The Japan Automotive Hall of Fame has announced the inductees that will honored in its Historic & Heritage Vehicles category. The vehicles chosen have each determined to have contributed to the development of Japan’s automobile industry and car culture, and are deemed worthy of preservation.
First up chronologically is the 1925 Otomo, considered by many to be the first Japanese car. Long time readers may recall that the 1917 Mitsubishi Type A preceded it by several years, but Mitsubishi built only 22 of the Type A, whereas about 250 Otomos were built. In addition, the Otomo was the first Japanese car to be exported, as a handful were reportedly sold in China.
Initially available with an air-cooled OHV 943cc four-cylinder making about 9 horsepower, by the time it ended its run in 1928 it was running a water-cooled 1.5-liter making about 20 horsepower. Sadly, none are known to have survived, but in 1999 a newly constructed example was created by the Toyota Automobile Museum and the National Museum of Nature and Science using left over parts and original plans.
The 1967 Nissan Bluebird 510 needs no introduction. The arrival of the popular compact was a watershed moment in Japanese automotive history. It represented a completely modern design that surpassed long-established brands in terms of relative performance and handling. Furthermore, it brought international rallying and road racing success to Nissan and, to a larger extent, Japan in general.
As such, it can be considered the first Japanese car to truly become a sales sensation in the West. The JAHoF selected the 510 for its cultural impact and its contributions to the global popularity of Japanese cars.
Introduced in 1982, the Mitsubishi Pajero was one of the earliest examples of an SUV, long before that term had been coined. It merged the off-road capabilities and utility of a truck with the comfort of a modern passenger car. It opened up a new market for 4x4s, according to the JAHoF, and established itself as a leader in the recreational off-road category.
In addition, in 1985 it became the first Japanese car to win the punishing Paris-Dakar Rally, a feat it repeated 11 more times. It still holds the record for most consecutive wins, a seven-year streak that lasted from 2001-07. The victories helped catapult the Pajero to legendary status in many markets, helping Mitsubishi sell 3.25 million examples in over 170 countries before production ended in 2021.
The Mazda 787B is finally accepted in to the Hall of Fame for its storied victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Winning the toughest endurance race on the planet is difficult enough, but Mazda sought to claim victory with a rotary engine in order to prove its defining technology on the world stage. By 1992 new FIA rules would block the rotary engine from competition and Mazda’s window was rapidly closing.
After years of attempts, Mazda finally took the checkered flag in the final year the rotary engine would be eligible. However, the 787B’s impact has long outlived even the rotary itself. The 787B’s quad-rotor wail and garish green-on-orange Renown livery makes it one of the most recognizable race cars of all time.
The JAHoF also selects one new car to bestow a Car of the Year award onto. This year that honor goes to the new Toyota Prius. The Prius was selected largely due to its excellent design, which manages to instantly transform four generations of exteriors, ranging from unspectacular to downright hideous, into a thing of beauty. Furthermore, the JAHoF says that the Prius boasts excellent comfort and a level of handling that is accessible to all people, and that it furthers hybrid and PHEV technology. The Prius is also the recipient of the JAHoF’s Design of the Year award.
Last but not least, the JAHoF’s Import Car of the Year goes to the Volkswagen ID.4, and the Technology of the Year goes to Subaru’s next-generation EyeSight safety system and its monocular camera.