Don’t tell the stars of the made-in-Utah auto series “JDM Legends” that they’re stars. Heck, don’t talk to them too much about the fact that they’re on TV.
Shop owner/manager Eric Bizek, technician Josh Martin and body-work expert Mauricio Rosales are happy to share their passion for finding, importing and restoring Japanese cars from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. But they are the most reluctant of television personalities.
“We were all terrified. I was trying to find every reason not to do it, because I just couldn’t imagine being on camera,” Bizek said. “But we figured we’d give it a shot because how many people get this opportunity?”
Their Velocity channel series allows them to show the world their corner of the automotive world. “We really specialize in this very small niche,” Bizek said.
JDM stands for Japanese Domestic Market — cars that were sold in Japan but not in the United States.
Viewers can see them rebuild and restore a 1972 Datsun 240-Z, which was imported, but the episodes include a 1966 Bluebird, a 1972 Skyline GT-X, a 1986 Toyota Levin and a 1989 Nissan Pao, which were not.
“They always got the best stuff because their tastes and their standards were different over there,” Bizek said.
The show follows Bizek, Martin and Rosales through the restoration process, from rusty wreck to pristine gem. They make some modifications, but the goal is to achieve an “understated, classic, timeless style” that’s as close what the car was originally as possible.
“We really try to retain what made these cars special in the first place,” Bizek said.
It isn’t cheap. The cost on projects underway at the shop in Murray range from $65,000 to $250,000.
Bizek’s original plan was to import and resell cars, but, what with their condition — think rust, rust and more rust — “restoration quickly became a really big part of it. I get a huge amount of satisfaction from the build process.”
As do his colleagues.
“Mauricio could be doing collision repair work, making really, really good money,” Bizek said. “Josh could be working at a dealership, making really good money. But we do this because this is what we have the passion for.”
Bizek, 38, who grew up in Kearns, was first turned on to the Japanese cars when he played the video game “Grand Turismo” and “the very best cars in the game were the ones that were made only for Japan.”
“‘Grand Turismo’ also opened the gate for me,” said Martin, 26, who started working at a Honda dealership when he was 15. “Kind of showed me the world of the forbidden fruit, I guess.”
Rosales, 37, started out customizing model cars and then building custom bikes.
“I remember we would go to the local DI and buy a couple bikes and I would modify them,” said Rosales, who owns his own shop in Provo (Cio’s Restoring the Dream) and is an instructor in UVU’s automotive technology department.
“JDM Legends” is a reality show that’s actually real. The cameras are there to document the work that goes on in the shop.
Bizek had been approached by TV producers before, but he rejected pitches like one that would have had him teaching teens how to restore cars. Finally, he was contacted by Fischer Productions in Park City — the producers of “Bitchin’ Rides,” the other Utah-based Velocity series — with the promise that “they were not going to make us into something we’re not. They weren’t going to overdramatize anything.”
And it’s kind of cool that there are two Utah-based automotive shows on the Discovery-owned Velocity channel.
“When people think Utah, they think Mormons and weak beer — or whatever their preconceptions might be,” Bizek said. “But we have multiple shops and all this really incredible stuff that you would otherwise never know existed. It’s cool for people to see that and maybe get a different impression of what Utah is.”
In both shows, if there’s drama, it comes from the struggles to get the work done. Nobody is asked to yell at each other or throw wrenches.
“They wanted to be a fly on the wall and just watch us work,” Bizek said.
And what Fischer and Velocity got was a show about guys who are obsessed with their jobs and dedicated to their craft.
“I told them, ‘We’re very reserved people, and if you guys are going to be interested in this it’s going to be because of the build process and the cars,’” Bizek said.
Still, it was an adjustment. It complicates car painting when you’ve got to maneuver around cameras. Or when you’ve got to stop and explain what you’re doing to the camera.
And it’s not as if these guys threw themselves a big premiere party when the show debuted in April. Rosales didn’t even watch until Episode 3. “And I don’t know if I like my voice,” he said.
“I think we all have a hard time really enjoying it,” Bizek said. “It’s been difficult, let’s just say that.”
A lot of people who appear in reality shows say they get used to the cameras and eventually forget they’re there. Is that the case for these guys?
“No,” Bizek, Martin and Rosales said in unison. But, after a lot of long talks, they decided to sign on.
“Part of it was — well, if we don’t do it, they’re going to do another show about people doing Japanese cars,” Rosales said.
Don’t get them wrong. They like the show. They’re grateful for the opportunity. But they’re all perfectionists, and that makes it hard for them to watch themselves.
“I never thought I would ever be on TV. It gives me such huge anxiety,” Martin said. “I’m very critical of myself. I love the show, I just don’t like watching myself.”
“JDM Legends” airs Tuesdays at 7 and 9 p.m. on the Velocity channel. It has debuted (or will) in countries around the globe on various Discovery channels. And it’s the first Velocity show to be seen on MotorTrend.com, meaning you can watch it virtually anywhere. (Velocity will be renamed the MotorTrend channel in the fall.)
“I got a Facebook message from a cousin in Nicaragua who’s, like, ‘Dude, I didn’t know you’re doing a TV show,’” Rosales said. “I’m, like, ‘You saw it?‘”
But they have no regrets, even when they’ve been recognized in public.
“It’s all scary and we’re still processing it,” Bizek said. “And we haven’t really had the time to soak it up and enjoy it, because we’re still knee-deep in it.
“But when you see it on TV and you see it all edited together, you’re, like, ‘Wow!’ It’s something that, even if we do this for just one season, we can look back on and have this one year of our lives documented and show how much passion all these guys have and what we put into this stuff.”