Even in the 15th year of the wonderful and ever-growing Japanese Classic Car Show in Long Beach, California, after so many iterations, there are still new things for the casual Japanese car enthusiast to discover. The phyla of Japanese cars is nothing if not vast, and we’re not talking rare, never-sold-here slabs of Nihon steel (though there is plenty of that too). There are plenty of delightful specimens to be found simply among old, US-spec machines lost to history and memory.
Where else, for example, can you see two captive import Mitsubishi Galant Lambdas (well, except for that there were three first-gen examples at JCCS). This time, the gathering of Galants consisted 100 percent of second-generation cars, badged as Dodge Challengers (we Toyotaku know how you feel, Mopar fans). Our friend Brad DeSantis brought the two-tone black and silver Dodge Challenger (lead photo) all the way from Massachusetts, and owner David Acero took home 2nd place in the Best Mitsubishi category with his 1982 black beauty.
Patrick Chua’s 1974 Dodge Colt had a claimed 12,900 miles on the odometer. Perhaps the well-patina’d second-generation Mitsubishi Galant was a barn find. It still wore its six-digit California blue plates indicating a rust-free life in the California sun.
Taking home a well-deserved first place in the Best Mitsubishi category was Romeo Genilo’s 1978 Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste. Look closely at the converted US-spec Plymouth Arrow and remnants of its Pentastar past reveal themselves — and Edelbrock air cleaner, custom high-rise headers, and a ChryCo NuPrep sticker on the rear pop-out windows.
From the era of peak Mitsubishi hailed a beautiful Galant VR-4. Mitsubishi built only 5,000 of the the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive rally homologation sedan, with 3,000 destined for the US. Few remain in show-worthy condition, and it proved an excellent Bubble Era bookend to the Mitsubishi display.
Orphaned marque cars included Ryan Glass’s 1988 Daihatsu Charade. Daihatsu deserves credit as the Japanese carmaker with the shortest-lived stint in the US market, from 1988 to 1992. Its 993cc, 3-cylinder engine was good for 53 horsepower. The Charade weighed just 1,775 pounds, returning 38 mpg in the city and 42 on the highway, and we cannot tell you how heartwarming it is to know that someone has so enthusiastically preserved one.
The show was also graced by a pair of gleaming white Isuzu Impulse Turbos. Francisco Guerrero’s (foreground) is a rare, 1987-only RS Limited Edition, quite possibly the same one once owned by friend of JNC Bart Wilkus. His had approximately 65,000 miles when he sold it in 2015; the car shown had 69,000 original miles.
The second Impulse belonged to Jeff Shein, a former Isuzu employee of 35 years. Jeff took home a prize for his 1986 model, which he purchased new and has clocked 118,000 miles with. According to the window sticker, it cost just over $15,000 retail, but the employee discount of dealer cost came in at $12,000 and change. Apparently Joe Isuzu was a hell of a salesman.
Not all the rare cars came from Japan’s lesser known marques. There have only been a handful of Datsun 710s in the entire history of JCCS, lost in a sea of 510s. Ezra Chavarin’s blue-plate 1974 is the most original we’ve seen, grandma-spec with with US safety bumpers and a 3-speed automatic attached to its L18. Having had just two owners in its lifetime, it has logged 135,000 miles.
Another rare Nissan, Ericson Salmo’s 1979 Datsun 310 hails from the era of confusingly named Nissans. Technically an N10 Nissan Cherry or Pulsar (depending on market), the example shown was perhaps the most original specimen in the country. It is said to have just 9,000 miles and based on the crispness of the red interior, the claim tracks. Oddly, it wears both door and fender mirrors, the latter the only non-stock item which was said to have been installed by the dealer at the original owner’s request when new. It received third prize in the Datsun 60s & 70s class.
From Hiroshima hailed an all-original 1979 Mazda 626. Owner Brian Rose says it still has the new car smell inside, and we have no reason to doubt it. Equipped with a 2.0-liter piston inline-four, these early Capellas were rear-wheel-drive, and if our sources are right it is a format Mazda will soon be returning to. It is no surprise that this car won the Best Classic Mazda award.
