After Japan lost World War II, the Japanese government prohibited the importation of American goods into its country as a kind of "F-U" to Americans. The government also created import taxes designed to fund the rebuilding of its infrastructure after the U.S. bombed several of its cities, which made it unfeasible to buy imported goods, especially American products. The tariffs, while good for Japan's economy, have only served to whet the appetite of Japanese citizens for imported goods, especially when it comes to American automobiles. During the decades following the war, these restrictions and taxes kept out many American goods, but as the country's currency, the yen, became stronger in proportion to the American dollar, Japanese citizens found that it did make financial sense to import certain American goods that they didn't have at home. Gradually, the economic sanctions were lifted and a steady stream of American imports made way into the country, with automobiles becoming a sought-after import.
The 1990s saw an explosion of aftermarket auto-part manufacturers that loaded the market with styling products for sport trucks. Suddenly, anyone could own or build a custom pickup, thanks to the abundance of hi-po engine parts, suspensions, roll pans, and custom wheel manufacturers. You couldn't drive 10 blocks in California without passing a Chevy Silverado that wasn't lowered over a set of billet wheels. The craze was so big that even OEM car dealers were offering hopped-up versions of their trucks. At the same time, the Japanese thirst for Americana reached a fever pitch, and the yen was worth more than the dollar at this point, prompting savvy businessmen to begin importing customized American vehicles in bulk. In fact, it wasn't uncommon to have an exporter come right up to a custom truck owner at a show in America and strike a deal to buy their custom truck. We've even heard stories of Japanese tourists walking the infamous Pomona Swapmeet with a backpack full of cash, ready to buy up cars and trucks that weren't even for sale.
Back in 1996, Ruben Arteaga sold his Toyota extra cab truck for $21,000 at a truck show after its appearance on the cover of the Mar. '94 issue of Mini Truckin' magazine. Renowned custom-painter Steve Deman sold his Caprice wagon and Chevy Astro van at a local swap meet to Japanese buyers for a total of $70,000. Keep in mind that while these prices don't sound unreasonable, this was more than a decade ago, when 70K actually meant something. The '90s were full of stories like Ruben and Steve's and other shops that switched from building trucks for American buyers to strictly building fleets of custom trucks and vans that went right overseas for a huge profit. Times were good and the smart guys made a ton of money. A decade later, we're taking a look at the export industry to see if the average truck owner can indeed make a killing by shipping his truck overseas rather than selling it in the local Auto Trader publication.
Almost two years after his...
Almost two years after his cover shoot, Ruben Arteaga was approached at California Truck Jam, where an offer was made by a Japanese exporter to buy his truck.
This is the last time Ruben...
This is the last time Ruben would see the truck in person, as he dropped it off at the exporters holding facility in L.A. A few days later, it was on a boat to Japan, where the truck resurfaced in a magazine a year later at a truck show.