When Toyota holds a car show in the middle of Tokyo’s equivalent of Central Park, people notice. In Part 01 of our Meiji Jingu Classic Car Festival coverage we had the rare opportunity to see the best of Japan’s historic icons in their natural environment, wending their way through the bustling capital city. Once the route was completed, each car pulled into the heart of Meiji Jingu Park, attracting massive crowds of car fiends and weekend strollers alike.
Soon we joined the throngs. It can be rather hard to capture the cars on film whilst simultaneously lunging into traffic during red lights, dodging Crown Comfort taxis, and generally feeling self-conscious about jaywalking (which on the Japanese rudeness scale lies somewhere between vandalism and setting your uncle on fire).
Looming over the show area was the Meiji Jingu Picture Gallery, a towering granite monolith housing 80 giant murals of Japan’s Meiji Era, a period of rapid modernization from 1868 to 1912. It was the at the tail end of this time when the first horseless carriages, led by the 1907 Takuri, began appearing on Japanese roads.
A special display with event partners Nissan and Hino showcased three unique cars from those marques. The first was a recently rebuilt replica of the Toyota Publica Sports concept unveiled at the 1962 Tokyo Motor Show. Take away the fighter jet canopy and it’s strongly reminiscent of what would be Toyota’s first sports car, the Sports 800. Next to it was the 1962 Hino Contessa 900 Sprint show car, resplendent in a beautiful bright teal and never put into production. Beside that, a 1960 Prince Skyline Sport, a rare Michelotti-designed coupe that cost about three times as much as a Bluebird when new.
The Toyota Automobile Museum hauled several vehicles from its own collection, located in Aichi Prefecture about four hours away. Though owned and operated by Toyota, the museum is a celebration of motoring history that includes such vehicles as a Studebaker Avanti, 1962 Ford Thunderbird and BMW Isetta.
Toyota has no shame about showing off the historic cars of its rivals, giving credit where it’s due. In traditional Japanese fashion, Toyota did the bragging for its competitors, saying that the 1964 Honda S500 attracted many young drivers with its “staggering performance for such a compact vehicle.” The 1965 Datsun 411 Bluebird was known for its monocoque body, uncommon at the time and a catchphrase that’s probably a bit more catchy in its original Japanese, “A runaway bestseller for grace and style.” Of the three-cylinder two-stroke 1968 Mitsubishi Colt 1000F, Toyota acknowledged Japan’s first fastback body style.
However, the grandest car from the museum was the 1965 Toyota Crown Eight, predecessor to the Century that would come two years later. Like the name implies, it’s powered by a V8, a rarity in mid-60s Japan, and came with advanced features like cruise control, power seats and automatic headlights. Part of the museum’s gift shop even made the journey, selling trinkets, candy and Toyota-themed instant curry.
Toyota opened the show to nearly 100 privately owned cars as well, and as expected a fair number of entrants were built of Aichi steel. Two of our favorites both hailed from the Corona family. The first was an army green Toyopet Corona Mark II GSL, rare even in Japan. Toyotaku know that this branch of the family tree eventually went on to become the Mark II (aka Cressida), and one can see how that model’s badge evolved from here. The older Corona, an early ’60s RT20, was not only immaculate in every detail, but came equipped with every conceivable option including lace curtains and a CHMSL that actually illuminates the word “STOP.”
The festival also gave us the largest number of pre-Nissan Prince automobiles we’ve ever seen gathered in one place, ranging from a coffin-black Gloria Super 6 to a Prince Clipper flat bed. Other rare specimens included a tailfinned first-gen Skyline Deluxe and an S50 Skyline Van in Prince service colors that’s quite famous in Japan. The unicorn plus ultra, however, was a gleaming red Prince Skyline Sport convertible, one of only 60 built.
The Toyota Automobile Museum is one of the most famous car galleries in Japan, and its sponsorship of the event lent a certain air of officialness to the proceedings. Shows like the New Year Meeting or Nostalgic2Days tend to attract modified cars, a different crowd than the preservationists we found at Meiji Jingu.
Some of the cars are so rare that even their respective automakers don’t even have one in their collections, and yet each one of these could have been in a museum. It was a good reminder that the hallowed corporate stockpiles aren’t the end-all be-all of the classic car world, and that in fact Tokyo is a city with history all around it. Sometimes you can even find it by taking a weekend walk through the park.
In case you missed it, check out Part 01, in which the cars took to the street.