Students of automotive design and history advise us that the death of the rear-engine air-cooled car was dictated by a number of changing fashions and requirements. Pollution and noise requirements ensured two-strokes, with their oil-burning lubrication systems, were phased out and still more stringent regulations in many jurisdictions started to enforce additional requirements.
Making the job of NVH engineers difficult, the requirement for low drive-by ambient noise levels put the rear engined car at a natural disadvantage — with induction, combustion, and exhaust all at the same end, a rear-engined car is naturally louder (from one end at least), than a car with its potential noise sources evenly distributed. Air-cooled versions perhaps more so.
The addition of a water-jacket for cooling, the deletion of large and many airflow- promoting openings, as well as a constantly running fan, made water-cooled engines even more attractive. Requirements for heater and de-mister operation also favoring a water-cooled engine. Air-cooled engines require complex heat exchangers, flaps and valves, or even auxiliary engines to heat the cabin rapidly.
And while abandoned car collections can be found all across Japan — kei-cars, sports cars, saloons, trucks, even buses — I’ve only ever seen a smattering of air-cooled goodness. So, this collection in Saitama, on the Kanto Plain north of Tokyo, is even more remarkable as almost all of its neglected machines are rear-engine and air-cooled. A real find.
Honda Life, Subaru 360, Honda TN360, Honda Vamos, Suzuki Cervo, Mazda Carol, all in various state of decay. A large number of whole engines, cylinder heads, fans, cooling shrouds, interior trim, and the usual junkyard parts lay about from the collection.
Subaru 360 and Honda TN kei-trucks are reasonably common I suppose, as too are Suzuki Cervos, but Honda Vamoses are quite rare, as is the Ford Anglia inspired four-cylinder Mazda Carol. The red one here is quite complete, with any missing parts appearing to lie scattered on the ground near by.
Also in the collection is a Mitsubishi Debonair, resplendent in funeral black, the only faux-pas being wire wheels, perhaps fitted in the 1970s when they were a popular accessory to make cars look “classy.” At least they’re real wires, not just plastic hubcaps from proto-Autobacs.
The collection also includes a boat-tailed Alfa Spyder under cover, a few lesser Japanese classics, but also a car I’ve never seen before – a Daihastsu Compagno. Though not air-cooled or rear-engined, its small convertible configuration would have made it an obvious nice-to-have for any car collector. In surprisingly good condition, its European style perhaps reminiscent of a small Fiat or Alfa Romeo.
Unlike some abandoned collections throughout Japan, this set is actively owned by someone and at least one of these interesting machines is posted for sale via on-line classic car sales, so it would be reasonable to assume offers would be accepted accordingly for others seen here.
Continuing the air-cooled in Saitama theme, just down the road from this collection, and made by the company that was later to produce the Subaru 360, an air-cooled Rabbit scooter was parked out front of the local scooter distributor.
Skorj is a photographer/journalist living in Japan. You can see more of his work at magnesiumphotos.com.