Your post-high school education was made up of the history of native Icelandic pottery and women's studies courses. But you never made it to Iceland, and you still aren't a woman, which means your wishing you attended someplace like Japan's Wiz International Information and Engineering College instead—where seniors studying automotive technology are encouraged to put together their own Tokyo Auto Salon creation—just got a whole lot more real.
For more than a decade, WIZ's automotive school's dedicated itself to educating aspiring mechanics, auto body techs, and tuners. Here, students learn how to do things like adjust valves, paint a fender, and diagnose a bum clutch before being exposed to the fundamentals of motorsports and high-performance tuning. Most of them move on to careers as dealership technicians but, before all of that, the instructors team up with the school's top performers for its yearly, student-led TAS debut. "At first, we ask them [to] request [participation], then [we] select [students based on] their grades [and] attitudes in class," says Hashimoto Kota, WIZ's auto body technology instructor about how participating students are selected.
The projects are always student led, but instructor input is vital. It has to be when you do something like jack up a Nissan Sunny pickup on 37-inch tires and stuff a carbureted Chevy V-8 into it. It's the school's take on American's Monster Jam trucks, and it's like nothing at all you'd ever get to do in pottery class.
The whole thing is loosely based off of the truck version of Nissan's Sunny, a Japanese sub-compact that's been around since '66, which in later years shared ties with what you know as the Sentra. And by loosely, we mean the Sunny pickup's body lines are there, but little else is. WIZ students, who've been trained in the arts of welding and fabrication, developed the one-off tube-frame and suspension that's based on S14 Silvia bits before sticking the truck panels on top of it and the bro-sized BFGs underneath. "The biggest challenge," Hashimoto says, "was to manufacture a complete, original frame. Students were doing their best to get as close as possible to [the] American Monster Jam image."
An image that meant a small-block Chevy V-8 had to somehow be associated with it, which was only marginally easier to get into place than constructing that frame. "It was also really hard to put [that] big V-8 engine into [the] Sunny's small engine room," Hashimoto says. In this case, hard means the firewall had to be cut out and tossed to make way for a relocated and custom-made bulkhead that lends more space to that second top end and that other set of cylinders that was, like everything else, executed by students. Hard also meant engine and transmission mounts had to be made from scratch, and things like drive shafts, rear differentials, steering columns, and wiring harnesses all had to be rethought.
It's the teachers who choose the car, though, Hashimoto explains, which in past years has ranged from a drag racing Prius to an ambulance-themed Caravan with an SR20DET mounted behind the front seats. "The teachers lead [the students], but we respect their opinions and ideas," he says about the chain of command. "We give them ideas and suggestions and follow their decisions." It's a process that works and is evident when you consider things like the Sunny's custom welded rollbar out back and the dual shock absorbers at both front corners connected to tubular upper control arms made from scratch. "The hardest one [was the] Monster Sunny," Hashimoto says about where this TAS buildup ranks against previous projects.
Right about now you're wondering where in the world a bunch of students came up with the money to put together something like WIZ's Monster Sunny. According to Hashimoto, the cars are typically donated or, in this case, reincarnated from a previous build—like the Hybrid Sunny. "The school allows us a budget and students have to stay within [it]," he says about how they went about getting things like the carburetors and the fuel cell. "Of course, we also get sponsored parts from shops or manufacturers."
"The concept was to revive and evolve a good old car," Hashimoto says, who as a former WIZ student, led his own custom car team, introducing TAS to the school's award-winning, chop-top and electric-powered Beetle. "The most important point was to revive the Sunny truck by doing [something] cool and daring by daring students." And make no mistake—there's nothing that isn't daring about pairing a Sunny pickup with an engine from a Camaro, brakes from a Skyline, and tires fit for a Super Duty.