Nikolai’s 1993 Mazda RX7 FD
Character- Ikaros Heaven’s Lost Property
Design- Alex Stoops StrayVanity
Installer- HC Wraps
Everyone has their own unique story. In these spotlights, I want to share their story of becoming a fan of anime and eventually an itasha owner. Please enjoy learning about the Itasha Owners of StrayVanity.
I met Nikolai for the first time months after we actually finished his project. If it hadn’t been for our friend Minh, we would have never even known about each other. But thankfully Nikolai was looking for a guy to design his car and Minh was generous enough to recommend me. While the project started out slow because he was building his engine, we managed to create one of my all time favorite designs. While working with Nikolai on his project, one of many things I loved about him was his passion for just watching anime. Before streaming services existed like Netflix, Crunchyroll, ect. Nikolai would hunt down VHS tapes of shows he wanted to watch. And to make it even more difficult for himself, he only watches Dubbed anime! His crazy passion for Ikaros and his cars was so inspiring I just had to work with him and I am so glad we created this together. After spending about a week together during Anime Expo 2018, Nikolai and his girlfriend Rachelle have become family. Can't wait to see you guys again in the future!
So, what originally sparked your interest in Anime?
Nikolai- “What got me interested with anime was the super human powers of the characters and all those crazy futuristic mechas. But “InuYasha”, which aired on YTV (a Canadian English-language television specialty channel) was the first anime series I ever watched. And it wasn't until “Avatar: The Last Airbender” came out that I finally enjoyed an American cartoon. Anime though was and always has been difficult for me to watch as I am dyslexic. So having these shows dubbed made it much easier to watch, while anime with subtitles has me focused on the words and not the animation.”
Alex- “What made “Avatar: The Last Airbender” the first American Cartoon you could finally enjoy?”
Nikolai- “Well, I never found that I enjoyed shows like South Park or Family Guy. I grew up really appreciating the Asian cultures and their history. Especially the Edo Period that spoke a lot about Samurai and Ninjas. Avatar had fairly similar themes and it just fit with my interests. While I had already been watching anime by the time Avatar was airing, I found Avatar was just more accessible to me. Normally to watch anime I would purchase VHS tapes or DVDs and they would either be damaged or poor quality. So to have Avatar air on TV without hunting down each episode was really nice. Also the full English voiced cast made it very nice for me as always watch dubbed anime.”
Alex- “Would you say streaming services have made it easier for you to consume anime now? I imagine it’s a lot better now haha.”
Nikolai- “Oh yeah, even though I don't watch subtitled anime, Funimation has become pretty good about releasing English dubbed anime episodes one week after they air in Japan.”
Alex- “That is a great option for those who watch dubbed anime like you. So when did you first discover Heaven’s Lost Property? Why is that your favorite anime?”
Nikolai- “I would have to say I first discovered it around the time I was just graduating high school. It is hard for me to say why it’s my favorite because I enjoy so many anime series. But what drew me in was the funny sexual humor and the personalities of the Angeloids. I like the ecchi animes that have good humor like High School DxD.
What other shows do you enjoy and recommend to others?
Nikolai- “That is a very tough question to answer. I have a broad horizon of Anime genres I really like. “Gundam Seed”, “Gundam Seed Destiny”, “Code Geass”, “My Hero Academia”, “Naruto”, “High School DxD”(which is super ecchi but one of the funniest) those are all Anime I have really enjoyed. But of course, Heaven's Lost Property is high on my list because Ikaros is Bae lol.”
Alex- “Hahah! Dang that is quite the range of shows. I never watched “High School DxD” but I have definitely heard the stories.”
When did you first get the Mazda RX7 FD? Did you have any other cars before?
Nikolai- “Well before the RX7, I used to own a Jeep Cherokee Laredo from the early 90's. I was in high school at the time so the Jeep was an automatic as I was a young kid and did not know much about them. Around that time, the first “Fast and the Furious” movie came out and my interest in cars skyrocketed. I wanted to have a cool car like the ones I saw in the movies lol. So I purchased a 99 Mercury Cougar which I thought kinda looked like the Mitsubishi Eclipse."
Alex- “Woah! What the hell is this thing?! I had no idea you even owned this hahah.”
