Most people don’t think of cars when they hear the word cappuccino. But most people aren’t Rick Gerling, who’s turning a lifelong love of cars into a unique enterprise in north Forsyth County.
Gerling likes things that are off the beaten path, he says, and about three years ago, a friend of his who knows this about Gerling asked if he wanted to buy a Nissan Skyline from Japan. Skylines are not marketed in the United States but have become popular here.
Gerling said he thought about it, and said, “If I’m going to do it, I’ll just buy it myself since I’m a dealer.”
So Gerling went to Japan himself. He bought the Skyline, but he became fascinated with some of the other cars there.
“I found out about these kind of weird little cars called Kei cars, and I was in love,” Gerling said.
Gerling’s business, ATL-JDM, can’t sell any cars from his north Forsyth business park office, but he has a small shop in the back. The shop is filled with everything from Suzuki Cappuccinos to a Rover Mini and even a miniature fire truck that came out of an industrial plant.
“We don’t sell cars directly here, but sometimes we meet people at car shows, or they reach out to us to see if we have a specific car, and we can help them out,” he said.
Aside from area car shows, they can also be contacted through the website, www.ATL-JDM.com.
“We’re working to create a whole culture here in the Atlanta area around these cars,” he said.
Paarth Shah, who works with Gerling, says they have each made two trips to Japan to pick out the cars they want to import.
“By going and looking at the cars, we can see exactly what we’re getting, that way we know it’s worth the effort to bring over,” said Shah. “It costs thousands of dollars to join the dealer network over there, but once we had that contact, we were able to attend auctions where they sell cars all day long.”
“My fascination is really with the Kei cars,” Gerling said. “They tax cars by size and horsepower, so these little tiny quirky cars are really popular over there.”
One of the tiny vans at the shop still has the lightbar, siren and lettering from the Wakayama fire department.
“There’s no way you’ll ever find anything like this over here,” Gerling said.
Importing a car from Japan involves a number of government agencies, from local tag offices to the state department of revenue and even U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and federal law limits the cars that ATL-JDM can import to only those older than 25 years.
“We have a few folks who have done it themselves, and then come to us once they find out how involved the process is,” Gerling said.
While every car that Gerling brings over is street legal and comes with a title, they do take some getting used to, Gerling said.
“Because they’re right-hand drive, and most are stick shifts, you have to learn how to shift with your left hand,” Gerling said.
Although the clutch, brake and throttle pedals are the same, there is one difference that still gets Gerling even after spending years driving the cars: The switches for the wiper and turn signal are reversed.
“I still go to hit the turn signal and end up turning on the wipers once in a while,” Gerling said.
Both Shah and Gerling are looking forward to some of the cars they’ll be able to bring over in the future.
“Right now, they still have carburetors, but once we start getting into the ’95 and ’96s, we’ll start seeing some fuel injection and some real exotics,” Gerling said.
Shah said he is still getting used to the idea that he can actually drive these cars.
“I learned about these cars playing video games,” Shah said, “and now I get to drive them every day.”