Tsutomu was born in Wakayama, Japan, a suburban prefecture about the size of Orange County, California, with a smaller population. His fascination with classic American cars began when he saw Smokey and the Bandit during grade school. While growing up, all the movie scenes with the strong protagonists made a deep impression on him. He realized that if you wanted to drive a classic American car, you needed to know how to take care of it on your own.
When Tsutomu turned 18, the legal age to be licensed in Japan, he didn't waste any time getting it and a year later he bought an '84 Pontiac 350 H.O. Firebird Trans Am. Tsutomu's hometown did not have an auto shop that dealt with American cars, which meant Tsutomu had to do his own maintenance—just like all the protagonists in the movies he grew up watching.
Let us take a moment here to explain how things work with cars in Japan. It's rare for a car owner to do work on his own car or even take it to a repair shop. There are also no convenient parts stores like Pep Boys or AutoZone. Once a car starts having problems, the options are usually to sell the car before it breaks down or scrap it and buy a new one.
In order to maintain the old Pontiac, Tsutomu searched for a repair shop in his area to start training as a mechanic. He finally found a shop that specialized in older vehicles. They didn't have many jobs working with American cars; most of the vehicles being worked on were older European cars. However, Tsutomu thought this would be a good place to learn skills as a mechanic and look at starting a career.
Tsutomu learned not only the basics of mechanics but a very high level of knowledge in auto repair. After three years of working there, he decided to move to Osaka to work at an old-school speed shop called California Racing. This is where Tsutomu acquired experience in working with V8-powered American cars.
While living in Osaka, Tsutomu built a private garage on his property. He also bought his dream car, a '70 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 from Kenji Okazaki, a famous Japanese Funny Car driver in the USA. Along with his Challenger, Tsutomu built a street/strip '71 Corvette for a client that broke a local speed record. The feat put Tsutomu's name on the map in the Japanese drag racing world.
After four years with California Racing, Tsutomu started his own shop in Osaka with the owner of the '71 Corvette. They named their shop Sleepers Performance and for the next four years built various street machines. However, he left this shop to work on another dream, opening a speed shop in his hometown in Wakayama. By the age of 34, Tsutomu returned to Wakayama to start Speed Research.
Tsutomu came across this '72 Dodge Coronet when the previous owner asked him to check out the car before putting it out for sale. The moment he saw the car, he knew he wanted to build a four-door street machine. Tsutomuto knew that even a less popular model could turn out to be an amazing car. After working every part of the car, including the body and the engine, he entered the Coronet in the most prestigious American car and motorcycle show in Japan, the Yokohama Hotrod Custom Show, and received the Best American Car Award.
"I believe that American vintage items, including classic cars, are some of the coolest things you will come across and should be treated with care regardless of its value or popularity," Tsutomu says. And this is exactly how Tsutomu treats his cars.
Who: Tsutomu Ikeda
Shop: Speed Research
What: 1972 Dodge Coronet
Where: Wakayama, Japan
Engine: This is a basic street machine, so the engine is a stock two-barrel 318 converted to a four-barrel using a Weiand intake and an Edelbrock 600-cfm carburetor.
Ignition: Tsutomu added a Petronix distributor and a Flame Thrower coil.
Exhaust: The 318 uses short Hedman Hedders and Speed Research pipes that fit tight against the body to improve ground clearance. The mufflers are from Dynomax with '70 Dodge Coronet R/T tips.
Drivetrain: Since the Coronet is using a stock 318, Tsutomu reused the smaller A904 transmission and 81⁄4-inch rearend. Totally adequate for a mild street car.
Suspension: The upper control arms are from Magnum Force. Tsutomu wanted to add 4 degrees of caster to get "the lowered vehicle to drive straight and true." He also added a sway bar and an extra leaf in the spring pack.
Brakes: Since this is a stock sedan, it already had disc brakes. Tsutomu added what he calls a "late model" master cylinder.
Wheels/Tires: The wheels are Rocket Racing Booster series in gray. The fronts are 18x8 and the rear is 18x9 with Pirelli P-Zero 245/40ZR18 and 285/40ZR18s.
Interior: Inside, there are Auto Meter gauges and a tasteful Grant steering wheel. Unseen is the Vintage Air A/C system.
Paint/Body: The body is Solid White with Lexus Silver bumble-bee stripes. Tsutomu also painted the frame of the side marker light to match the stripe and blacked out the grille.