Nikolai- “Let me explain myself *facepalm* I was in High School and I really wanted something that resembled a sports car, which is a bit ridiculous to look back at now lol. I did lots of mods to it that were purely cosmetic. The main one being the body kit on the car. It’s an amalgamation of a bunch of other kits that were then all blended together. You can see that there are no lines separating the bumpers, fenders or side skirts. It was all blended together to look as clean as possible. I also wanted the car to shine like a diamond so I made sure to find a super sparkly bright silver paint. And to just list off a few other things, the exhaust had a white carbon fiber sleeve, there was a subwoofer in the back, and the car was an automatic hahah. About the wheels, back then I had no real idea about offset so the wheels are pushed way inside the body lines. But regardless, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world hahaha.”
Alex- “You are way wilder than you let on hahah. I would have never thought you owned a car that looked like it came straight out of the Fast and Furious films or a Need for Speed game hahah. But that sounds just like how I first started building my RSX type S. I just went with purely aesthetics. I even did the same thing as you not knowing about wheel offsets and how that changes the fitments. Also, that stock ride height was very real with my car for a long time haha.
Nikolai- “LOL, its one of a kind. A couple years later though I saw Initial D and fell in love with the RX7. And by a strange coincidence, I was able to purchase one. It had just been imported and the story goes that the original customer for the RX7 could not afford it. So the shop importing the car wanted to sell it fast. Me of course being a young 20 year old kid, I did not have much money saved up. But I had to get it so I took out my first ever loan, went out and got it. There were only a few minor mods done to the car like the Abflug front bumper with flush mount light and silver Advans."
Alex- “What are those holes for on the Abflug bumper? I’ve never seen anything like that on a street car.”
Nikolai- “The previous owner modified the bumper to have those holes. From what I could tell they don't seem to serve any purpose. They are just holes. Maybe it was to help with cooling? But regardless of what the previous owner had done, I knew where I wanted to take it. However long it was going to take, I wanted to style the car based off of the Japanese race cars I had seen in shows and all over the internet. I really wanted my car to reflect that kind of life. Though, going back to the day I bought the car, it was a stick shift and I had no idea how to drive a manual vehicle. I bought the car knowing I couldn’t drive it so I had a buddy of mine to drive it back home for me. But when we got there, he refused to drive it and said I have to learn the hard way! I stalled it more times then I would like to remember and I recall how difficult it was just trying to get it out of the parking lot. I understood the concept and how it was supposed to work, but I had zero experience so I limped it all the way home. It was such a hard way to learn manual and all I could think about was trying to not destroy the clutch lol. On top of that, at the time I didn’t even know that the car had a rotary engine, let alone how it worked. But I learned pretty quickly and soon fell in love with it. I haven’t looked back since.”
Alex- “You sound just like me with cars. We knew we really liked them but didn't actually know much about them. We learn as we go along I guess haha. I love that your friend made you drive the RX7 back home, it reminds me of my first manual car. I HATED manual so much because I just couldn’t figure it out. So much so that I nearly wanted to sell the car hahah. But of course after about a week of practice, I started to get the hang of it and really enjoyed driving manual.”
What led you down the path to installing the RE Amemiya kit once you bought the RX7?
Nikolai- “It’s a sad story but the RX7 was in an accident. I was driving to work heading through a 4 way intersection. I had the green light so I continued to head through the intersection. When I was about 10 - 15 ft away from entering the intersection, the light turned yellow and a car on the other side of the road made an “unprotected left turn”. I tried to swerve out of the way but the other car just came too quick and struck me. Their car hit the corner of my front bumper then slid all the way down the side bending the frame. Oh! And the driver of the car who hit me collided so hard that all 4 doors compressed and the driver had to exit out the trunk. When the Police arrived, it was actually my buddies Dad and he told me the cameras caught the full accident. So I was not at fault. However the ICBC (Insurance Corp. of British Columbia) told me the car was totalled meaning they would payout what it was worth. At the time however, I had just rebuilt the engine meaning the payout was not going to cover the costs. So instead the ICBC did not total the car and gave me a hefty amount of money to pay for the repairs.”
Alex- “The more we talk the more I believe we are the same person haha. My second car was involved in the exact accident you just described. I also was not at fault but my car was totalled so I was given a good chunk of cash by my Insurance Company which allowed me to purchase my RSX Type S. So I assume you used the money to repair and upgrade?”
Nikolai- “Pretty much lol. I matched what ICBC gave me with my own money and put it all into the RX7. The front bumper, fender, side skirt, door and quarter panel were so heavily damaged that instead of buying the same parts, I decided to finally get what I really want which is a wide body kit. I got in contact with RE Amemiya and purchased the kit. I would have purchased everything in carbon fiber but even with the payout from the ICBI, it was very very expensive.”
