This SEMA marks Bulletproof’s 15th year. When we began way back in 2000, the mission was simple – to find exciting new ideas and to share our findings with others. We worked to introduce brands like Amuse and Varis to new audiences outside Japan, as well as created trustworthy supply routes to already popular brands like Top Secret and Mines. Along the way, we travelled to Japan (a lot), met many new friends, provided new ideas to enthusiasts hungry for inspiration, and ultimately helped to grow a positive community that “represents the real.”
Whatever we did, we always relied on inspiration and excitement. Inspiration was our fuel and every January it was Tokyo Auto Salon that lit our hearts ablaze and ignited our minds with new ideas. Back in our early days, information was the rare commodity that we hunted for, curated and shared wherever, and however we could; it would be seen in our magazine columns, blog posts and in countless conversations with clients and friends. Ultimately you’d see these ideas trickle down into projects created by our customers in the US and around the world. Traditionally, every November, SEMA would hit and inevitably the hot ideas of January’s TAS would show up in some synthesized US-specific form at SEMA. Back then it was SEMA that represented the mainstream popularization of those underground ideas, which then caused us to yearn for the next new and exciting thing. In our subset of the tuning world, the cycle of hunting for inspiration continued like this for years because – let’s be honest – when it came to JDM tuning, 95% of all of the fresh ideas were born in Japan.
In the beginning, Bulletproof was a business of one – me. Then of two, then eventually we had a team of a few underpaid people surviving on passion alone (and instant ramen). We had no money to make demo cars back then and we didn’t make SEMA cars for our first 7 years. Survival was enough. We had big ideas but we only had hopes to lend those ideas to our clients or else they would die inside our heads. In many ways things are not much different today for us, or for many others; this industry is notoriously hard to survive, and surely still 95% of our ideas would never exist anywhere, save for our minds, if it were not for our clients who entrust us to make for them special cars. However, starting in 2007, we took a leap of faith and decided to take the same trusty S2000 that started the business back in 2000 and turn it into a world-class SEMA build. This decision permanently upped the bar for Bulletproof Automotive. Although each SEMA car is challenging to fund and ultimately loses money, it brings a satisfaction like no other to see an idea turn into reality. (If we didn’t have the opportunity to create our dreams and look at our work with pride there would be no point to be slaving away all of these hours and years.) Sometimes, we are lucky to have clients that let us share in their dreams, which is equally satisfying, but on occasion, we have to get a little crazy ourselves with projects if no customer allows us the opportunity.
From project cars to our demo cars, we’ve had various highs. Perhaps the highest high was our FR-S Concept One which was requested by Option Magazine and HyperRev to display at Tokyo Auto Salon. Why does this stand out to us? Ever since we began, the bar was Tokyo Auto Salon, not SEMA. With that in mind, when we turned our S2000 into a SEMA car in 2007, the creative choices we made were based on what we would have expected of a car at Tokyo Auto Salon. In our minds, if you can make it at Tokyo Auto Salon, you can make it anywhere. The Concept One is in the history books now; it crushed Auto Salon, it launched a new Rays wheel as a demo car in their booth (Volk Racing ZE40), and in street trim it ran as fast as a Ferrari Italia at Tsukuba Circuit. It did everything we ever imagined, all while maintaining a level of fit/finish that managed to surprise many. Beyond all, in Japan it was received, by the same people that have inspired us since day one, as fresh inspiration. The validation that this was not a US-made car featuring JDM tuning principles, but rather something bigger, something globally uniting…typified everything we worked so hard for. The surprise conclusion to the Concept One project actually just unfolded a few weeks ago, when it was chosen by the world famous Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles as the single representation of Japanese Tuning in their historic “Hot Rod” Gallery.
As Bulletproof moved forward, we’ve kept doing more and more ambitious projects (we would have gotten bored otherwise). However these days, our clients get the best of our work, with our customer builds often exceeding our own demo cars (we prefer it this way, as it affirms people’s trust in us to do exciting work for them). In the beginning, we were the only client crazy enough to trust us; it was make turn a personal car into a demo car or never make anything; however in 15 years of hard work, we have proven ourselves as a team capable of nearly anything!
At SEMA 2015, we will debut a project meant to serve as a celebration of our 15 years of hard work and creativity with our most unique project yet, a collaboration with Varis Japan, dubbed the “Z4 GT Continuum.”
Stay tuned for Part 2…