Friday, February 09, 2018

Everyone's heard of the Hirohata Mercury, customized by the Barris brothers... but, had you heard of Bob Hirohata?

he was one of many incarcerated at a concentration camp, a U.S. government facility known opaquely as the Manzanar War Relocation Center. His offense: being born to Japanese parents.

The United States government via a Presidential Executive Order (now you know the power a President can wield) decided to herd, without due process or a declaration of martial law, some 120,000 men, women and children living in California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona into remote concentration camps.

Bob Hirohata was one of many hot rodders you know by name imprisoned without reason, cause, or legal recourse. Larry Shinoda and Takeo "Chickie" Hirashima are probably known to you as well.

Some left the camps long before the end of the war, through a method created in 1943, when the U.S. Army began recruiting volunteers for an all-Nisei unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

The 442nd fought valiantly, taking part in the rescue of the Lost Battalion in the Vosges Forest in France, as well as campaigns in Italy and Germany, earning the nickname of Purple Heart Battalion and the distinction of being the most decorated Army unit for its size and length of service.

One of the regiment’s achievements was liberating a unit of Dachau, a Nazi death camp, an action not officially acknowledged for years afterward, by the 442nd whose own families were still held in concentration camps in the U.S. Ask me why I'm not racist, and angry with people who are.

Bob, was not yet a teenager when he was sent to the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds assembly center in Pomona, that is home to the NHRA Winternats, Grand National Roadster Show, and LA Roadsters Show, to the concentration camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

Bob got out of the Navy in 1952, and doing well from the thriving family insurance business in Los Angeles, took his car over to the Barris Brothers who had done a terrific job on Nick Matranga’s then famous 1940 Mercury Coupe, told them chop the top and change the side windows to get the hardtop look, plus whatever they felt would make it look amazing.

The inside was pinstriped by Von Dutch, and I read on the HAMB that Bob made the knobs, and went on supplying Barris with them.

Hirohata’s car was the first chopped 1951 Mercury and the first hardtopped 1949-1951 Mercury.

So, then he went and changed hot rodding in the 50s.

But about Bob Hirohata?

The story, from George Barris is that he was murdered while changing the oil on a car in his parents driveway in 1981, shot execution style May 14, 1981. The murder was never solved.

Why? It's reported that it's connected to working with his parents who owned an insurance company, and parking lots in downtown L A., he witnessed a crime of some type and testified against the criminals who ended up in jail.

Barris had Mamie Van Doren model with the car for Hot Rod Magazine, which he wrote articles for Hot Rod back in the 50s

Larry Shinoda, after the concentration camp, served in the National Guard during the Korean War, built Ardun-equipped drag-race cars and won his category at the NHRA Nationals in 1955. Shinoda could be found in the pits at Indianapolis, too, where he was involved in designing a race car.

The unconstitutional illegal imprisonment of Japanese-Americans remains a national disgrace 75 years later, and is brought back to the news as when Kyle Miyata Larson won the Pure Michigan 400, as Larson's mother is Japanese-American. His maternal grandparents, Manjo and Betty Miyata, spent the war years as prisoners at Tule Lake.

FDR’s executive order was rescinded in 1976. In 1988, the U.S. Civil Liberties Act provided apologies and some measure of financial settlement for the injustices, and later laws provided for preservation of some internment camp sites as memorials. In 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to 20 members of the 442nd.


  1. and the 1st feedback I got on this came via email...
    "You make the article about the Japs sound so racist. We locked up white folks too you know."
    every fucking day... someone has to fart on my parade. You know? I got fun things to find, but end up wasting time on jackasses like Gary.

    1. Anonymous7:42 AM

      Heavy sigh.... some folks just don't get it do they? This was and is a disgrace. Sometimes the things we do as a country are wrong and you just cant get people to admit it.

  2. The 442nd was not known as the "Purple Heart Battalion" but the "Bucket of Blood" Regimental Combat Team.

    "The 100th Battalion/442nd RCT, in just over one year, compiled an astonishing combat record. But this segregated unit, almost entirely comprised of Japanese Americans, suffered an equally remarkable number, about 800, killed or missing in action. They won seven Distinguished Unit Citations, including one awarded personally by President Harry Truman who said, on July 15, 1946, "You fought the enemy abroad and prejudice at home and you won." In addition, after an exhaustive survey of individual awards from WWII, twenty more Medals of Honor were awarded, bringing the total to twenty one. Over 4,000 Purple Hearts, 29 Distinguished Service Crosses, 588 Silver Stars, and more than 4,000 Bronze Stars were awarded to the men of the 442nd RCT for action during WWII."

