The double-eye logo of Mooneyes is perhaps the first thing that comes to any hot rodder’s mind when they think of the iconic brand, but Chico Kodama is probably a close second. Kodama, who became the president of the parts and accessories manufacturing company back in 1992, has worked hard to keep the brand, which was started by Dean Moon in the 1950s, strong and moving into the 21st century, without changing what made the company and its products so incredibly popular with rodders.
“The only reason we bought this company was to keep everything the way it was when Dean had it,” Kodama said of himself and the company’s co-owner, Shige Suganuma. “We wanted to keep not only the logo but the way Dean ran the company the same. The products are still made the same way, with no CNC machines, just like they were 50 or 60 years ago.”
It hasn’t been easy, but Kodama says he’s very proud of how things have turned out for Mooneyes. “We never thought we’d be able to keep the company up for 25 years and have such a big following like we have now,” he said.
We chatted with Kodama about Japanese hot rodders, his time at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and why he hates shopping.
GG: We have to ask – where did your nickname Chico come from?
Chico Kodama: I got it when I was in school in Costa Mesa [California]. I used to play soccer and almost all of my teammates spoke Spanish. My real name is Yoshihiko and they couldn’t say it, so they shortened it and started calling me Chico, and it just kind of stuck. I’ve been Chico ever since.
GG: What do you think you would have been doing as a career right now if you hadn’t discovered hot rods?
Chico Kodama: I think I would probably be an architect. I liked architecture and I went to college for art. I was really interested in that but…then I got sidetracked with cars and it was done. It’s a little too late to try it now!
GG: You have run a successful company for over 25 years. What do you think a person has to have in order to be successful in this industry?
Chico Kodama: You have to have the passion; you have to love what you do because it’s not easy. This is not a job for me. I’m here from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. sometimes and it doesn’t bother me. Barry Meguiar once said that if you love what you do, and you get paid for it, it doesn’t get any better, and that’s exactly true for me. When it starts to feel like a job, though, that’s when I may want to quit.
GG: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Chico Kodama: It’s hard to please everybody at the same time. Trying to make everyone happy is impossible. It will just make you unhappy.
GG: In addition to your annual Mooneyes show in California each December, you also throw a huge show in Japan each year. How does the Japanese show differ from the one in California?
Chico Kodama: It’s much smaller than the one we do here. It’s one of the biggest shows there but we only get about 150 cars and 600 motorcycles. We get about 1,500 cars and 100 drag race cars at the one we put on here in December. We have drag racing [here] and that makes it different from any of the other shows.
GG: How would you describe the hot rod/street rod scene in Japan right now?
Chico Kodama: People in Japan like American cars, and they really love the American car and motorcycle culture. Very few people there are into street rods, though, but I think it’s because of the lack of availability of them there and the high cost. A lot of people from Japan will come [to America] and buy cars and bring them back to Japan.
GG: What’s one thing you love to go shopping for?
Chico Kodama: Nothing! I don’t do shopping. I don’t have time because I’m always dreaming about building or racing cars. I don’t like to shop.
GG: You are well-known on the Bonneville Salt Flats. What’s the fastest you’ve gone?
Chico Kodama: In Bonneville, I went 221mph in my roadster at the Salt Flats. That particular run wasn’t so bad. I’ve actually had worse driving experiences while going much slower. Everything went great on [the 221 mph run]. I did spin around a couple of times but it’s wide open so you don’t feel the speed as much as you do on the street.
GG: If you are ordering yourself a drink, what are you probably having?
Chico Kodama: Iced tea. I drink so much iced tea.
GG: Do you think Mooneyes will ever venture into any other markets, like muscle cars?
Chico Kodama: I don’t think so. It’s too late in the game to get into the muscle car stuff, and we are definitely not into foreign cars. We are sticking with our mainstays – racing and street rods.
GG: It’s been 25 years since you took over Mooneyes. Are you surprised at how far you’ve come?
Chico Kodama: Yes. When we first got here in 1992, we were kind of worried about how people would react to us because we are Japanese. We were worried people would have thoughts against us for that. We had a good relationship with the media, and no matter who we are, the products have always and will always speak for themselves. We have had people come up to us and thank us for saving Mooneyes and that makes us feel good.