Alex- “I can only imagine how expensive that entire job must have been. But this is about at the point where I saw the car when I first began working on it.”
How did you learn about StrayVanity and the work I do? At the time, I hadn’t done too many itasha projects!
Nikolai- “I was at my friend Calvin’s house and he had a friend staying with him from Bellingham Washington. Calvin’s friend, Minh (@m1cchan_) and I got to talking and I mentioned I wanted to itasha my car. Minh was like, I may have a guy that can help you with that. So he showed me your instagram and I was blown away with your art style and the feeling that your art gave me. So on a whim I messaged you with an image of my car with the caption “itasha?”
Alex- “It’s funny you mention that because I remember getting that message from you and thinking to myself… does this guy want me to help him with something? I need more information!! Hahah but Minh gave me a heads up about you so I followed through to see what you had planned.”
Nikolai- “Hahah! To my surprise you did message back saying that you were totally in and wanted to do it. You explained that you had some projects already in motion and I had to wait until you had completed them. So after a few months you got back to me saying a few projects fell threw which pushed me to the front of the line. I felt at first that you were maybe a bit hesitant as your previous projects had fell thru. But after we had a long chat about the whole design, the vision and a bit of background on me, you quickly realized that I was in this for the long hall. And there after, for months you poured your heart and soul into the project even with all my requests, and the redesigning of the livery when you were already mid way through the job.
Alex- “I really found that working on your car was so enjoyable. It was nice to have you come to me as a customer and then soon become a good friend of mine even though we didn’t meet until Anime Expo 2018.”
Nikolai- “Yeah, we live so far away from one another with you living in Southern California and me in BC Canada. We were never able to actually meet and chat about the itasha. While planning out the project with you, I happened across some videos on youtube of the cars you worked on for the 2017 Anime Expo Itasha Showcase. So we planned to have my car done for the next one and that I would drive it all way down from BC Canada to LA.”
Alex- “Although there was unfortunately no itasha showcase that year, I am still surprised you drove it all the down here. Especially in that heat with your girlfriend strapped in the passenger seat. But I am so glad you did because meeting you, your girlfriend and your buddy was so much fun. I’m so glad we got some great pictures of your car as well!”
Nikolai- “It was a long road and an even longer one getting the itasha installed. But once the car was complete, and I had driven for 3 days down to LA, I was exhausted. I remember first arriving at Offset where you were finishing the itasha project for James’ Mustang. And from the moment I met you, it felt like we had been friends for years and quickly this feeling of great trust formed and I really cherish that about you. I am proud to call you one of my friends. For all the people I was able to meet and form friendships with on my trip in LA for AX18, (you all know who you are) thanks for making that a trip I will never forget!”
Alex- “It amazes me what happens just because of a simple itasha. That year was the most fun I had ever had at Anime Expo and it had nothing to do with the convention. While I love going to the panels and buying anime merch, I loved showing you guys around and eventually even going to Disneyland! I really have to thank James for letting us all stay at his place during your entire trip. Especially playing that card game you bought “Heart of Crown” was so much fun with everyone.
Nikolai- “For James to do that for everyone was huge. He really was the glue that made all of this to happen. With out his hospitality, I don't know if we'd been able to pull it off. Meeting James and learning how humble he is, it was fantastic! He not only allowed us to stay there and stay together but he also, without knowing it, made us all become even closer as friends. And that game! I bought it on a whim and it became the thing we did before heading off to bed for another full day of Anime Expo. And of course, going to Disneyland with you and Leah was amazing! Rachelle still talks about that day we shared. I am just so thankful for this trip and the people I was able to spend time with.”
Since owning the Itasha, what do you enjoy most about it?
Nikolai- “My car definitely drew a lot of attention before but now I am getting people staring everywhere I go. A lot more people approach me and want to talk about it now. But so many friendships have arose because of it. The funny thing is most people don’t even know what kind of car it is lol. It’s definitely something to go from displaying the car at shows to then driving it to pick up the groceries. But that’s the fun of it. I know that there are people that don’t like it or wonder why I would do such a thing but deep down we as Itasha owners know that we did it ourselves. And that makes us very happy. I still get excited when I open my garage door and see her sitting there. I love knowing that this is mine. I really recommend that to any anime/car lover, get an Itasha. It will change your life.
I highly recommend Alex as an artist and creator. You can trust your vision to come to life through his creativity and artistic flare. And to anyone else who has a vision for their car or life in general, push for that no matter the struggle you face.