Japanese automakers seem to have a newfound passion for their heritage. In the past six months, Nissan, Mazda and Honda have all announced programs aimed at restoring iconic models. We’re not sure if the Automobile Council show has anything to do with it, but the unique event focuses on marque history and model lineage, and more importantly, has managed to gain support from major automakers both foreign and domestic.
Now in its second year, Automobile Council is growing at a good pace. The atmosphere is inviting to both enthusiasts and regular folks, and has the feeling of an art museum.
Unlike a regular auto show, where a company might fill its space with every model it makes, here only select models are featured to showcase the carmaker’s finest. The displays are carefully curated to tell a story about each company’s philosophy.
Honda’s booth was all about the NSX. From a pristine NA1 to a gleaming 2002 NSX-R, Honda was represented in force with its original supercar. Honda obviously wanted to draw a connection to the new NSX, a pair of which flanked the classic ones.
The very blue Subaru display showed the company’s evolution from purveyors of utilitarian kei cars to makers of blistering rally machines. A very early Subaru 360 seemed worlds apart from a modern WRX STI, but the lineage is there.
A Subaru 1000 represented the origins of the boxer engine layout that Subarus carry over to this day. The theme was a low center of gravity design, which has been a core philosophy of Subaru’s since the 1960s.
Toyota’s booth highlighted the company’s decades-long research into hybrid technology. It was a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Toyota Prius, exhibiting the first-gen NHW10 and the latest Prius PHEV (known as the Prius Prime in the US).
While the showcase may seem antithetical to petrol heads, there are actual hybrid car enthusiasts in Japan. No matter what you think of the Prius, it did pioneer and popularize hybrid technology throughout the world. The display may have been a great joy for Prius fans.
There was even an exhibit of the power control unit and battery packs of all the Prius generations, as well as scale models and color samples used in the car’s design. By the way, in Japan first-gen Prius batteries still have a lifetime warranty.
Toyota had begun research into hybrid technologies back in the late 1960s. The engine of choice was a steampunk-looking gas turbine mated to a generator. One of the early full prototype cars was the Toyota Sports 800 Gas Turbine Hybrid, which was unveiled at the 1977 Tokyo Motor Show. Though the hybrid Sports 800 didn’t make it into production, research into gas turbine hybrids continued until 1983.
Nissan’s theme was “Cutting Edge Design,” and as such it showed eight decades of the company’s automotive styling, starting with a 1935 Datsun Type 14 Roadster.
The Type 14 was penned by famed Japanese industrial designer and artist Ryuichi Tomiya. Tomiya also designed the datto leaping hare hood ornament and illustrated many of Nissan’s early brochures and advertising.
The 1962 Prince Skyline Sport was created to be a high-end luxury coupe, and the company commissioned Giovanni Michelotti to pen its lines. Having such a famed designer, who had worked on everything from BMWs to Ferraris was a big deal back then, and marked the first time a Japanese automaker collaborated with an Italian design studio.
Each one was hand-made, and at ¥1.85 million the price was equal to three everyman Nissan Bluebirds. Few could afford it, and as a result only about 60 were built.
Here is a very small easter egg that few have noticed. The rear view mirror has the Olympic rings etched into the back. According to the Nissan representative at the booth, this was because the most recent Summer Olympics — which was a big and very prestigious deal back then — of 1960 was set in Rome. Of course, the next one would be held in 1964 in Tokyo, kicking off a wave of technological development that would catapult Japan into modernity. The rings are an inside joke, a symbol of the gap between Italy and Japan being bridged.
Nearby, Nissan had vending machines dispensing pins commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Skyline.
The first Nissan Sylvia was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in the autumn of 1964. The hand built sports coupe was designed by Kazuo Kimura and is said to have been “characterized by a surface configuration like cut crystal.”
The Nissan V-Motion 2.0 Concept signals the future of Nissan design. We saw it unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year, where designers told us a Bluebird easter egg was hidden in it.
To be continued…
We will have more coverage from Automobile Council 2017, but in the meantime, in case you missed it, check out Automobile Council 2016.