AUTOLIFER | Chris Gray

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My name is Chris Gray. Let me tell you a little about myself and introduce you to the world as Autolifer’s Staff.  Like the other Staff Members I was always into cars from a young age. It was in my family, and passed through the generations to me. Having been involved in the Automotive Industry from my late teens, I’ve been very lucky to experience many great events and cars. Media has played a big part in my Autolife, but I always make time to enjoy my own cars and use them how they’re supposed to me, like my AE86 photo above!

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From an early age, like many young kids in Ireland, we were brought up in the Rally scene. I remember my Dad’s cars, ranging from various Fords, Escorts, Capris, to Vauxhalls, and Minis. Back then there was no big Japanese car scene in Ireland, or really Europe!  After witnessing alot of Rally action, and the change from RWD Fords to Subaru and Mitsubishi WRC Rally Cars, everyone was beginning to show a great interest in Japanese Imports.  I was no different! I can still remember seeing my very first Skyline in Ireland, which was in the mid 90’s. Between that and watching Import videos online, and local programmes like ‘Clarkson’s Motorworld’, I was hooked!  These advanced, uniquely styled performance cars, built to a much higher quality, made me want to learn more and more.  After a few years of the Japanese car scene, including AE86 Corollas, Honda Civics, and various Nissans…we bought and restored this classic 1975 Toyota Celica TA22.  It was quite a task, being built with parts from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and more.  This project planning, importing of parts, and restoration build was to be the start of my full time Autolife. From then, I’ve never looked back! One thing I’ve learned though, is just how difficult a task a classic restoration like this would be today, mainly due to the lack of parts!

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After getting through school and studying Art/Design. There was only one thing on my mind; Flying to Japan!  Still at a fairly young age, I had planned the trip through my final years of schooling, but nothing could prepare me for what I was about the embark on.  You can plan, and prepare all you want, but stepping into Japan in the early 2000’s, was very different to today. Internet was useful of course, but wasn’t used for the Underground Japanese Car scene back then, and without inside knowledge I really wasn’t going to get where I wanted.  I was sure it would be fun though, so armed with my folder of information and plans I had gathered, I booked the flight.  I was already fairly well travelled, and being so excited / interested with seeing this car scene it was the right time to go! Photography has always been a big part of my life, so together with my budget digital camera (back then it was good) I promised to take as many photos as I possibly could, to show people back in Europe what was really going on in the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’.

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Stepping off the plane, I remember the culture shock.  Not many foreigners in the Car scene (especially from Europe) had really ventured deep into the ‘Japanese’ car scene back then, so English contacts were zero compared to today!  That didn’t stop me though, as I found the Japanese to be extrememly helpful, and had a great time! I could bore you with adventure stories all day, but it will come over time. I want to keep them for smaller feature articles here on Autolifers! All I can say for now is things were very VERY different to the green pastures of Ireland…

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After enjoying the contrast of culture (which is both good and bad) I jumped deep into the Japanese Car Scene! First port of call for anyone venturing to Japan for cars has to be the Tokyo AutoSalon! Apart from SEMA (which I STILL want to visit), I would say TAS is the single best Car Show going. It’s HUGE, compared to any event I have been to in Europe. Several large halls, filled with the best Demo cars, and new products from Japan’s Tuning companies. Walking around this event, mingling with many famous Tuner’s and gaining ALOT of contacts and experience, it opened up the doors for me to get closer to those involved and do business in Japan!

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The more time I spent in Japan, the more I realised Cars are actually a small part of the country for many people, but HUGE for others.  The Culture however all flows together.  Many Car friends and Tuning contacts taught me that to really understand the Japanese Tuning Industry, I would also need to understand the real depth of Japanese Culture.  The cars are a reflection of the owner’s personality, and some believe they even have a Soul. All of this put together makes the standard of Autolife in Japan a much higher level, which has taught me alot so far!

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I started off heavily involved in the Drift scene. At that time it was really beginning to peak. D1GP had been running a couple of years now and growing rapidly, along with interest in America and the creation of FormulaD.  Japan was still in it’s element of street drifting.  It has changed now, but I still remember enjoying Touge (mountain) drifting with several D1 Drivers, not to mention the streets of Yokohama and Osaka. These times have passed, but I still enjoy drifting, though on a purely fun level like those days were!
As Drifting spread across the world via the Internet, DVDs and local events, Ireland was quickly establishing itself as one of the best outside of Japan.  Returning home on a regular basis I was able to enjoy and work within the ProDrift events, and D1GP in the UK.  Those are some of my best memories in Europe, when D1GP was finally brought to Silverstone. The contacts and working closely for various magazines and Japanese Companies then made me realise how lucky I was to be established in this Industry!

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For several years I was enjoying both Europe and Japan. I can safely say those days were the biggest Peak in the Tuning scene! Back in Japan I made it my mission to travel from one end to the other (Kyushu to Hokkaido) and back again! All the time along the way working closely with various Media outlets, Events and Tuning Shops such as Top Secret, TRIAL, Signal Auto, just to name a few. Every day was a new adventure, not forgetting what I had been told by my older peers, ‘respect, study and learn the culture’. This involved the history and visiting places such as Kokura or Hiroshima…and all things Automotive in between!

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Life in Kansai / Osaka introduced me to some of the coolest trends, great friends and best Tuning Shops!  All the time things were developing hugely in Ireland with the ‘Celtic Tiger’, Japanese Import cars were booming as Boats flooded with performance cars docked into Dublin Port. I was lucky enough to work with TRIAL Tuning in Osaka and export many great cars. Not forgetting about myself along the way I was able to own many cars, including exporting this stunning 450bhp TRIAL R32 Demo car back home to Ireland.  This was without a doubt one of the best built cars I’ve seen on Irish roads, and I’m glad to hear it’s still being enjoyed today!

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Perhaps one of my most popular or well known cars was the Signal Auto Nissan 180sx.  The car was imported back in 2007, and still looks fresh today! Without a doubt it was one of the most fun cars I’ve ever owned, especially for drifting!  The styling  and performance were a perfect balance.  It really is hard to believe it was that long ago now, when I hear of people only starting to buy them now!  This was some of the best times in the car scene in Ireland back then, and I can honestly say outside of Japan, it was right up there with the best countries for Japanese Cars!

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After enjoying Drifting for quite a few years, I felt I had reached my peak, as the scene was beginning to change. I never wanted to compete in Drifting as a sport, mainly due to money and where do I draw the line without wanting to go Professional. To me I always wanted to keep it original, and fun, though I’m very glad to see it taken to the tracks now and being enjoyed by people of all ages / backgrounds.  I guess I reached a certain level and wanted to develop my Driving style more, so started to focus on Fast Road Grip!  There was only one car I had in mind…Toyota AE86.  I had always been a huge fan from the old days in Ireland, but being in Japan really opened my eyes to what the AE86 is really about!  Having bought my own, I set about making it an overall Fast Road Grip car, that can be enjoyed on a daily basis, as well as drive to/from the Race Tracks. To me this is the perfect balance, without building a full on race car! Having worked closely now with MANY great AE86 Tuning Shops throughout the world, I have developed ‘AE86 World’, which is still an on-going project.  I hope to show you more of the AE86 soon in a separate feature!

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I will also be bringing you plenty of coverage from Japanese Events, Tuning Shops, and some Feature Cars, while not forgetting the scene in Ireland also! Looking forward to a busy year in 2013. Let’s keep enjoying the Autolife!

Chris Gray
Photographer/Writer

Moshi Moshi Blog by Chris Gray

AE86 WORLD by Chris Gray

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