Story: Michael Crenshaw
Photography: Andrew Link
In the hills of Japan, in the small village of Nara, 40 miles southeast of Osaka, an auto body shop sits among the rice fields and small family homes nestled within the mountainous terrain. Body Shop Kikuta is a wonder of automotive craftsmanship, with makes and models of varying car companies filling its massive imprint of body shop, paint booth and storage facilities. Osamu Kikuta—owner, main designer, head painter and the shop’s namesake—looks younger than his age, but his knowledge and attention to detail is vast.
He has been modifying cars for 22 years—beginning in his father’s body shop as a third grader—showcasing his design and pairing styles of differing vehicles. Kikuta’s projects are difficult for most to grasp, mainly because of his mission.
“[My specialties] are radical new ideas: It’s difficult to identify the car and how it was made,” Kikuta explains.
Cars such as the “Pana Z” on page 86, which owes its distinctive style to three different vehicles: a Nissan 350Z donor car, a Porsche Panamera front clip and a Porsche 911 rear. It’s this type of ingenuity and vision that distinguishes Kikuta from most car customizers, because he becomes his own car manufacturer in some respects. Kikuta will even go so far as to guarantee his customers he will never build two of the same vehicle; the owner will always have the only one in the world.
While Body Shop Kikuta influences many with its unique style, the inspiration comes from what Kikuta has seen across the ocean. He explains that “many, many things [have come from USA style],” with paint being a major modification. One of his techniques, a process called “dragon skin” was pioneered by lowrider legend Steve Deman, who is a close friend of Kikuta’s. Lowriders and Japanese street racers from the ’70s have been a model for Kikuta’s creations, as the cars on these pages show. From his Cadillac Brougham limo on 30s and Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift RX-7 replica to the outrageous cross-platform Pana Z, Body Shop Kikuta continues to push the boundaries of Japanese automobile customization with outrageous builds and car-show stunners that will not soon be forgotten.
[For behind the scenes action from this shoot be sure to checkout the video here!]