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Barely Street Legal: 2005 Daihatsu Hijet

On a recent trip to Okinawa, I visited B&M Racing, a shop that's popular within the local drift community, with the hopes of tracking down some cars to cover. They had the usual suspects, like Skylines and Silvias; but what I was truly interested in was the shop's only non-drift car — a 2005 Daihatsu Hijet. I arranged to meet with the owner of said Hijet.

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While waiting over on the B&M Kids side, I was a bit confused when the car rolled up with a teen in the passenger's seat and his mom driving. As it turns out, the passenger is the Hijet's actual owner. His name is Gabriel Vasquez, but since he's under 18 years old, his license restricts him from driving anywhere besides U.S. military facilities. Things slowly started to make sense. 

Show of hands: How many of you were only allowed to drive the family beater when you got your license? I know I was.

How exactly then does a newly-licensed 16-year-old convince his parents to let him buy and proceed to customize a car?

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Gabriel explained that it wasn't easy. His parents are well aware of what people are doing with cars; they've seen the movies. He says the plan kicked off when he spotted a white Daihatsu Hijet on a used-car lot. The low price and even lower horsepower was enough to quell any concerns his parents had, so they gave him the green light.

For those that don't need a utility vehicle, a Hijet isn't an obvious car choice. It's not very fast, classified as a kei car in Japan — which means it is limited to a 660 cc engine — but the benefits are lower road-tax, insurance fees and fuel costs. The only modification Gabriel has added to the three-cylinder is a 3-inch straight-pipe exhaust. It gets him to where he needs to go...eventually.

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Since the engine is positioned under the seats, accessing the engine bay is difficult, and the need to dress it up is nearly pointless. Without having to worry about performance, Gabriel has been able to focus on his Hijet's looks. Like most things in Japan, the Hijet has a loyal following with plenty of readily-available aftermarket product support.

It appears to be lower than stock, so I was surprised when Gabriel told me his Hijet still had its stock suspension. That's because he installed a front lip and side-skirts from a fifth generation Hijet. Matched with a windshield wiper cowl, headlight eyelids, roof spoiler and overfenders, it's been transformed from a simple utility vehicle into a street cruiser.

driving line hijet 04

While some people factory color match their aero pieces and call it a day, Gabriel chose to honor one of his dream cars by painting his Hijet with a color based on the R32 Skyline's gunmetal grey. It's not a 100 percent match since he had his body shop lighten it up with a little more silver than what the OEM paint code calls for. At the body shop, he had the badges removed and smoothed out for a cleaner look.

driving line hijet 05

Stance haters, you can put your pitchforks down here. Gabriel's Hijet runs narrow 15x5.5 Work Equip 03s that look especially thin with the overfenders, but he says that both budget and a high demand for wider/lower offset wheels make it hard for him to go with other options. The Sickspeed spiked lug nuts are a nice addition, but Gabriel admits they've poked him in the legs a few times; maybe it'll help if he does get a wider wheel with a lower offset.

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To make cruising around the engine more fun, Gabriel upgraded the audio with a Kenwood double-DIN touchscreen head unit, 6.5-inch door speakers, tweeters dash mounted and a subwoofer placed between the seats. The seats have been covered in black leather with headbands that say “kamikaze“ in Japanese. These are more of a trend in Okinawa than mainland Japan and harken back to traditions of the bosozoku. Definitely not a bosozoku, Gabriel chose to add the headbands to instill a bit of toughness to an otherwise low-statured car. An NRG steering wheel, Sparco seatbelt pads, leather parking brake and shifter cover from a Miata complete the interior look, adding a mix of sportiness and comfort.

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Since a passenger takes up any available storage space, Gabriel solved the issue by installing a simple bed box. With room to spare now, anyone going for a ride with him can focus on the most fun part of his Hijet: the PA system. Of course we tested it out, which resulted in all the neighborhood dogs going nuts.

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While most Hijets are equipped with a tilting rear bed, Gabriel's is equipped with a lift-gate. This makes his Hijet very popular with his friends as he's frequently asked to move engines around. His mother, Angie, prefers to use it for moving furniture. Like most of us, Gabriel has a nickname for his kei truck, which he affectionately refers to as "Chicken Katsu, the Kei Truck," named after one of his favorite foods. With a name like that, would you be surprised it also comes outfitted with red underglow lighting? Of course not...

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While hesitant to allow her son to have a car, let alone customize one, Angie says she's grown to be completely supportive of Gabriel's endeavors. She's proud of what he's accomplished; you can hear the genuine enthusiasm in her voice when she speaks about all the different cars and styles she's been introduced. On the same token, Gabriel has nothing but gratitude for his parents' support and trust in letting him build his Hijet.

VEHICLE SPECS

2005 Daihatsu Hijet

  • OWNER: Gabriel Vasquez
  • HOMETOWN: Okinawa, Japan
  • ENGINE: Stock 660cc 3-cylinder; custom 3" straight pipe exhaust
  • DRIVETRAIN: Stock 3-speed auto with factory LSD
  • WHEELS: 15x5.5" +35 Work Equip 03 
  • EXTERIOR: OEM 5th-gen Hijet side skirts, overfenders, roof wing spoiler, front lip, headlight eyelids and windshield wiper cowl; red underglow kit
  • INTERIOR: Custom leather seat covers, visor covers, shift and parking brake cover; NRG deep steering wheel; Sparco harness pads; Kenwood double-DIN touchscreen head unit, 6.5" door spearkers, dash tweeters and subwoofer
  • THANKS TO: Okinawa Customs Garage; Eyecandy Customz; Susumu Nakayone; Shawn Alicea; Byrnz Rubber; and Oki's Finest

See more of Gabriel's Hijet in the gallery below. 

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