- “Dajiban” is, essentially, the Japanese term for a Dodge van.
- In Japan, motorcycle racers use these vans to transport their bikes and equipment to the track.
- These motorcycle racers in Japan started modifying and racing their support vehicle Dodge vans, too.
Photography by Drew Manley
Daji-what? If you’re a Japanese automotive enthusiast, you’ve likely heard of Dajiban. If you haven’t, I’ll briefly elaborate. In Japan, older Dodge Ram vans have developed a cult-like following among enthusiasts. Much like other iconic American vehicles, the Dodge van has become quite desirable in Japan. Within this group of enthusiasts are motorcycle racers who use these Dodge vans to transport their race bikes, equipment, tools, etc., to and from the track. At some point, they started equipping their transport vehicles with racing parts and actually racing the vans against each other (only in Japan). Be it for lap times or to carry out a steady drift, the Dajiban was officially born.
The subject of today’s article is the invasion of this American van trend, modified for racing by taking cues from Japanese culture, now finding its way onto American soil. It all starts with Luwin Kwan scouring the Internet as an automotive enthusiast looking for his next project, but what he’s created is much more than that.
WHY A DODGE RAM VAN?
Adding to what we mentioned in our introduction, Alexi of the Noriyaro YouTube channel introduced the niche-mainstream world to Dajibans back in 2016, and everything changed. Much like us, Luwin found himself enamored with the Dajiban style and knew he wanted to create his version.
“It all sounded so crazy at first — a full-size Dodge Ram van built up in a sporty not-quite-hot-rod style, but when I saw photos and videos of it, it looked so proper. I scoured the Internet and social media for more builds and noticed that it really hadn’t been done in the States. There were forum posts and articles about it here and there, and people knew about them but hadn’t really taken one and modified it in that style. So I figured I’d give it a go,” says Luwin Kwan.
THE HUNT FOR THE RIGHT VAN
Let’s take it back about two years ago, to a time when Luwin had already been casually browsing Craigslist for almost a year, looking for his van project. As with any vehicle trend or style, following certain purist aspects is crucial to the execution. That means you can’t just pick any old Dodge van to transform into a Dajiban because it won’t match the style correctly.
Most of the examples Luwin came across were either work vans that had endured a rough life of job sites or bulky conversion vans with entire camper-life interior and large side windows. He needed an example that previous owners hadn’t put through its paces yet, and after giving himself ample time to find a suitable chassis, it appeared.
“I finally came across this passenger van that was in great condition and went down there the same evening to get it. It was from the original owner, a sweet older lady who had used it to take her art frames to and from art shows/flea markets.”
BUILDING HIS DAJIBAN
After a few months of doing maintenance on it, researching, and formulating a game plan for the build, Luwin had his vision ready and began equipping the chassis with various additions akin to its long-lost Japanese Dodge van brethren.
For the exterior, to heighten the racing look, the hood and headlight panels were wrapped, and a custom MFR Engineering wickerbill spoiler was affixed to the rear. A front air dam — initially meant for a 1989 Chevy Silverado truck — controls aero duties on the front, while a custom rear diffuser supports the same job at the back.
THE FAVORITE MODS
He also enjoys his custom brake setup, with its own story, like other various pieces of the van. These are your average red calipers to the unsuspecting eye, but as you analyze, it’s apparent that they were never meant for a Dodge van. They are, in fact, Brembo calipers from a Ferrari 360 Modena, which after months of fabricating solutions to numerous challenges, Chris at CP Customs, got to work correctly.
“On a more personal side, as a single dad, I wanted to include some touches from my kiddos. When I first started to modify the van’s interior, I had my daughter make me a little drawing of a van which I ended up making a custom horn button out of. I know that some of the Dajibans have stripped-out interiors as they have their fun on the track, but I wanted to take my kids around in it — but with a little bit of a unique twist, so I figured putting racing seats in the back for them would be awesome.”
NOTHING GOOD IS EVER EASY
As you can imagine, there isn’t a plethora of information about modifying your Dodge van to Dajiban-spec. With the trend starting in Japan, there were no elder statesmen to contact on our shores about sourcing coveted RS Watanabe wheels or lowering the ride height — such is the problem with attempting a build like this. However, Luwin was able to form valuable relationships with various companies and people in the automotive aftermarket industry that helped his van get to its current state. Whether it’s the two-piece forged Rotiform wheels made specifically for his van’s fitment, or DR Concept fabricating custom seat mounts for his NRG seats in the rear, Luwin is grateful for every contact he has made with the van.
Luwin would like to thank Jason and his crew at NRG, Duc at DR Concept, James from Wheel Lab, Chris at CP Customs, Mike and his crew at MFR Engineering, Kevin at Zoom Tires, Mike at Tint Monkey, Brandon at LTMW, David at Monrovia Alignment, Steve and his crew at RPM Offroad Garage, WRTeknica/Dyme PSI, Brekkie Car Club, Heritage Gruppe, Carcadia, Purist Group, Bells & Vaughn, and Drew Manley from Cooled.Collective.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
“As the stock 5.9-liter Magnum V8 has a good amount of scoot, I haven’t felt the need to modify it yet, but who can say no to more power in the future, right? I would love to take it out on a track day and learn how to toss it around, and have some fun out there with it.
Part of the fun has been connecting with and inspiring other Dodge Ram van owners here in the States and sharing information with each other. It has been neat to see interest and enthusiasm in Dajibans grow, and I look forward to seeing more built up here.”
If Luwin’s Dodge Ram van is any sign of the future of Dajibans on American soil, then the future looks bright, and we can’t wait for more US iterations to surface.
Luwin Kwan's 1996 Dodge Ram Van
|MFR Engineering wickerbill spoiler (third brake light delete), front lower air dam, wrapped hood and headlight panels, custom rear lower diffuser
|NRG steering wheel and quick release hub, NRG racing seats (x6) with custom mounts, Pioneer flip-out head unit, JBL amplifiers, JBL subwoofer, Alpine speakers, Illest tsurikawa (subway handle)
|5.9-liter Magnum V8, Flowmaster exhaust with side-exit pipes
|KYB Heavy Duty shocks, cut front springs, de-arched rear leaf springs
|16-inch staggered Rotiform MLW wheels, 225/55R16 Michelin Pilot HX tires (front), 245/50R16 Hankook Ventus V2 Concept tires (rear)
|Ferrari (Brembo) brake calipers, Porterfield R4S pads, R1 Concepts rotors, custom stainless steel braided brake lines, extended wheel studs, NRG lug nuts