“I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters… for those ten seconds or less, I’m free.” -Dominic Toretto, The Fast and the Furious.
For as long as people have been driving cars, some have sought to customize their vehicles, to increase speed or handling, to make the exterior unique, or to put their own flourish on the interior. Some might try to squeeze out a few extra horsepower from the engine. Others might try to change suspension components and increase handling prowess. Others might add wings, body kits, and custom paint jobs. While many people doubtlessly view their car as an appliance to use to commute from one place to another, for some, the car is a physical manifestation of their personal identity. For those who are part of custom car/tuner car culture, a car show is a place to see other people’s rides, and to be seen in their own.
I have always been a car enthusiast. I do not modify my cars – my approach is to keep my car as original as possible while looking like it just rolled off the showroom floor, no matter how many years and miles accrue. Yet I have always appreciated tuner culture, and enjoy seeing how people create their “builds” (the modifications and alterations to make a car truly unique). When I learned that an import/tuner car show would be happening nearby on a Sunday afternoon, I set off to fill my nostrils with the smells of oil and burning rubber, and to fill my camera’s memory card with countless photos of cool cars.
Los Goonies PandaFest 2022
Today’s destination: Princeton Airport, for Los Goonies 2022 Pandafest import/tuner car show. However, intrepid bloggers require sustenance before any adventure… so off we went to a quick stop at the shore for breakfast! Breakfast at Asbury Park
For the second weekend in a row, we made our way to Asbury Park, one of our favorite seaside towns of the northern beaches in New Jersey.
Toast City Diner opens for breakfast at 7:30 am and we arrived not long after. Our reward for dragging ourselves out of bed early? We had an entire room in the restaurant completely to ourselves.
That’ll be an order of Will’s Firebird Waffle (gluten free) for me (pictured) and an order of Will’s Firebird Pancakes (gluten free) for my wife. How was it? Delicious, as always!
With sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60s, we enjoyed a lengthy walk along the Asbury Park boardwalk.
Of course, we checked out some of the latest murals around town.
As we walked back to the car, we encountered a seemingly endless throng of people. Walk MS, an organization dedicated to raising money to research Multiple Sclerosis, was holding their annual fundraising walk in Asbury Park. According to the website, the organization’s goal was to raise $150,000 this year, and the final tally was $188,857!
And no visit to this beach town is complete without a stop at Asbury Park Roastery for some coffee. That’ll be a coffee with cream for me (right) and an iced oat milk latte for my wife (left). Not a bad view to accompany our beverages, either! After soaking in as much sun and ocean breeze as possible, we set off toward home. Pandafest 2022
A few hours later, I arrived at Princeton Airport and quickly discovered that parking was at a premium. I managed to snag a spot among a row of heavily modified Toyotas, Volkswagens, and Subarus. My little Honda was one of the few cars in the spectator parking lot that seemed to still have most of its original factory parts!
Los Goonies is a group that celebrates tuner cars and tuner car culture, and Pandafest is the annual meetup held in the Northeastern United States.
The event opened to spectators at noon, but car owners who wanted to display their vehicles got on site around 9:00 am so all the vehicles could be assembled throughout the airport parking lot.
In 2017, Honda unveiled the Type R version of the Civic compact car. The Civic Type R is a practical performance car, capable of both commuting to work and the grocery store, but also tearing up a race track. This beast puts over 300 horsepower to the wheels from a small, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It has proven popular with the automotive tuner community since its introduction.
So many Civics Type Rs!
I do appreciate a sense of humor – one of the Honda Civic Type Rs on display had a stuffed toy version of ASIMO, the humanoid robot that Honda unveiled to the public in 2000.
I immediately gravitated to this first-generation Acura NSX. For a while, used NSXs were an affordable way to own a luxury supercar. Over the past decade, however, prices have steadily climbed – expect to spend at least $100,000 for one in good condition at auction.
I appreciate tasteful modifications, such as how the owner has approached their Mazda RX-7. Built from 1978-2002, the RX-7 line used a rotary engine. Instead of traditional cylinders, the rotary engine was powered by a triangular-shaped rotor that spins in a circle, combusting a mixture of gasoline and air as it turns. Imagine a Dorito chip spinning in a coffee can, you’ll have an idea of what a rotary engine looks like. It is more compact than a traditional engine, while also running more smoothly.
