Known as the world’s first mass-produced compact 4WD car, the Kurogane Type 95 began production in 1936. Only six are known to have survived, but three years ago a seventh one was discovered in a Kyoto auto repair shop, where it had sat for 60 years. This fall, it was finally restored.
Nicknamed the Yonki (meaning “quad-force,” a reference to its 4WD), it was developed by the Japanese army for use in unpaved regions of the world. It was classified as a compact, capable of holding three passengers in a 2+1 configuration, but unlike the Subarus and Mitsubishis that would follow the same formula decades later, it was used primarily for slow, deliberate tasks such as reconnaissance and transport.
Powered by a two-cylinder air-cooled twin of displacements varying from 1.2 to 1.4 liters, it had no weaponry or armor to speak of. An independent double-wishbone comprised the front suspension, while the rear was supported by leaf springs.
Prior to the Type-95, Kurogane — quite possibly the meanest marque ever, as kurogane literally means “black metal” — was primarily known for its tractors and three-wheeled half-motorcycle, half-pickup trucks.
Exact production numbers are hard to come by — NHK claims 4,700 while the Asahi Shimbun says 4,800. Three years ago, a 1938 model was discovered in Yuzu Nagata’s auto repair shop in Kyoto. Nagata remembers his father, who founded the shop, purchasing it in the 1950s and the shop’s staff tooling around in it. But in the 60 years since, the car had fallen into a state of disrepair.
That’s when Masahiko Kobayashi, a director of an association seeking to open a military technology museum in Japan, got in touch with Nagata. Nagata donated the car to Kobayashi’s association, but on the condition that it be restored for the museum and not re-sold. “More than anything,” Nagata told NHK news, “I want people to know that this unique automobile was made in Japan.”
Kobayashi then embarked on the three-year restoration process. About 70 percent of the parts were salvageable, but the rest had to be sourced from internet auctions or the Russian collector. Kobayashi told the Asahi Shimbun that he went to Moscow three times to get parts.
The rest of the restoration was an exercise in gathering photos and plans. Kobayashi told the paper, “It took me considerable time just to find out that the seats were brown.” Even then, they could not be restored and replicas had to be created.
Kobayashi had estimated about ¥10 million would be needed, but in the end the crowdfunding effort he headed raised ¥13.24 million (about $130,000 USD). Nagata was invited to the unveiling of the restored car, which NHK captured in a video you can watch on their site.
Predating the original Jeep and the VW Kubelwagen by four years, one can see why Kobayashi was eager to preserve a significant piece of Japanese automotive history. It is the only surviving example of the Kurogane Type 95 in Japan.
Thanks to Tom B. for the tip.