    Cited from

    1. I already cited my sources. I didn't make anything up, and didn't have time to exhaustively research and crosscheck what I found to see if 2 other sources independently verify the facts.
      If you take a moment to verify for yourself that the "Purple Heart Battalion" does indeed have the distinction of being the phrase/nickname that Wikipedia,,,, and other websites all concour is given to the 442nd.
      Maybe, you could not tell me I'm wrong about things until you do more research than I do.
      And what you cite from is beyond the scope of my article I wanted to write, and it does not say any nickname for the 100th/442nd.
      How about instead of commenting to tell me that I'm wrong (when you are and I am not) you make your own blog.
      How about instead of putting your opinion on the chopping block and asking if anyone wants to take a swing at it, you just hold your tongue, enjoy what you like about my site, and shut the eff up about what you think I'm doing wrong.
      You decided today to be a dick, try to correct me, and how'd that go?
      I don't need, want, require, or ask for your correction.
      It's a distraction that takes me from being able to enjoy what I do, and do pretty well, to see where I made a mistake, errored, or screwed up and just believed the sources I was getting my information from.
      In this example, you've wasted my time. Honestly, there was no reason for you to believe my article defamed, denigrated, insulted, or didn't respect the people I chose to make a stand for.
      Maybe you should cool your jets, and if you want to be a part of this, raise you hand and volunteer to carry some load.
      If not, just zip it, and allow me to be a klutz when I mess up and not point out what a dumbass I am.
      Obviously, I'm going to make a god damn lot of mistakes when I don't research every fact I type out, when I'm doing a dozen posts a day, 100 a week, and about 4800 a year.
      I make plenty, and apologize a lot for being a dork who doesn't read carefully as I merrily go along finding things and sharing them, but inserting your corrections isn't something I've asked for, or needed.
      Sit back, enjoy the ride, and quit trying to be helpful until you're ready to either hire me, fire me, or pay me to do this. In other words, lead, follow, or get the fuck out of my way.
      I've got shit to do, and you're pissing me off

    2. Jesus fucking christ, haven't I already had enough shit about this article? What the fuck people? I've got racist Gary pissing on my parade already, I don't need someone telling me I've got the damn nickname wrong, I DON'T. Now sit the fuck back and shut the fuck up

    3. After doing wonderful work by paying recognition to those heroes, (thank you), it's a tremendous shame that blasphemy was resorted to in your understandable anger
      Thanks again though for doing e'what, I believe, no one else ever had.

  3. I loved this blog, and if you don't mind, I'm sharing it to several groups (including one of mine) on Facebook.

    Thank you.👍😊

    1. You've made my day, and I"m happy you've enjoyed what I've put together on my blog! I'm even proud that you think it's something you want to share!

    2. I just realized, that I'm certain to like the facebook groups which would like my blog, can you share the links with me so I can look through them for more cool stuff to share with other people?

    3. Thanks for writing this article.I have seen this car in magazines most of my adult life.Mever knee what became of Mr. Hirohat. So sad.

  4. To bad racist Hollywood doesn't make movies about our murdered hot rodders like Bob Hirohata, Mickey Thompson much more interesting than the crapola they make nowadays!

  5. making a movie can be done with a cell phone, or a go pro. Anyone can do it, even you or me. It doesn't require a Hollywood producer, investors, cameras, lighting, crew or cast.
    It also doesn't require Netflix, You Tube, Apple TV, HOM Max, etc.
    It only requires motivation and commitment.

  6. My dad used to hang out with Bob Hirohata and Larry Shinoda. They were all around the same age. Most of the Japanese-American hot rodders in Los Angeles in the 50's knew each other.

  7. Great article and I learned a lot I never knew. Thank you for taking the time and effort to remember some very fascinating and history making people. To Steve Fuji; very cool that your dad knew Mr. Hirohata and Mr. Shinoda. I can relate to cherishing those experiences. I'm in the aviation business and I've had the chance to meet several notable figures from the '30s through current day. Real pioneers are amazing people.