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Legends Series: JapanAmerica - The Real JDM, with Bulletproof's Ben Schaffer
JapanAmerica: The Real JDM, with Bulletproof's Ben Schaffer (Page 2)
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PASMAG Bulletproof Ben Schaffer Interview JDM GTR 3

Obviously you’ve got a huge passion for not only the car scene, but for the Japanese culture as a whole. Where did that kind of fascination start for you?
It probably started with cars. I know when I was young I was always into cars, and the first time I got my hands on an Option Car magazine - which is Japan’s top car magazine - was in the mid 90’s and it was really hard to come by at that time. There wasn’t anything online obviously, there wasn’t anything covering the scene. There’s something magical about finding something awesome that you didn’t think existed. That was the world pre-100-million-blogs. That was the world when you actually could discover something. I was going through Option Magazine and I was studying every page because everything was completely new to me, as far as the brands, the products, the styling and what they were doing. Everything was so fascinating. It was then that I was just like, “How do I get another one of these magazines?” Then I found Option and Best Motoring videos. I was struggling to find stores that had used copies of them on VHS cassette, just to figure out what the hell was going on in them. It was a treasure hunt back then because the information wasn’t there.

How has that access to information changed the game to you?
The internet and the industry have evolved. On the one hand, it’s great that it’s democratised and the whole world has the same advantage and access as the local guy in a suburb in Japan. Everyone is on a level playing field to be able to get parts, and as a result, overall quality of car tuning around the world has increased massively because people aren’t limited to whatever local junk they have. They can get the best parts anywhere in the world, shipped anywhere in the world, to anywhere in the world. That’s a huge advantage that made every person’s custom car better. But there’s almost no mystery left anymore. Everything is online, everything is accessible and everything is everywhere. For me, the early stages were magical. It was really discovering something new that no one ever told me existed. I just wanted as much as I could, to learn more and dive deeper into it, and that took me to Japan. I was living out there for a little bit and studying out there, and I just got hooked.

PASMAG Bulletproof Ben Schaffer Interview JDM Varis FRS

Did that lead to The Real JDM?
I started Bulletproof in March of 2000. I was a student at the time and did it while I was in college. My first container of imported parts from Japan was in 2001. I didn’t start writing The Real JDM until 2006. At that point in time, we had started to be known for finding really cool things out of Japan and bringing them to the US. In a way, a lot of my job was trying to find and identify high quality, great things that no one had seen and to represent those brands and represent those products. My job back then, and still my job today, is to curate awesome content.

Modified Magazine was looking for unique content and they looked to me to tell them what were the trends and the interesting topics in the Japanese tuning world that would likely be next for the US. The nature of The Real JDM as a column was me having an opportunity to share with whoever wanted to read it, what I saw as being the most interesting topics of the day. The deal I had with Modified was that I had full creative control, so whatever I thought was cool I just said it.

It worked out well for a while. I had a two year run writing that. The challenge I have with writing for magazines is that it’s a lonely profession because you don’t know who is reading and you have no feedback from the other side. I felt that after two years, I was talking to the same mysterious people that never talk back and it just lost its excitement. At that point, I switched over to blogging, which was a lot of fun because then I’d get comments from people telling me I’m an asshole or telling me they’re frustrated or whatever - it was totally unmeasured. That was fun because at least you knew that a topic was creating a conversation. To me, there’s no point in talking unless there’s a two-way conversation, which is why I stopped writing and I haven’t really done writing since. I like having the conversation and I like inspiring others and having others inspire me. The sharing of ideas, that’s fun.

PASMAG Bulletproof Ben Schaffer Interview JDM Honda S2000

What kind of a philosophy do you follow when you build your company cars?
Once you can distinguish the difference between quality and a trend, you can distinguish which brands are gonna survive for 10 years and which cars you’re going to look back on with high regard versus ones you’re going to look back on with embarrassment. That’s one of the things that we try to really embody in the cars that we build. We actually just went to a car show last weekend and we had a great experience. We ended up winning 1st and 2nd place, which was pretty amazing. From a car show perspective, the best award I ever won was for my S2000 in 2012. I won the category with the car that hadn’t been touched or modified for five years prior. It was a 2007 SEMA car we had. It’s not a fashion statement, it’s not a trend and you don’t look back at it and say, “Oh I wish I hadn’t done that.” That car made in ‘07 made sense in 2012 and I try to build every car so in 10 years I can look back and say that was still the best car that I could do.

Which cars best represent your largest customer base?
Far and away, the GT-R is our biggest market and that’s always been the background of the business. I began the company most interested and focused in the GT-R. Granted, the S2000 was how I started the business - the S2000 was an early passion - but, if the US had been fortunate enough to have had a GT-R back in the year 2000, we would’ve started as a GT-R company. In 2003, we were representing brands like Top Secret. Their whole business was focused around GT-Rs and we couldn’t sell any parts because we didn’t have any GT-Rs here. The GT-R has always been a very important car for Japanese tuning. A GT-R is to Japan, what the Corvette is to America in terms of being an iconic car. It always has been.

PASMAG Bulletproof Ben Schaffer Interview JDM GTR

Words by Micky Slinger. Photography supplied by Bulletproof Automotive.

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