EVENTS: 2014 Meiji Jingu Classic Car Festival, Part 02

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The annual Meiji Jingu Classic Car Festival offers something few other shows can claim: the chance to see its cars driving through public streets. It’s not simply witnessing them in motion, though It’s the fact that those public streets are in Tokyo, in some of the capital city’s most famous historic districts, many of which look largely unchanged since these cars were new. 

Moreover, as we learned from the Showa Kinen Car Show, it’s often not what an event has, but what it doesn’t. Most of the cars here are stock, or at least only very lightly modified. Any changes made are period correct, and the selection is curated carefully by the Toyota Automobile Museum to represent the best of the Showa Era.

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The distinctive yellow gingko trees along the main avenue going into Meiji Jingu Park have been a fixture since just after World War II. Tokyoites have been coming to the park to watch the leaves change color for half a century, and it’s not just possible but almost certain that back then they would’ve seen a Subaru 360 or two driving by.

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The parade itself takes cars through the park, by the Imperial Palace, and through Minato-ku, the upscale district that’s home to Japanese corporations like Honda, Mitsubishi Motors, Sony, and Toshiba.

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The result was a who’s who of benchmark Nihon classics reenacting life in the Showa Era. Rather than a field of sports models that only car guys would “get,” Hino Contessas and Isuzu Bellett sedans get equal chance to shine.

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The skies would eventually open up to drench Tokyoites with one of the wettest days of the year, but early on merciful rain gods allowed open-top Toyota Publica convertibles a tranquil cruise and photographers unhurried access to rarities in the motorcade.

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In the 70s, a square-headlight kujira Crown would have been exactly the type of status symbol seen sailing down Minato-ku avenues.

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Rewinding another decade or two, a black Toyopet Crown with an extremely old and very rare single digit license plate indicating continuous registration and shaken passage since new.

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A rare mid-spec Bluebird SS, with side-draught Hitachi carburetors but not the sports cluster or Fairlady drivetrain, zestier than the DeLuxe yet not quite a full blown SSS.

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Typically overshadowed by its Corolla counterpart, the slant-nosed TE71 Toyota Sprinter Liftback 1600GT is an incredibly rare specimen even in Japan. This particular car might be the most photographed example in all of Japan.

With nothing but a slight drop in ride height, this Prince Skyline GT-B looked elegant in repose and purposeful in motion. Soon, heavy clouds indicating an impending downpour sent me in search of something to stand under.

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A well-preserved Datsun 210 rumbled past in all its 37hp glory, sized well for Tokyo streets.

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As I was choosing a suitable angle to shoot, I was joined by a Car Graphic photographer and a squadron of MGs as they retreated under cover to pull their weather protection on. A short time later we were all passed by two sturdy individuals in a loudly thrumming yotahachi, targa-topless and seemingly oblivious to the rain.

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Few S40 Prince Gloria wagons survived beyond the Showa heyday. Less ornate than the sedans, they exude the charm of a simpler time.

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The parade provided the rare opportunity for an Series-31 Cedric, typical transport for 1960s Tokyo, to mingle with today’s standard issue status chariots.

Fun Fact: all Prince cars in attendance had clap-hand wipers.

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Seeing such a wide range of machines — not only the Japanese cars here, but also many Europeans — driven enthusiastically, in the rain, through the streets of Tokyo was inspiring. Listening to the deep beat of the yotahachi boxer, chain whine of a 911, barking exhaust of a Prince GT-B, cammy whir of an Alfa, soft burble of a twin-cam MG, and the dak-dak-dak of a 1950s Karmann Ghia is a lot more pleasant than standing around gawking at cars tied off behind ropes. Though I did feel nervous for the 2000GT being closely tailgated by a wildly accelerating dump-truck.

That concludes coverage of the 2014 Meiji Jingu Classic Car Festival. In case you missed it, here’s Part 01, as well as last year’s parade and car show.

Skorj resides in Japan and is co-founder of Filmwasters.com

 

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15 Responses to EVENTS: 2014 Meiji Jingu Classic Car Festival, Part 02

  1. Jim said:

    Another refreshing read. Variety and originality just ain’t so common any more!!
    Looking at that rear 3/4 shot of the Prince GT-B…. one of the best shots I’ve seen to show the wider rear guard panel of the “B”. …. and the characteristic “Surf line” of the Skyline. Very easy to see in that shot why it is called a “Surf line”.
    Thanks Skorj.

    • Skorj said:

      Trying to identify a B against an A is almost impossible from any other angle (except the color of its GT badges of course). Since investigating the Prince GT, I’ve noted the rear 3/4 view is the only way. At least from the outside!

      Inside the trunk however, behind the read chrome flash, is the cut-line where Prince / Nissan let-in the new, wider, lower-panel for wider wheels. Un-filled, except for paint, it clearly IDs a real B from an A simply widened by either rolling, or even adding in a new guard line with metal. It has to be done at the upper join to match the original. An easy pick if you’re trying to ID one of the increasing number of GT-A made to look like ‘spec’ GT-B. Even if a B engine – triple Weber, cam, etc – have been added, there are a few subtle body & chassis mods to help ID an original…

  2. Heinz said:

    Very nice read.

    • Skorj said:

      Thanks, but I am ‘only the photographer’ as they say. While I did bang out some words, Ben’s editing and correct-JNC-name-identification-skills far exceed mine!

      • John M said:

        The result is a post I would gladly take a second look at. As usual, the pictures are amazing – wondering the color on the Mark II Grande? I’m thinking a friend of mine had a green one, but that’s trying to remember 20+ years ago. The writing also seems to be getting better and better, but I would like to hear that burble and dak-dak-dak.

  3. Toyotageek said:

    Wonderful. Simply wonderful….

    Arrigatou Skorj.

  4. Censport said:

    I remember that Subaru 360 from a rally/show/autocross event by the Tokyo Bay. The little eyes on the dash wink every so often.

    Some lovely shots. I hope to catch this on one of my future trips.

  5. MikeRL411 said:

    That 411 Sport Sedan is in awesome shape! Just might have a J15 engine although most did have the J13?

  6. Nigel said:

    Great to see these cars as they were, when they where new.
    (Like that TE71 Sprinter). Very cool Skorj.

  7. Negishi no Keibajo said:

    Once again, thank you so much for the coverage. As you say, there are areas in Tokyo that remain unchanged and one could transport oneself back in time. I go to Tokyo regularly but I would love to catch one of these events sometime. Even just the photos take me back to when I lived there.

    My dad drove a mid sixties Nissan Cedric but I rarely see them here. Mom drove a Toyopet. My school bus was an old rounded Hino painted battleship grey to take me to the base school. I guess my semi-restored Suzuki Samurai has joined the ranks of the classics!

  8. Negishi no Keibajo said:

    I forgot… Nissan Motors used to have a showroom on the corner of Ginza Dori & Harumi Dori as well as another one in the corporate offices a few blocks away. The offices moved away along with the exhibition floor :-(. Now the showroom on the Ginza strip is just a memory in the last few months. Right now, 1/8/15, it’s just a hole in the ground. Both of these locations would exhibit not only new models, race cars and concepts but Nissan/Datsun Classics as well. They will be sorely missed.

  9. Dave Yuan said:

    This is such a wonderful event! And mesmerizing photos as usual!

    I think that orange Subaru 360 might be a Young S or SS, the sports variant, w/ the ventless hood and different badge. The photo w/ the Sports 800 and the blurred 2000GT in the background is simply gorgeous!

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