The Sixties were a time of rapid growth and optimism for Japan. Automakers just built whatever they felt like with no cares given to what western markets would bear, and before the companies themselves settled into a comfortable pattern of four-year lifecycles. There is probably no better congregation of Post-War Miracle machinery available in the US than on the lawn at JCCS.
1960s Datsuns were utilitarian affairs compared to the sleek 510s, Zs, and Skylines the company would eventually be known for in the following decades. You won’t find SR20 swaps or slammed suspensions on these Datsuns, but they are cool nonetheless. Collectors tend to go bone stock, and when they do modify them they borrow from American or British styles.
Still, it was great to see cars like Brian Mueller’s 1964 Datsun PL312, a survivor that has just 49,000 original miles on its 1200cc OHV inline-four.
The 1962 Datsun 311 wagon was never sold in the US. They were, however, sold in Mexico, and this show is the first time we’ve seen one in person.
Nissan was still able to inject some fun into some models though, as Michael McDonald’s 1967 Datsun RL411 proves. Equipped with the R16 engine found in the Datsun Fairlady roadster, it was the first real Nissan sports sedan, and Michael’s is a superb example.
In the Toyota camp there was the barikan Corona, and owner Elf Gibbons brought a marvelous 1970 four-door with only 50,000 miles on the clock.
Robert New’s black-plate Corona Hardtop Coupe proves they can be sporty as well, just by adding some black Wats and the grille from a 1600GT.
Toyota soon decided that they could stretch the Corona with a longer body and straight-six, and the Mark II was born. David de Jager’s ur-Cressida was a rare and beautiful example of the breed.
As usual, it fell to Soichiro Honda to inject some pep into an otherwise unromantic segment. The Honda N- and Z-Series cars had all the high-revving zippiness the marque came to be known for, but in a small package on the affordable end of the spectrum.
Gerald Quist’s 1970 N600 was one of the finest examples we’d ever seen, restored to new condition with the help of Tim Mings. Every part looked to be either new old stock or completely refurbished, and not a single spot of discoloration could be found anywhere under the hood. Additionally, pale yellow with a burgundy interior is just a stunning color combo.
Of course, where Honda really shined was with its 10,000 rpm S-Series sports cars. Don Laughton’s left-hand-drive 1967 S800 was originally sold on the island of Okinawa, where cars were LHD until 1978.
Scott King brought not one but two magnificent examples, a 1965 S600 that’s undergone a ground-up restoration and a matching 1965 S600 Coupe that is believed to have been present at during Honda’s first Formula One victory at the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix.
It hardly mattered that Sixties Japanese cars were sized for narrow Tokyo streets dating back to pre-industrial eras. They were built for the home market and the sports cars were beloved by all. Toyota’s Sports 800 is an icon, and Scott Sylvester’s ’67 was a fantastic symbol of the era.
Japan wasn’t just building compact runabouts, though. Toyota had the gamut of sports car development covered with what is now a million-dollar-plus grand tourer. The 2000GT was an anything-is-possible shot across the bow of the motoring world, and it wasn’t until 2012’s Lexus LFA that they attempted anything similar.
Mazda’s world-class contender was the 1967 Cosmo Sport, a dazzling car that combined space age styling with a space age engine. The rotary would become the company’s calling card, and it all started here.
The Datsun Fairlady roadsters were perhaps the perfect Sixties sportsters, splitting the difference between the bantamweight Hondas and the lavish 2000GTs. Mike Sage’s silver-on-dark red 1967 Sports 1600 is a gorgeous, meticulously restored example, one of the finest there is. Ross Fredrickson’s red 1969 Sports 2000 has an new school SR20 swap, but impressively he’s the car’s original owner of 45 years.
Last but not least, Toyota’s FJ45 low-boy answers the question what would have happened if hot rodders had embraced early Japanese cars in the US. Built for the SEMA show in 2006 and powered by a 750hp Toyota NASCAR V8, it illustrates perfectly how vastly different American car culture was in the 1960s.