Ever since we founded JNC way back in late 2006, we’ve been waiting for this year. We knew it would be an important milestone, but this particular orbit around the sun has exceeded even our wildest expectations. Here’s why 2014 is the year of the JNC.
We’ve used the rolling 25-year rule for what constitutes an official Japanese nostalgic car since the beginning. Nowadays you can’t talk about Japanese cars without including chrome-bumpered Celicas and Skylines. Back when we started though, if you called yourself an enthusiast of Japanese cars people assumed you drove a “tuner” Integra or Eclipse. JNCers were in put in a separate camp where Corollas were cool and NOS didn’t mean a blue bottle in your trunk.
This year, however, several icons of the Tuner Era have finally crossed the 25-year threshold. Cars like the Mazda Miata, Z32 300ZX and R32 Skyline GT-R all debuted in 1989 and became dream machines for a whole generation of petrolheads. Now, entering nostalgic-dom, they’re bridging the gap between old and new school. 1989 was also the year J-tin became J-steel, when Japan set out to build the best luxury cars in the world and launched new marques Lexus and Infiniti to do so.
1989 is also a significant year in Japanese history because it marked the end of the Showa Era. These eras are defined by the birth and death of the emperor, though his role is purely symbolic, like Queen Elizabeth’s is for Britain. Still, the passing of the head of the royal family is still a line of demarcation in Japanese culture.
So, when Japanese talk about the Showa Era, it becomes a shorthand for the post-war period in which the country truly began to modernize. It was during this time that automobiles proliferated in earnest, thus becoming a symbol of the times. In 1960s Japan, a popular saying was that in order to be modern a family needed Three Cs: a color TV, cooler (air conditioner) and car. Even today, classic Japanese cars are still sometimes referred to in Showa years. For example, you might see a Toyota Crown’s year listed as S42. That stands for Showa 42, or 1967.
Coincidentally, 2014 is also the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, an event widely regarded as ushering Japan into both the modern age and the global community of nations. It is also the year Japan completed its first Shinkansen bullet train and first expressway.
We feel it’s a convenient cutoff, because Japanese cars of the 1990s are somewhat of a different breed. Automakers went all out building incredible world-class cars, but lost a bit of charm in the process. Don’t worry, JNC’s focus will still be on Showa Era cars even as we welcome newer ones into the fold.
In 2014 we also celebrated the 10th anniversary of the JCCS. What started in 2005 as a small gathering of like-minded enthusiasts has grown to a massive event that attracts visitors from all over the world. The organizers didn’t set out to coincide the show’s 10th anniversary with the Showa Era’s 25th. They didn’t even know if the show would last 10 years back then, but the momentum of the nostalgic car movement has carried it through a decade in the blink of an eye.
Those are the things we knew were coming. Then there were some things that we never could have predicted. For one, we never, ever imagined that the JNC inkan would appear on the most iconic of American toys, the Hot Wheels car. Though our partnership with Mattel began in 2011, the volume of classic cars in the Hot Wheels’ lineup reached peak capacity this year. Designer Jun Imai was in charge of it, and he told us back in 2013 that he crammed every JNC casting Mattel makes into the 2014 lineup.
And finally, we were as surprised as anyone that JNCs finally broke into the traditional collector car market at the Monterey Historics this year. Not only did the Toyota 2000GT hold onto its $1 million-plus price tag, but cars like the hakosuka Skyline GT-R and Mazda Cosmo Sport were introduced to the most traditional of traditional collectors, ones that back in 2006 turned their noses up at Japanese cars, and surpassed expectations at auction.
The year that 1989 “turned 25” has been something that’s on our minds for a long time. We knew it would be meaningful, but never in our wildest dreams could we have foreseen how far JNCs (and JNC itself) would come. There’s one month left in 2014. What will you do (or have you already done) to make the Year of the JNC special?