Car Culture / Gearhead Hobbies

SODO Moto: Purveyor Of Rare JDM Classics

Adam Chovanak is a big-time motorhead. Like many of us, his story starts with that first car. The 47-year old’s first ride was a 1969 NSU Sport Prinz with its motor sitting behind a woodpile. Adam got the West German icon up and running and then sold it for a profit… the hook was set.

After working in a motorcycle shop during his college years, Adam started bringing in Japanese and European motorcycles from Canada. But one car lit the JDM flame for Adam… the Mazda Autozam AZ-1. It’s a Kei car.

What Is A Kei Car?

Kei jidōsha translates into “light automobile” and Kei cars are a diminutive class of vehicles that are small in length, width, engine displacement, and power output in order to comply with Japanese government insurance, tax, and parking regulations. The segment started after World War II to help get Japan back on the road. The 1990s-vintage Kei cars play by the following rules: Maximum length, 10.8 feet (3.3 m), maximum width 4.6 feet (1.4 m), maximum height 6.6 feet (2 m), maximum engine size 660cc, maximum horsepower 64. The segment features people movers, convertibles, sporty rides, commuters, and commercial vehicles like pickup trucks and delivery vans.

“I’ve always liked utility. I’ve always liked efficiency,” says Adam. “I’m a fan of Colin Chapman, you know, a less is more kind of mindset. That’s why the Kei cars are so fascinating. Sure, they satisfy the need of getting a person down the road in a fun car that tends to be reliable but the styling is impeccable and the sporty Kei’s are a hoot.

The Suzuki Cappuccino, for instance, is just a svelte little car, aluminum hood, 50:50 weight distribution, brilliant power application, rear-wheel drive, soft top or hardtop.”

It’s like a Mini Me version of the Honda S2000. It has a three-panel hardtop. Motivation for most of the sporty Kei’s, no matter the automaker, come from a common powerplant: the 657cc F6A. This is a turbocharged and intercooled three banger rated at a conservative 64 ponies. It is found in the Mazda Autozam, Honda Beat, Suzuki Alto Works, and other performance-minded mighty mites.

The 25-Year Rule

The Mazda AZ-1 is the most supercar-looking of the Kei sports cars with its wedgy silhouette and aggressive gull-wing doors. Adam bought his AZ-1 four years before its 25th birthday, a key date for any JDM car that is bound for America. The EPA mandates that any automobile that is 25 years old or more may be legally imported without the need of meeting U.S. safety standards. Canada has a 15-year importation rule so our northerly neighbors have been getting first dibs on Japan’s finest for some time. What became SODO Moto took its baby steps in Canada. This is where Adam cut his teeth and developed a network of auction, import, and export connections so he has fine-tuned the process.

Things are rolling at SODO Moto today. Adam recently quit his job in the gaming industry to concentrate on SODO Moto full-time, calling the transition part of a “progressive addiction.” All this aligned on the company’s one-year anniversary in early May. So going into Year Two, Adam is really spooling things up. “There’s a couple of big thoughts in my mind. One is the timing. We are so lucky to have interesting inventory possibilities that keep rolling into 25-year exemption. In 1993 a whole new batch of interesting cars came out… the MKIV Supra for instance. Model year 1994 is coming right up and we’ll have the R33 GT-Rs hitting the scene. It’s fun to have ‘gee whiz technology’ that actually works well. We haven’t bought a Supra yet, but we’ve brought in a few Mister Twos and have actually just picked up our first younger R33 Skyline GT-R. I try to buy a year or so ahead to avoid the big price jumps that come when the cars ‘mature’ and become eligible for importation. We have been big into Toyota trucks and SUVs too… especially diesels… and stock quite a few Euro models… especially Lancias. The second goal is to just be cleaner. I want cleaner cars and more of them… maybe two shipments per month. I hope to expand on the parts side as well. We do stock some wheels. We carry normal consumables, brakes, air filters, spark plug wires, and so on. But I also want to expand into suspensions… upgraded coilovers, sway bars, also exhaust systems and other tuning parts.”

The cosmic tumblers are aligning in the SODO district… there are tons of cool ’90’s cars from Japan and Europe coming of age, the JDM movement is in the midst of a resurgence, and the Kei car cult is really starting to take hold in the States. So it seems SODO Moto is hitting its stride at the perfect time.



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