The first-generation Mazda Luce was the company’s first attempt at a premium sedan. According to owner Jaime Cabral, only 1,058 were imported into the US, making them extremely rare finds in this day and age. Developed prior to the birth of Mazda’s rotary engine, it came equipped with inline-fours of the 1.5- and 1.8-liter variety. This example’s original 1.8 has been replaced with a 13B, likely because parts for the four are impossible to find, but also because Mazdafarians are obsessed with rotaries to an unhealthy degree.
We will admit this KP30 Toyota 1000 is a bit of a cheat, since it wasn’t officially sold in the US. However, it is a rare export edition of what was known as the Toyota Publica in Japan. Hector Sanchez’s left-hand-drive, door-mirrored example is so untouched, it is claimed to have not only the original paint, but tires and fluids as well.
Only a few BRATs have ever appeared at JCCS, and Steven Barsotti was the sole owner this year. The 1986 model is said to have had its EA81 engine modified with an oval-port cylinder head available only on Japanese-market cars.
Rare Subarus included Mark Pobanz’s pair of two-stroke 360cc kei jidosha. The two-tone 1970 Sambar is said to have been purchased from the original owner of 40 years, who used it, somewhat astoundingly, as a daily driver. Mark says he has achieved both 70 mph on the freeway and hauled five adults in it, though probably not simultaneously.
The Subaru 360 Yacht was created by Subaru importer Malcolm Bricklin. It was named so because the idea was to carry one on your actual yacht, so that when your vessel docked, you could still have a car to drive around in. Unsurprisingly, as the story goes, Bricklin commissioned a shop to modify twelve stock Subaru 360s into Yachts, but never actually paid up. The builder sold them all, so while it is very rare, it was also never an official Subaru product.
Last but not least, David Barnblatt’s all-original 1997 Subaru SVX is one of the best examples we’ve seen. It also happens to be a rarely seen 559 Brilliant Red paint color.
These days, a sighting of any one of these cars, whether in the wild or at a show, is extremely difficult to come by. To have them all gathered in on one lawn is something only a show like JCCS can offer. For the next installment, we’ll cover cars with steering wheels on the right.
To be continued…
Yes. Frankly, I’m tired of seeing fake SR5 TE27 Corollas, a million slammed JZA80 Supras, and the countless GT-Rs. Let’s hear it for the unsung heroes of the Japanese car industry, the bread and butter cars that keeps these great companies in business.
Kinda on the same train. I love seeing the sports cars everyone hypes the Japanese car scene on, but there’s beauty in the mundane. That being said, I am stoked to see what the rest of the show had.
Even the ’74 Colt’s use of non-original but period-correct Ford Pinto hubcaps is a great touch. I’ve seen Pinto wheelcovers on all kinds of small cars back in the day, knockoffs must’ve been cheaply available at parts stores.
I agree. I never knew some of them existed so it was a real treat!
Had a Mazda 626 just like the one pictured, even down to the color. It was an upgrade from our little Mazda GLC, which served us well. But the 626 was in a different class altogether.
Soo many cool cars!!
You want rare US domestic market vehicles. My 1967 RL411 was one of about 4400 imported into North America and the only one at JCCS.
And it was as original as possible after 52 years.
Ah somebody’s sad no one cared about his car
That Subie SVX!
on a related note, as the price of 2dr Hakos continues to skyrocket, owners might want to consider oem restorations rather than the ubiquitous gt-r or tuner look
I owned a 1980 Datsun 310GX. Most were just little economy cars that got trashed. I never thought I would see one winning awards at a car show. Kudos to the owner!
Thank you sir
Re: Luce/Mazda 1800, will confirm mechanical parts for the original 1.8 are NLA. I could barely buy spark plugs for mine, nevermind any other service part. And when the auto trans locked up, yeah. 🙁
I do wonder what happened to it. 🙁 Was a sharp wagon.