Once upon a time, the Toyota Supra was one of the preeminent performance cars that were accessible to the masses. When it was unveiled in 1986, the third generation Supra (pictured) was a radical departure from the bland vehicles that comprised most of Toyota’s lineup. I remember, at age 10, being suitably impressed when a classmate’s mom brought one home from the dealership.
The fourth generation Supra gained wider fame, especially due to its inclusion in the hit 2001 movie The Fast and the Furious. The car was sold with the much-beloved 2JZ-GTE 6-cylinder engine which produced 320 horsepower in stock form. According to Motor Trend, this engine, when properly tuned and modified, is capable of producing over two thousand horsepower. For a point of reference, my 2012 Accord V6 produces 271 horsepower.
Take a two-door coupe. Give it a 6-cylinder engine with not one, but two turbochargers. Add on all-wheel drive. Fit it with huge brakes capable of stopping a freight train. Plug it all into a computer solely tasked with directing all of that power into an exhilarating driving experience, and you have the Nissan Skyline GT-R. It’s the kind of bonkers sports car that most car manufacturers seem to have lost the appetite to produce (or sell) these days. To wit, Nissan discontinued the Skyline for North American sales in 2022.
Does the Nissan Skyline GT-R sound appealing? About $50,000 (at auction) will put that badge into your driveway.
Although it might be tempting to think of tuner culture as a solely male domain, plenty of women put their time, effort, and resources into transforming their vehicles into personal works of art, such as this Acura TLX. You can follow the car’s adventures on Instagram: @tlx_mama.
While heavily modified cars are cool, my preference is for cars that look like they just came out of a time machine from the 80s and 90s, such as this Honda CR-X.
Although not numerous, there was a decent collection of cool cars from the 1980s on display. This late-80s Daihatsu Hijet micro-van was never sold in the United States. If you buy one (and you can get a nice one for under $10,000), you’ll need some time to acclimate to the driving position – the steering wheel is on the right.
Given Japan’s high population density and limited available space, the nation has a special category of micro-vehicles, known as kei cars. These super-small cars, vans, and trucks are exempted from many of the taxes and fees imposed on larger vehicles. Kei cars are starting to become more and more popular with collectors in the US. This Honda Acty pickup truck immediately drew my eye. If you buy one (and you can get a decent one for around $5k), don’t expect to go blazing down the highway – the Acty’s three-cylinder engine produces a dizzying 52 horsepower.
The highlight for me, though, was this beautiful 1989 Honda Prelude Si. Its owner has lovingly restored this vehicle, spending her time and money to make this look like it just rolled off the showroom floor.
This Prelude has another trick up its sleeve – it comes equipped with four wheel steering (4WS). Unlike the vast majority of cars that turn only with the front wheels, a mechanical system in the rear pivots the back wheels to aid in both low-speed turns and high-speed cornering.
I have seen this car, and its owner Cheyenne, when I attended the RADwood car show in 2018. Since then, Cheyenne has put a significant amount of time and energy into returning this car to its late 80s glory. Check out the dealership brochure for the 1989 Prelude on the dashboard!
Even the Prelude’s engine bay was immaculate – putting my Accord’s to shame. Pandafest gives out awards to various cars, and the Prelude won the trophy for Best Paint at the show. You can follow this Prelude on Instagram at @atreyu_4ws. Check it out!
After over an hour making my inner car-nerd very, very happy, it was time to head home. Pandafest was a fun way to pass a beautiful spring afternoon!
On the way home from the car show, my Accord passed yet another milestone: 197,000 is now on the odometer. Only three thousand miles left to the big 200k. Onward! Wrapping Up
I had a great time at Pandafest. As I drove home, I realized that this was the first large car show I had attended in over two years. It felt fun to get back to checking out cool cars, talking with other car nuts, and generally exercising my inner car nerd. I would definitely look forward to checking out Pandafest 2023 next year!
Thanks for coming along on this exploration of all things automotive along the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.