After 42 years, the New Year Meeting, once the biggest classic car show in Japan, is no more. The Odaiba venue where the event is held will soon be bulldozed, making way for the future. We’ve covered New Year Meetings for 12 years on JNC, and to us it feels like the end of an era. And it truly is, in more ways than one.
Yes, there are many other cars shows in Japan to get your nostalgic car fix. There are marque-specific meets, USDM events, stanced car shows, and so on. But, the New Year Meeting was one of the few places where you could see a truly diverse gathering of 1960s cars from the dawn of Japan’s golden era.
In 1964, the Summer Olympics came to Japan for the first time. It was a huge honor for a country that was still rising from the ashes of World War II. None of the things we associate with modern Japan — electronics, anime and game culture, cars — had established themselves as world class yet. Much of the world still saw the island nation as warlike and agricultural, and if anything was “Made in Japan” it was seen as cheap and of dubious quality.
The Olympics were a chance for Japan to prove itself on the world stage. With representatives from around the globe arriving en masse, Japan went all-out to showcase its modernity, building its first expressway, developing the bullet train, and broadcasting the games worldwide. For most residents of planet Earth, it was the first time they had seen live TV from Japan.
Around this time, Japan was just getting into the carmaking groove. Cars like the Honda S800 and CSP311 Nissan Silvia were debuting, hinting that Japan was on the cusp of something grand. And it is from this era that the first true Japanese classics have emerged.
The first New Year Meeting was held in 1977, when such cars — including the soon-to-debut Toyota 2000GT, Mazda Cosmo Sport, and Nissan Skyline GT-R — were still young, about as old as a an NC Miata is today.
The first few New Year Meetings were held at Meiji Jingu Gaien, a large park and museum grounds in the middle of Tokyo. Then it moved indoors to Pacifico Yokohama, a convention center where events are still held today. Its third venue is where the show was held until this year, Aomi Parking Lot on Odaiba, the man-made island in the middle of Tokyo Bay.
And now, after 42 years, the final New Year Meeting has been held. We will truly miss all the Showa Era gems that come out of the woodwork. Though there are more shows these days, few have the diversity and range of the New Year Meeting.
Where else, for instance, can you find a lineup of 30-series Nissan Cedrics, perfectly preserved in both 1:1 scale and tin toy form?
The Honda Twin-Cam Club are regulars at the New Year Meeting, always bringing out a legion of high-revving roadsters. Now we’ll have to go to S-car gatherings to see a lineup like this.
You can always count on the NYM for a lineup of the earliest Toyotas — zippy Publicas, stately Crowns, and even taxi-spec Coronas.
If you’re in Japan and you must see a Hino Contessa, they New Year Meeting is the only gathering where you can always reliably find one.
Due to its location within Tokyo proper, the New Year Meeting attracts all sorts of interesting cars from the well-to-do areas near the city center. Take, for example, an Adachi Ward-registered, impeccable 411 Bluebird wagon with a two-digit plate indicating long-term registration. It seems to have even received a second act as a cool, slightly lowered cruiser.
Despite the low turnout of the final show, there was no shortage of Skylines, including a two-digit plated short-nose Prince from the coastal city of Numazu. In 1964, the Skyline altered the course of Japan’s automotive history.
By the mid-1960s, Japan’s economy was booming, and more well-to-do families could graduate from kei cars to compacts. The B10 Nissan Sunny beat the E10 Toyota Corolla to market, but the latter offered slightly better performance. It’s 1.1-liter engine was used in marketing to tout its superiority over the Sunny, hence this car’s “1100” license plate. Both proved tremendously popular and the two became fierce rivals in the marketplace.
This rate of innovation in this period was unmatched. It’s hard to believe, but just a few short years later, Japan would produce world-class sports sedans like the 510 Bluebird.
Of course, most budget-conscious buyers at the time were still driving kei jidosha like the Mitsubishi Minica, which spawned cargo van and sporty coupe configurations, and today still bring many feelings of nostalgia.
There was even a Minica Skipper, also known as the “petit GTO” for for a sporty design inspired by its big brother, the Galant GTO.
Just because kei cars were inexpensive doesn’t mean they aren’t beloved. The Honda N360 Enjoy Club was established in 1983, just a little over 10 years after the the car was discontinued, and is still active to this day.
There were even extremely rare kei cars like a Mazda Porter Van. Parts for such a car can’t be easy to come by.
Kei cars like this bright yellow Daihatsu Fellow Max are also subject of laborious restorations as good as you’ll find on any Z-car.
The L37 Fellow appeared in 1966 as Daihatsu’s first kei car, and despite its affordable and humble origins, was fairly advanced for its time, boasting a four-wheel independent suspension.
On the other side of the spectrum, the New Year Meeting will often unearth rare commercial vehicles as well. When was the last time you saw an A320 Nissan Cabstar 1500, much less one this clean?
Most workhorses are heavily used and thus found with a considerable amount of patina. And yes, the beloved Hakosuka Skyline was also a commercial van.
Then there are incredible NYM carcheological finds, like a single-digit registration Prince Clipper from Ibaraki Prefecture, patina’d but still amazingly complete and in impressive shape for a large work truck.
For the final New Year Meeting, the SP/SR Owners Club of Fairlady Roadsters brought all the way from Fukuoka Prefecture an ex-SCCA D-Production race car. The origins of the car are a bit hazy, but we think the LHD machine was brought back to Japan 15-20 years ago. Driver names on the door read Randy Barsotti and Taka Fuchigami. The car was one of five that won a special recognition award for significant cars.
The Datsun B210 was largely dismissed in the US as a weird-looking economy car, but at the NYM, a B210 Sunny Excellent GX 5-speed can be a beloved machine preserved in all its glory.
Though the New Year Meeting has a cutoff of 1979, the Club displays extend up to 1989. As such, you’ll even see cars like a well-preserved BD Mazda Familia 1500 XE, still-kickin’ N10 Nissan Pulsar 1500, or adventure-ready Subaru Domingo 4WD van.
More modern Hondas see some representation as well, with well-preserved EF Civic and CRX Si models.
There’s even a group called 4 Manuals for cars like the Honda Today. Club Motto: “We are 4-speed manual shift lovers”!
Club US110 is devoted to the Silvia S110 chassis and can always be counted on to bring a few examples the Nissan 240RS, the radical Group B homologation specials.
And finally, like the New Year Meeting itself, there are cars that spanned the multiple decades, such as the Isuzu 117. From early, hand-built models in 1968 to square-headlight models that ended production in 1981, the graceful design had staying power.
The New Year Meeting was founded by Shingo Suzuki, who also established the Tokyo Automobile Club and the Japanese Classic Car Association. Back in 1977, restoring classic cars as a hobby was not yet popular in Japan. This is understandable, as most people’s car ownership experiences were still in recent memory. The New Year Meeting was founded to increase the idea that cars should be preserved and cared for.
At the beginning of this year’s event, Oka Masayuki, the current JCCA president, said, “Nowadays, every week, classic car events are held in various places across Japan, which means that the main purpose of this event, the popularization of classic cars as hobbies, has been achieved.” It was a fitting send-off to an event that has been so pivotal in defining the classic car genre in Japan.
The biggest irony of all, perhaps, is that the New Year Meeting is ending because of the 2020 Olympics, which will take over its venue and demolish it for construction of new facilities. Yes, the exact same event that got Japanese citizens on the roads back then, inspiring several generations of car enthusiasts, enough to establish a show focused on the restoration and preservation of such cars. And in the end, half a century later, the Olympics will also put an end to the New Year Meeting that it helped create.