Each year the Japanese Classic Car Association celebrates a different featured marque at the New Year Meeting. Cars belonging to the featured marque are gathered for a concours d’elegance competition with awards voted on by judges from various Japanese automotive publications. However, for 2017 the spotlight was shared by two automakers, Isuzu and Hino. Perhaps the JCCA felt that the rarity of these two nameplates required dual spotlights, but that fear was unwarranted.
An astounding 39 Isuzus and Hinos showed up, which must have broken a record that no one was keeping track of. Even in Japan, it’s considered critical mass if either marque reaches double digits at a car show. Here, they outnumbered the Mitsubishis and Mazdas.
The Grand Prize winner was a 1959 Hino-Renault 4CV belonging to a Mr Ito. Built in Japan under license starting in 1953, they continued to be produced until 1963, two years after Renault had stopped building them in France.
It’s an infrequent sight to be sure, but what makes this particular car truly special is its single-digit license plate. That’s because Ito-san, who is well into his seventies, inherited the car from his father, who purchased it new 58 years ago. Judges cited the family history and condition when awarding Ito-san the trophy.
Nearby, a 1966 Hino Contessa 1300S also had a single-digit plate, but it was quite a bit newer, having also been stamped with location kanji and an additional hiragana character. It was equipped with a racing gauges and a beautiful Nardi indicating that perhaps there was more than met the eye.
In a special display area, Isuzu brought two vehicles from the company’s own collection. Representing the passenger car side of the business was a yellow 1975 Gemini LT, a global model that wore many badges dependent on its country of sale (in the US it was a Buick Opel). From the commercial side was a 1964 Elf, the first generation of Isuzu’s popular and long-running cab-over-engine truck.
Plenty of Belletts turned up, ranging from a several twin-cam 1600 GT Type-R models to a very scarce 1500 DX sedan with a “type B” leaf suspension in gray. The latter, having been a low-end model, were not as frequently preserved as the high-performance ones and are ironically much rarer today. This particular example was bought as junk by Mr Uno, who painstakingly tracked own every rare bit of trim unique to the 1500 DX. It wasn’t for nought; Uno-san’s efforts garnered him the Restoration Award.
Of course, there were a number of Isuzu 117 Coupés, the Giugiaro-penned beauty that could be the next blue chip JNC. A blue dai ni-ki (second phase) example was particularly fetching on black BBS wheels.
Perhaps even more impressive was the presence of several early hand-built dai ichi-ki (first phase) examples. Only a scant 2,458 of the highly sought-after models were built.
The Elegance Award went to Mr Asai’s hand-built 1969 117 Coupé. It looks like a museum piece, but Asai-san drives it every week and appears to keep it in top running condition.
All Isuzus are rare, but one of the rarest was an Isuzu Florian SII 2000TL diesel owned by a Mr Okamoto. The Florian was never considered very well-engineered even when new, but its long production run from 1967-83 meant that by the end of its life it was beyond obsolete. That’s why examples like Okamoto-san’s 1981 model are so uncommon. For reasons unknown, Okamoto-san owns several Florians but drove this one to Tokyo all the way from Okayama Prefecture, some 400 miles away. At least he won a Best Saloon award for his troubles.
For the performance-minded, a pair of factory hot-rod “Double Z” models held court, a silver Gemini ZZ/T and blue Gemini ZZ/R. Both came with larger DOHC 1.8-liter engines, but the ZZ/R in particular was built with privateer racers in mind and came with teeth-shattering suspensions.
Since we are talking about marques that always had large trucks as their core business, it seems unfair to focus solely on passenger cars. Thus, we end with an Isuzu TWD 6×6 done up in the manner of a JDSF carrier. It seems absolutely bananas to own a vehicle this large in Japan, but the heart wants what it wants. There’s certainly no shortage of Isuzus to choose from.
To be continued…
We’ll have more New Year Meeting coverage coming up. In the meantime, in case you missed it, here’s Part 01 – Swap Meet and Part 02 – Club Scene. Also, check out coverage from the 2016, 2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 New Year Meetings.