By Brian Feinzimer
By Charles Lam
By Joel Beers
By LP Hastings
By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
By Joel Beers
That's when he got the idea to put it all under one roof—the guys, the cars, the girls, the swagger. He tossed the concept around with the guys on his car team, who simply shook their heads. "They were like, 'Wait a minute, Ken. So you're gonna charge guys to park their cars inside a building, and then you're gonna charge their friends and their friends' friends to pay to go look at their cars? It's not gonna happen.'"
But Miyoshi pressed on. "I was gonna make it work if it killed me," he says. The event would be called Import Showoff and would be an opportunity for tuners to compete for bragging rights and cash.
For Miyoshi, it was an opportune time. In 1993, while picking up a friend at 24 Hour Fitness in his new Supra, he left his keys in the ignition as he ran to knock on the window. In those few seconds, a man drunk and on drugs jumped into his car and drove it through a wall in front of the Bellflower police station. "My whole world went blank," he says.
After fighting with his insurance company, Miyoshi was granted $12,500 for the loss. He knew what to do with the money. "I was thinking, 'Am I gonna get another Supra and be paranoid, or am I gonna do what I want to do and not ask, 'What if?'"
He decided to put down a deposit at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona, but getting approval for the event was more challenging than he expected. A couple of years earlier, a gang brawl erupted at a lowrider car show there that left one dead and several injured. "Right when I said, 'fixed-up cars,' they shut me down," Miyoshi recalls.
Around the same time, young Asian American men with fixed-up sports cars were being targeted by authorities, particularly in Orange County. According to Dan Tsang, a UC Irvine radio-show host, Fountain Valley police kept a "mug book" filled with names and Polaroids of those whom they suspected of being gang members or "gang associates." Anyone who wore baggy clothes or had a car decked with flashy stickers, clear headlights and other modifications was seen as a threat. "They called it 'vigorous law enforcement,'" Tsang says.
Miyoshi finally got the go-ahead for his event after agreeing to rent metal detectors and let officials prescreen each car submitted. He had about four months to get everything together. For help with promoting the event, he turned to his buddies at Cypress College, a ragtag group of DJs, former gang members and car fanatics who'd often ditch class to play Pusoy Dos, or Filipino Poker, in a spot on campus they called "the pit." He photographed their cars to feature on fliers that he handed out at clubs and placed on cars at a popular drag race called Battle of the Imports in Palmdale. A flood of completed applications arrived in the mail. "I would look at the entries and be like, 'Whoa, this is nice,'" he says. "These were the cars I wanted. I knew I was onto something."
* * *
In March 1995, about 3,500 people and 220 cars showed up for the big event. For car fans, it was the first chance to see the vehicles up close—really see them, rather than watching them pass by on a dark street. Non Fujita's gunmetal RX-7. RJ de Vera's white Integra. An iconic silver Veilside Supra.
"It was like going to a museum and seeing everyone's masterpieces," says Ron Bergenholtz, whose '91 Acura Integra was put on display. "You'd walk around and say, 'Oh, I like how he did his headlights.' It was very much like looking at art."
Dazed and exhausted, Miyoshi stumbled up to the skybox to take a breath, gazing at the cars and crowd down below. "That was the most amazing feeling," he says. "I felt like a pyromaniac at a bonfire."
After it was all over, he was so overwhelmed that he locked himself in his room for three days to decompress. His mom handed him food through the door. Finally, his friends started calling. "So when's the next one?" they'd ask.
Import Showoff snowballed to other locations—Del Mar, Anaheim, Northern California, Chicago, Houston, New Jersey, Honolulu and Vancouver. Every event was more epic than the last, as Miyoshi constantly added more diversions. Skateboarders did ollies on halfpipes, hip-hop crews battled for trophies (UC Irvine's Kaba Modern consistently reigned), and women in neon bikinis strutted across runways in the Miss Showoff pageant. Some shows brought out 14,000 spectators and attracted performers such as Black Eyed Peas, Warren G and Ice T.
Because of the success, the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), the aftermarket industry's organization, starting taking notice of Japanese parts and vehicles. Import Tuner Magazine would later call Miyoshi one of the "legends in the game," writing that he "took a hobby, and without knowing it, changed the way America saw Japanese cars, resculpting the automotive aftermarket landscape forever."
Though it wasn't long before Miyoshi started facing competitors—or, as he calls them, "carbon copies." Other import-car shows entered the scene, most notably, Hot Import Nights (HIN) based in Newport Beach. Founded in 1998, HIN was massive, fusing cars, electronic music, videogames and go-go dancers with big-name sponsors such as XM Satelite Radio, Hanes and Rockstar energy drinks. Hundreds of thousands of attendees would flock to sites such as Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine.