It has been a banner year for Nihon steel at Monterey Car Week. The annual series of ultra-prestigious automotive events have traditionally excluded Japanese cars, but 2018 saw, for example, Nissan become the first carmaker from Japan to be honored as a featured marque at the Motorsports Reunion at Laguna Seca. On the southern end of the peninsula, upscale sibling Infiniti held an event of a different sort, bringing the first-ever Japanese car show to Pebble Beach.
To be clear, the show wasn’t actually inside the swank Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance. That shindig is still very much reserved for Ruxtons, Voisins, and Hispano-Suizas. The inaugural Japanese Automotive Invitational was, shall we say, Concours adjacent –technically located in the community of Pebble Beach, California, but in reality a good 10 minute walk from the edge of the exclusive show.
If it wasn’t a true showing of Japanese steel at the famed gathering of classics, then what was it? In fact, it was a bit of a marketing stunt by Motor Trend for Infiniti, an event designed to attract eyeballs to Nissan’s luxury brand. So while the event didn’t arise organically for the purposes of showcasing the rich history of Japanese cars, Infiniti should be commended for their willingness to welcome cars from rival companies into their exhibit.
Toyota, Lexus, Honda and Subaru all lent cars from their own collections to the cause. Funnily enough, no Nissan- or Datsun-branded cars came from HQ because they were all at Laguna Seca. The majority of the Nissans, along with a range of JDM cars never sold stateside, came from private owners.
The assemblage was a pretty good primer on Japanese motoring. Naturally, blue chip classics like the Nissan Fairlady Z432, Mazda Cosmo Sport, and Toyota 2000GT were represented. In particular, the latter was the long lost second car built for the movie You Only Live Twice, felt freshly restored and owned by 2000GT Club president Takeshi Moroi. JDM Legends brought a Safari Gold Hakosuka GT-R. We suppose you could lump the Acura NSX in there too.
Sixties sportsters like the Fairlady Roadster 1500, Toyota Sports 800, and Isuzu Bellett GT-R offered a glimpse into of Japan’s earliest enthusiast cars.
As expected, the gallery also included a spectrum of Japan’s enduring class of super-compact kei cars. They spanned decades and buddy styles, from a Subaru Sambar pickup to a Mazda R360 to an Autozam AZ-1.
A herd of trucks told another part of the Japanese auto industry’s story, that its rise was thanks to workhorses as well. The 4WD beasts of burden included a 1972 Suzuki Jimny, FJ40 Toyota Land Cruiser, and Nissan Patrol.
Subaru of America brought a 1969 360 Deluxe and a 1978 BRAT all the way from their New Jersey headquarters. Toyota USA shipped out a 1989 Lexus LS 400 prototype and a Eagle IMSA GTP race car. Honda of America lent their Serial One N600 and Civic CVCC to the festivities. It was a rare showing of solidarity among rival firms.
Of course, it was Infiniti’s party and so its own display took center stage. The family portrait included top-spec versions of their early cars, including a Q45 Touring (the very one we drove on the occasion of its 25th anniversary), J30 Touring, and M30. The FX, oddly enough, was an FX35 rather than an FX45, and in the wrong shade of A50 Autumn Copper instead of the model’s trademark R12 Liquid Copper.
A private collector added some much-needed JDM spice to the show with one of the most interesting specimens, a 1974 Cherry X-1R, but it almost didn’t happen. He told us that he had several cars that Infiniti really wanted — namely, the Mitsubishi Galant GTO, Autozam and Bellett — and agreed to lend them only on the condition that the Cherry also be included.
The title of most unexpected car to show up on US shores went to the Dome Zero. The wild concept wedge came on loan from the Dome Museum in Japan.
Infiniti’s own concepts, including the classic race car-inspired Prototype 9, fit right in. The imagined 1940s Grand Prix racer debuted at Pebble Beach’s annual Concept Lawn display last year.
Sprinkle a few 90s icons in the mix — R32 and R34 Skyline GT-Rs, a couple of Pike cars, a DA Acura Integra GS-R, and first-gen Legend coupe — and it was a decent cross-section of important Japanese cars.
The show wasn’t without its gaps. The absence of cars like the Honda S800, first-generation Toyota Celica, and FD Mazda RX-7 was noticeable, but considering that the event came together in an irresponsibly short amount of time, the result was laudable. Plus, it gives them opportunities to change it up in future events.
As far as we know, the official Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance has yet to admit a Japanese car. In 2014 when a 1954 Ferrari 375 MM coupe won Best of Show, it was the first post-war car in 46 years to have been awarded the grand prize. And a car that would’ve been a headliner at any other show, the win was considered controversial. So while Japanese cars aren’t welcome behind the velvet ropes yet, perhaps this event, even if it’s not in the PBCD’E proper, will nudge the gatekeepers in the right direction.