Stopped on the site visitors lights someplace close to downtown Machida in Tokyo prefecture, there’s a pause for consideration. There’s actually no getting away from it: from a dynamic standpoint, the Suzuki Jimny is… garbage. The steering has a yawning lifeless spot from centre to a couple of quarter flip, presumably to forestall individuals hoofing them right into a nook and instantly flipping onto the roof, the experience is uneven, the ‘dealing with’ mildly alarming and the brakes mediocre.

It in all probability doesn’t assist that it is a four-speed auto taped to the again of a 658cc three-pot petrol, and the beam axles have the experience consolation and spinal sympathy of a paving slab. And I adore it. I actually, genuinely adore it. Which makes zero sense, till you see the skin.

This Jimny is just not particular due to the way it drives, however due to the way it seems to be. It’s been modified by Japanese firm Damd Inc, and it’s a type of chunky homage to the unique Renault 5, as weird as that sounds. There’s the flat entrance and barely right-handed trapezoidal headlamps, the grille, the bumper – soft-focus cues that stretch all the best way again to when the 5 was launched again in 1972.

Images: Toby Thyer

Then there are the arches and graphics that kind of resemble 1985’s GT Turbo – though it’s important to get near see the ‘non’ above the large ‘TURBO’ lettering – and the motorsport wheels. It’s blatantly apparent what that is, and likewise what it isn’t. A good looking, bizarre, unique remix.

However that’s not even the entire story. Pottering alongside subsequent to me is one other carrying perverse cues from a Lancia Delta Integrale, and I’ve already poked a remarkably well-finished miniature G-Wagen. I can’t cease smiling. Operating across the Tokyo suburbs in a pair of sweet-looking caricatures, passers-by waving and laughing, is a balm for the soul. The drive could also be rudimentary, however the vibe is immaculate.

Welcome then, to the world of the Damd.

It’s wonderful how such comparatively easy modifications can change every part, and the Damd philosophy appears forehead-slappingly easy. Take the sq., base Jimny, take in the styling cues from a earlier square-ish icon, and have at it. Using the Jimny as a base for these mini-mes is impressed: in Japan, if required to fulfill strict Kei laws, the Jimny has to come back with out the flared wheelarches of the export model, and still have tucked bumpers. So the fundamental automobile is definitely only a clean slate for Damd to work its magic – primarily a bolt-on makeover.

 

 

Damd Inc is just not, nevertheless, some new child on the block. It was began again in 1982 as a maker of varied FRP (fibre-reinforced plastic – mainly fibreglass) components for all kinds of issues, getting inventive with BMW wheelarches and bumpers for JDM kei vehicles. Good ones too: Damd went about quietly innovating and creating within the aftermarket sector, successful loads of awards within the course of, each home and worldwide.

It wasn’t lengthy earlier than it began doing completely different vehicles, trim items for producer supplier specials and loads of racing and drift equipment, a correct enterprise working exterior the mainstream OEMs.

Recognition got here on the large display within the form of a Damd-kitted Evo VIII within the second instalment of the Quick & Livid franchise (the greeny/yellow one), and venture vehicles have at all times abounded, from the LFA-inspired LFT-86 to untold quantities of SEMA present vehicles and kei oddities – try the N-Van Malibu for a cuteness overload. The corporate has a effective – and intensive – again catalogue.

But it surely wasn’t till 2019 and the present Jimny that the model got here up with the ‘Little G’, a stylised interpretation of the Mercedes G-Wagen. And a tiny legend was born.

After all, you could marvel how issues like copyright may be concerned. Again at Damd’s HQ in Shimotsuruma, Yamato Metropolis, president Shogo Omodaka, whose father began the corporate, explains that whereas the vehicles have apparent influences, the main points are influences, reasonably than copies. And whereas they’re executed with tidy precision, they aren’t making an attempt to confuse anybody.

One additionally assumes that the larger automobile corporations have sufficient self-confidence to not be threatened by such apparent homages: brutal legality would depart them wanting greater than a bit silly. However the truth stays that Damd is a livid little inventive engine of a spot, pumping out bodykits and styling for varied streams of kei vehicles and vans, completely different types of Jimny and equipment like wheels – each steering and highway – trim components and roofracks.

Operating across the Tokyo suburbs on this pair is a balm for the soul

There’s artwork within the combine, and Damd Sound Results which produces a curated road-trip playlist each couple of weeks. Even the workplace house within the storage seems to be just like the New York loft of a very cutting-edge promoting firm. It’s an automotive ecosystem, reasonably than only a components provider.

Other than the intelligent design, the opposite factor in regards to the product is the execution. The components themselves are high-quality. The bits are designed and reviewed, then 3D-printed to verify every part seems to be to scale and suits correctly. Moulds are then created and the components made, with all of the related bracing and fixing factors.

Match and end is essential to the corporate as an entire, Shogo-san making the purpose that the vehicles ought to appear like they have been meant to be, reasonably than some backstreet cobble collectively. There may be a slight aspect of sticky-backed plastic within the concept, however the execution is best than OEM good. Panel gaps are tight, end higher than manufacturing facility, and the un-Renault was a standing testomony; the one low-cost plastic bits being within the inventory Suzuki inside, which, regardless of the addition of some Bride seats, is as humble because it began.

 

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However the perfect bit is that the kits are additionally not terribly costly within the grand scheme of bespoke automobile modification. Which is smart when the bottom automobile isn’t an unique. For instance, if you have already got a Jimny, the ‘Little G’ Aventura G-Wagen-alike is £5,600 for the fundamental equipment, one other £600 painted (in Japan). So a complete of about £6,200, although it’s important to add on issues like wheels and chunkier tyres, lights, roofracks and all the opposite jewelry.

The non-Turbo non-Renault would doubtless be comparable, however with a premium for UK importation. And import you’ll be able to – Damd has a UK supplier within the form of Sumo Energy in Cambridgeshire – at all times a bonus. The total look would add up, however with a cheap-ish base automobile, you’d be getting one thing correctly attention-grabbing for the worth of the non-obligatory paint on a supercar.

And that appears to be the purpose: being attention-grabbing and accessible reasonably than quick, or costly. Speaking to the people who run it, the entire Damd course of, the complete design workforce, is in on the joke. These aren’t vehicles making an attempt to persuade you that they’re costlier or higher than they’re: they’re simply pure amusement. They’re inventive and sensible and extra eye-catching than lots of mid-level supercars, and in a world of too severe faces and aggressive respiratory, Damd is bringing the humour again, working exterior the conventional, however inside attain.

They defy conference, and are the higher for it. Custom, it appears, be Damd.

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