As it embarks on its second decade, the 2015 Japanese Classic Car Show has become a must-attend event, not just for J-tin owners or readers of this fine site, but car enthusiasts everywhere. Nowhere in America will you see a wider array of cars from the Japanese domestic market never sold in the US, the subject of our first installment.
In fact, the Nissan Pao and hakosuka Skyline in the lead photo weren’t even the only ones at the show. That’s right, baby, multiple Paos. The Pao was one of several retro cars Nissan built in the late 1980s — long before the PT Cruiser, New Beetle, or S197 Mustang — based on the 1.0-liter Nissan March of the era.
This one, owned by Greg Childs of NICO, was a 5-speed manual with a somewhat uncommon slicktop (a solid roof with no canvas rollback top) and sported the cleverest of vanity plates: KUNG PAO.
You want Skylines? There was not shortage of those either, including a very cool snub-nose Hako and no less than three crimson KGC10s.
So many mid-trim Hakos cut into Shinichiro Sakurai‘s “surf line” in the name of flares, but we love that this one was preserved. There’s no need to go wider with a shorter, 4-cylinder nose anyway, and its Techno Phantoms a stylish departure from the typical Watanabes.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a set of the Hakosuka’s traditionally favored barrel, the gunmetal Wat. Eric Bauer’s Skyline was supposed to join us on the JNC Touge California earlier this year, but a morning-of hairline crack discovered in one its wheels prevented its running. We had one Hako; two would have been epic.
Looking more like a mid-80s zero-yon racer was another red Skyline, equipped with contrasting flares and spoiler, gold Wats and a roll bar.
Roy de Guzman of the Wild Cards car club debuted a kaido racer-inspired graphic on his Skyline, backed up with an ear-splitting side-exit exhaust. Roy calls his car “My Own Super Treasure Hunt” and during the show he got talking with Hot Wheels’ Jun Imai. Could this be a sneak peek at an upcoming diecast? You’ll see more of this car in an upcoming feature.
Eric Khamchan’s Hako has been de-stickered since its showing at Nissan Jam, and what a difference. Relieved of its racing jacket and sponsor logos, it is absolutely stunning in a rare Blue Metallic. Perhaps I’ve seen one too many in the standard silver, or maybe it’s the way the California sun refracts off its lines, but this could be my new favorite Hakosuka hue.
Incidentally, it is unknown whether JCCS organizers deliberately set a pack of Mazda RX-3s — the car that famously snatched away Nissan’s highly anticipated 50th victory back in 1971 — in the middle of the Hako display.
Speaking of Hakosukas, a Matchbox representative stopped by the JNC booth and showed a prototype of the upcoming addition to their 2016 line. While this is a resin prototype the real car will look very much like this, surf line and all. Incidentally, the mock-up was hand-painted by Mattel’s in-house artist Brandon Ozaki, the namesake of the “B. Ozaki” that appears on the Hot Wheels x JNC Mazda RX-7 and Datsun 240Z.
Fans of newer Skylines could see rare R32s brought for display, and presumably sale, by International Vehicle Importers. What was unusual about this showing was that only one was a “Godzilla” GT-R. The other was a GTS-t for you to live out all your mid-aught drift missile fantasies.
Even the manufacturers got into the JDM game this year, with Nissan USA bringing a pair of cars from its famed Zama warehouse. The cars were shipped over 5,000 miles by sea from Japan, barely making it to the show with just one day to spare. The display provided a rare opportunity to see some rare cars from Nissan’s 400-car Heritage Collection.
Among the cars that dropped the most jaws was Nissan’s R390 GT1. Previously seen by most only in the pixels of Gran Turismo, it’s the 641-horsepower wedge Nissan built to tackle Le Mans in 1997. Nissan also built a million-dollar road-legal version with a production run of just two.
Though this particular R390 — driven by Martin Brundle, Jörg Müller, and Wayne Taylor — had to bow out of the race due to technical difficulties, its sister car back at the Zama facility came in fifth in its class. Its pilots included famed Japanese drivers Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Masahiko Kageyama of R32 Touring Car fame.
Nissan’s other Zama car could scarcely be more different. The 1975 Bluebird-U 2000 GTX is likely one of the finest of the species, flawlessly preserved in every way. This model was nicknamed the sameburu, or “shark Bluebird” due to its reverse slant grille and gill-like design cues on its fenders.
Joined by the Datsun 411 and 510 that we drove in Monterey, three generations of Bluebird were represented in a palette of earth tones. It was Nissan’s way of drawing a somewhat shaky line to the new Maxima, originally an offshoot of the Bluebird line several generations ago.
A Nissan spokesman told us that the Zama cars would be headed to the company’s design studio in La Jolla once they were done at JCCS. Might we see inspiration from these cars in an upcoming concept?
Nissan’s wasn’t the only JDM 610 in attendance. Ryan Romaine’s non-shark Bluebird-U SSS-E is an ultra-rare model produced only from January to May of 1974. With only about 30,000 miles on the odometer, it’s as clean as it is unique.
