensive insurance on it too, really bad luck. A few months later I couldn’t stand the mouldy smell inside the car (every time it rained there were puddles of water under the carpet), the electrics were dying too so I traded it in for a new Alfa 147 for $4000 (which I thought was a deal considering the car was so dead).
BL: And how did you move from purely modifying to tuning your car?
JF: When I owned the Alfa, Alfa Romeo Australia invited me out to a track day at Eastern Creek. One of the instructors said I had some potential and I did well out there, that one comment and time behind the wheel on a race track got me pretty excited. A few weeks later I was in the city when a guy in a suit approached me (whilst I was in the car). He liked what I had done to the Alfa and invited me out to a Burrows Drive Day at Eastern Creek. I mustered the courage to attended and I was hooked. I did a lot of track days in the Alfa, when the Alfa wasn’t enough (to overtake the fast guys in their Ferrari’s and Porsche’s) I sold the Alfa and bought the GT-R.
BL: What made you start JDMstyletuning.com?
JF: In 1999 I founded a successfull online design community (Australian INfront) and I was itching to use the skills I had developed in creating that community on my new passion (cars).
I realised from joining various forums that the Nissan guys hated the Honda guys. Subaru, Mitsubishi, Toyota…I saw a lot of tension out there. Being an outsider at the time I thought it was ridiculous as all these guys hated each other but they were all into the same thing. Japanese cars and modifying them. My mission was to unite them all. To get all these guys to see the bigger picture which suggests that we are a group of like minded individuals who share a passion for Japanese cars be it Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Suzuki or Toyota.
Friends at the time were important too.
I was hanging out with Zi (JDMyard, a tuner workshop in Sydney) a lot and I’m sure we talked about JDMST. Amir Parsinejad (RaceBorn) was around, so too Howard Lim, Christina Lock, Andrew Price, Garth Ivers, Alan Li, Lilian Truong and Nico Tjen. I roped all these guys in. It was February 2005, Speed magazine was still around and was an inspiration to me at the time. I approached photographers Easton Chang and Dean Summers to help me with contributing photos for the JDMST front page (I actually used one of Mark Pakula’s photos in the mock-up, long story short but he found it and some people at Auto Salon magazine, a now defunct Australian tuning and modifying magazine, were quite mad with me!). We had our first meet at Krispy Kreme’s Mascot, it was a killer turnout, there was a buzz in the air and for me, that night really solidified JDMST and it’s potential.
BL: Do you feel like the mission has been accomplished with the uniting of the JDM scene? Or is it still some ways off?
JF: I think so. JDMST goes through ups and downs but it’s largely organic and so far in regards to statistics (currently over 8000 unique visitors daily), it’s gone from strength to strength.
BL: What do you think is the JDM tuner’s mindset?
JF: It depends on the tuner, and the project. There’s so many scenes within the scene and so many ways to tune the same car. Personally I’ve always done the same thing with every single car I’ve owned. Instead of focusing on power I like to lighten the car to make it feel better in corners. I spend the most time sorting out the handling and I try my best to use Japanese parts because I love them. When I bought the Golf I had intentions to bag it. I thought of rocking up to meets and letting the car drop until the skirts touch the ground, sure it would look crazy but in the end it just isn’t me. I’m still upset I didn’t do it as now I find myself doing the same thing I do to all my cars on the Golf. Ripping weight out, semi-slicks and track work. It’s been fun, but it’s all getting a little safe and maybe a little boring.
BL: What do you think is the direction of the tuning scene in Australia?
JF: I think JDM Style and Tuning in Australia peaked a few years ago and right now it’s transforming almost into 2 different levels/classes. At some stage a lot of people lost the ability to spend more than they earned on quality JDM parts (in my opinion, trial and error and going for broke was what it was all about!). A lot of opportunistic brands came from nowhere, selling much more affordable performance and styling gear. People started buying this gear and giving it rave reviews (viral) which in turn inspired more people into seeing value in buying cheaper gear (in some cases replica/counterfeit products).
I can’t speak for the entire tuning scene, but in regards to JDMST; I don’t believe that we have our own unique style (nor are we desperately trying to find one). There’s always going to be JDMST members who hate on people for being too literally inspired by overseas movements but hey, trends are addictive (and for those who get caught up in it, fun). Personally I’ve always looked to Japan and the States and admired what they’re doing over there with both Japanese cars and Euro cars, both from a stylisting point as well as performance. For the moment I’m happy for our scene to continue to be inspired by what we’re seeing overseas.
BL: Do you see parallels between how the Japanese automobile manufacturers broke into the US car market and how the Taiwanese and Chinese brands are breaking into the aftermarket tuning scene? Or is it a completely different scenario?
JF: I’ve never thought of it that way but I think it’s pretty evident that the financial crisis has affected our hobby. People are placing much more value in cheaper goods despite knowing they’re not as good as more expensive quality goods. Where people perceive value, that’s what’s changing everything.
BL: What have you owned?
JF: Toyota T180 Celica, Alfa Romeo 147, Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R, Toyota AE86 Levin GTV, Honda EG Civic VTi, Honda EG Civic Si, Honda Integra DC5R, Honda Integra DC25R, Kia Spectra (! BL: verified), BMW 318i, Toyota MR2 Spyder, Mitsubish Evo 6.5 TME, Mazda MX5 NA Clubman, Honda S2000, Honda Jazz manual, Honda Jazz auto, Honda Jazz K20A, Honda ED Civic, Nissan Skyline V35 350GT, VW Golf MKV GTI.
BL: Out of all the cars you have owned, which let you down the most, taking into account reliability, driving feel and expectations?
JF: Somewhere in the middle I felt the need to stop the addiction. I was spending more money than I was earning and I just had to get out of the hobby. I bought a Kia Mentor for a daily. It was cheap, looked cheap and felt cheap (the car was designed so bad I couldn’t see out of the boot!). I now knew why people with Hyundai Excels drove so aggressively. When you own a car as shit as this you can’t help but drive the wheels off it. A week in the car was ticking loudly, it sounded like it was going to blow up any minute, also, I somehow found my way to a Kia forum, saw that there was a guy modifying his Kia and I even asked him about a few mods he did. I had an epiphany, thinking about modifying a ticking time bomb was not on and I sold the car the week after.
BL: What car do you miss the most?
JF: Hard one to answer. I miss the MX-5 a lot. I learned more about driving in that car than any other. I miss the EVO TME a lot too, dead stock, such an amazing car that I sold way too early. I miss the S2000 a lot, it’s perhaps the only car I’ve ever bothered to put a kit on. I miss the AE86 as it was a special edition and I regret not having the balls to put the $5k into it to make it amazing. The ED Civic was a lot of fun too and it’s another one of the cars I can still clearly see in my mind’s eye, with the new owner driving off up the my hill.
BL: What cars are you looking forward to driving/owning in the future?
JF: From people who have driven it I’ve heard the new GT-R is amazing. I’d love to own one but even selling all 3 cars (GT-R, GTI and Christina’s R32) won’t buy me one. I’m itching to try one though, it’ll be the fastest car I’ve ever driven, no doubt.
BL: Any advice for people just getting started into tuning?
JF: Finding a good mechanic is a great start. Once you find one you like and trust you’ll also pick up a crew of like minded tuners as well as knowledge. I met heaps of friends through hanging out at IS Motor Racing (a tuning workshop in Sydney) and Indy has always looked after me.