It is with a heavy heart that we bring you this report on 2019’s New Year Meeting, held on the fourth weekend of January, for it is also the very last New Year Meeting. period. Twelve years ago, JNC became the first English-language outlet to cover what was then the biggest classic car show in Japan, and it became a guiding light for us, at once an introduction and immersion into the wide world of nostalgic cars. Now, after more than 40 New Years, the Meeting has adjourned.
The reason for its closure is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which will result in many new buildings taking over Odaiba, the man-made island reclaimed from the waters of Tokyo Bay on which the New Year Meeting is held. Odaiba is also the venue for many other car shows, including rounds of the D1GP, who will also have to find new homes.
However, for the Japan Classic Car Association, who organizes the New Year Meeting, it was an opportunity to reevaluate the show, and whether it should continue. The answer, in this case, was no.
The final meeting kept the same format the show had maintained in the dozen years we’ve been attending. Cars up to 1979 were allowed in the general show area; while the club parking area allowed cars up to 1989.
Ticket prices remained eminently reasonable, costing just ¥900 ($8 USD) if purchased in advance, or just ¥1,000 ($9 USD) at the door. Children of elementary school age and below could enter for free. The JCCA said before the event, “We hope you’ll join us for the last New Year Meeting. We’re hoping for a lot of participation and visitors.” It would be one last hurrah.
Instead, the show was kind of a bust. There were at least 50 percent fewer cars than in years past. At its peak, there would be over 400 cars on display. Sadly, the drop in attendance was kind of expected. In recent iterations, the participation had slowly begun to dwindle, attracting the same regulars year after year. But even then, the regulars began to disappear as they got older.
At the same time, there’s been somewhat of a renaissance in classic cars, and there are now many specialized shows, regional shows, marque-specific shows, and shows sponsored by big-name magazines. As such, an all-inclusive show seems almost redundant.
Still, it was a privilege to have one last chance to make the rounds, and see gems like a Honda S600 monoposto in Gitanes livery at the Honda Twin-Cam Club display. The driver’s roster gives a shout-out owner Naoki Ikeda but also to Ronnie Bucknum, the American driver who piloted Honda’s first F1 car in 1964.
The Mazda Rotary Club showed up with an aggressively louvered RX-7 reminiscent of the long-lost Le Mans racer that was recently rediscovered.
The TE27 contingent was well represented, with several examples of Corolla Levins and Sprinter Truenos. One even wore two-digit Shinagawa tags, indicating continuous residency in one of Tokyo’s most elite districts, since the car was new.
Rare classic Toyota sightings included the Wizard TE55, a familiar sight but a welcome one, and probably one of the finest second-generation Corolla Levins in all of Japan, as well as a second-generation Publica.
Nissan Sunnys always attend in strong numbers, whether it’s a B310-generation van or the sporty B110-genreation coupe. Either one would be a rare sight in the US, but in this case the coupe is wedged between two even rarer vehicles — a Prince Miler pickup and first-generation Mitsubishi Colt Galant.
Of course, no gathering of Sunnys would be complete with a few TS Cup cars. Typically run with Tomei-built A-series motors, these cars still enjoy a popular vintage racing series today and are a New Year Meeting staple.
This two-tone Honda Life Pickup has been a New Year Meeting regular for years. With matching trailer crafted from another Life Pickup bed and AC Courréges wheels, it’s one of the most distinctive cars of the show.
The Cherry Car Club never fails to represent the funky Nissans of their namesake. This year the turnout consisted of an E10 X-1R coupe and a rare Cherry X-1 two-door sedan. The latter, owned by a very dedicated Mr Takeguchi, traveled all the way from Hiroshima every year, a 500-plus mile drive each way.
Z-cars ranged from a modern track machine to a typical 2000’s-era build to a somewhat uncommon Z31 2+2 Turbo from the ZZ Racing club.
Patina’d trucks are ever-present at the New Year Meeting as well, whether it be a sixth-gen Suzuki Carry kei truck or Sanitora. In the past we’ve seen everything from a Prince Clipper to a Mazda 3-wheeler. Collectors and restorers always manage to unearth an well-worn workhorse still wearing its scars.
The show also manages to draw out obscure kei-cars of every stripe. This year, the most unusual included a rare Mazda Porter pickup and a souped-up Subaru R2.
Not all the cars on display are pristine. A pair of rusty Toyotas included rat-rod style S40 Crown and a perhaps less intentionally oxidized Celica Liftback.
There’s always at least one guy that has to be offbeat, and this year that award definitely goes to a kenmeri Skyline wagon with a funny car rake, Starsky and Hutch stripe, and an airbrushed image of itself on its massive C-pillar.
Despite their influential part in Japan’s motoring history, barikan Coronas don’t get enough recognition at classic car shows. This time, however, there were two of the rarest variants, an RT55 1600GT and a an early Corona Pickup.
No New Year Meeting would be complete without at least one group of owners dedicated on one arcane nameplate coming out in numbers. Often, that’s the Mitsubishi Galant GTO owners group, or Nissan Leopard F31 club, but this year that honor when to a faction of Isuzu Gemini owners.
Without a doubt the car with the most constant appearances are the Nissan Skylines. One can always count on Japan’s most beloved car make a powerful showing, and for those visiting from outside Japan they are almost always the most impressive.
However, even with the Skyline contingent, we ended the day with a bittersweet feeling. It seemed as if the fortunes for the New Year Meeting had already shifted. Even without the arrival of the Tokyo Olympics next year, it seemed unlikely the show would have the momentum to continue much longer. We thought owners would come out en force for the last show, but instead the New Year Meeting just faded away.
To be continued…