This RHD Bluebird 510 should be a familiar sight for regular readers, but its charmingly underrated sedan styling deserves another mention. Unlike most USDM-built 510s, everything from its 13-inch Techo TRVs to its lowered ride height seem designed to occupy the least amount of space possible while still being a fun-to-drive box on wheels.
Not to be outdone, Mazda North America brought a few of their own special cars from their private R&D basement. The 1967 Cosmo Sport is the same one we photographed with the 1990 Eunos Cosmo, the red Miata beside it is one of the original Chicago Auto Show cars, and the RX-7 in the back is the only LHD Spirit R in the world.
Technically, there were 1,504 Spirit Rs built as a send-off when the RX-7 was discontinued in 2002. This one, however, started life as a USDM FD3S, but when RX-7 program manager Takaharu Kobayakawa gifted Mazda North America the parts to create a Sprit R, the American R&D team couldn’t refuse.
Speaking of Mazdas, our booth hosted the first-ever public viewing of the Hot Wheels RX-3. Equipped with brand-new four-spoke wheels and hippari stretch tires, it promises to be one of the most sought-after diecast cars of 2016. We simultaneously revealed it on the site at 9:00am on the day of the show, but the actual prototype, despite being in its unpainted bare-zinc form, cause a minor riot at the JNC booth.
Not much larger than the Hot Wheels were a group of Toyota Sports 800s. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Toyota’s first sports car, so JCCS organizers put together a special display dedicated to the model.
While it wasn’t quite as large as the two-day festival in Japan that took place earlier this year, the gathering of four cars in one spot had some attendees joking that it was the largest yotahachi meet ever assembled in the US.
The display was coordinated with some of the Sports 800 Owners Club members from Japan, who sent over a banner matching those from the Japanese tribute. You could say it was a small but heartfelt extension of the celebration in the yotahachi’s motherland.
Another Toyota both extremely rare and extremely small was Orly Tapay’s 1974 KP45 Publica Starlet. Predecessor to the more well-known KP61, this generation was never sold in the US.
In massively flared race guise, they competed against the B110 Sunny and first-gen Honda Civic in Japan. On its hood, you can see some styling cues shared with the daruma Celica. Though these came with a K-series motor, Orly has swapped it out for a 2T-G.
On the other end of the size spectrum was Scott Reynold’s 1981 FJ61 Land Cruiser. As you may notice, it’s right-hand-drive, has side-hinged rear doors, and is finished in a very Japanese shade of industrial grayish-blue (ignore the two-tone; that’s just Line-X).
That’s because this Cruiser started life as a utility truck used by Japan Rail West to maintain train tracks. According to Scott, it was hangared after just 24,000 kilometers and auctioned off for parts. Sadly, many of its original parts were too far gone and Scott had to swap them out with pieces from a USDM FJ60. Only one remnant of its past life can be found: the JR West sticker that was originally on its doors now resides on the rear window.
This year’s JCCS had not one, but two box-type Mitsubishi Lancers, rugged rally machines that pre-dated the more commonly known Evos by decades. The one in the foreground is an 1800 ES, equipped with a 1.8-liter naturally aspirated motor.
Its partner, on the other hand, is a highly coveted Lancer EX 1800GSR, fitted with a fuel-injected turbocharged 1.8 capable of 133 horsepower in regular guise and 158 with the aid of an intercooler, all in the early 1980s.
Interior-wise, the blocky, pre-airbag steering wheel could not be more purposeful. Snazzy diagonal stripe-patterns don’t just flow over nicely bolstered seats, but extend to the door panels as well. The overall design would be quite modern well into the late 80s, and Mitsubishi did in fact draw out this generation’s lifespan from 1979 to 1987.
Last but not least, the JNC booth car selected for this year’s show was none other than Jay Kho’s DR30 Skyline. Another Wild Cards member, Jay graciously drove his car all the way from Las Vegas and decked it out in the livery of Masahiro Hasemi’s Group 5 Silhouette racer.
We’ll have an in-depth feature on this car soon, but in the meantime those familiar with the original may notice that one of Hasemi’s prominent original sponsors has been replaced with the katakana for Hot Wheels.
That was planned as a tie-in with Hot Wheels designer Jun Imai’s autograph session at the JNC booth. Though we had announced that it wouldn’t begin until 10:30 am, the fact that Jun made only 30 numbered prints of his Hot Wheels X JNC hakosuka Skyline started a line at 8:50.
While waiting for Jun to sign their Hot Wheels, posters, and car parts (someone brought an entire dashboard) fans were treated to a preview of upcoming Hot Wheels cars, including the Truck series Datsun 620, Heritage series Kenmeri Skyline, Fairlady Z, the aforementioned Mazda RX-3, and KDay 510 Wagon, and next year’s 180SX.
As that was happening racing legend John Morton stopped by, decked out in his finest Z-themed Hawaiian shirt. The JNC booth was at risk of getting shut down by the fire marshals for a moment, but we wouldn’t have it any other way and offer a big domo arigato gozaimasu to everyone who came by and said hi.
To be continued…
We’ll have more JCCS 2015 coverage coming up. In the meantime, in case you missed it, here’s coverage from last year’s show.