The Japan Automotive Hall of Fame has announced its 2021 inductees. Each year three vehicles representing milestones in the country’s auto industry are selected for the honor. This year, they include two cars from the Bubble Era and a classic motorcycle. The honorees are the original Toyota Celsior/Lexus LS400, Nissan Be-1, and Kawasaki K1.
The 1989 Toyota Celsior was chosen for its engineering goal of being a monumental luxury sedan that upset the traditional high-end market. Developed for the US where it spearheaded the new Lexus brand, its aim, says the Hall of Fame, was becoming the pinnacle of a personal luxury car. They describe it as “a historical masterpiece that guided the direction of Japanese luxury cars” and showed the world how advanced Japan’s engineering could be.
Introduced in 1987, the Nissan Be-1 pioneered the retro car craze long before cars like the Plymouth PT Cruiser, Volkswagen New Beetle, or BMW Mini Cooper. A concept was introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show two years prior, and its retro style received so much attention that Nissan put it into production based on that feedback. As such, it also blazed a trail for limited-run cars with a strong emphasis on design. Production was limited to 10,000 units and sold out immediately. The demand was so high Nissan had to institute a lottery system to determine buyers.
The Kawasaki Z1 debuted in 1972 to worldwide acclaim as a new addition to the supersport class. With class-defining power, the 900cc four-stroke four-cylinder bike broke several speed records and established Japan as a leader in motorcycle engineering. It’s as highly regarded in Japan as the Nissan Skyline GT-R, and Kawasaki created a retro version in 2017, kicking off a trend of vintage-style bikes from Japan’s Big Four motorcycle makers.
In addition to the cars, the Japan Automotive Hall of Fame also inducted significant individuals that have contributed to the industry.
This year inductees included Eiji Toyoda (left), who led Toyota Motor Corporation, first as President from 1967-81 and then as Chairman from 1981-94. During his tenure, Toyoda grew from a small company known mostly in Japan into a global juggernaut. At the start of his tenure Toyota was known for tiny compacts like the Publica and Corolla; by the end of it, it was known for the fourth-generation Supra and Lexus. His guidance helped not only Toyota, but Japan’s auto industry as a whole, achieve worldwide prominence.
Also inducted this year was Hisakazu Imaki (right), who served as President of Mazda from 2003-08 and as Chariman from 2006-10. Imaki is credited for overseeing the company during its 2008 split from Ford, which had owned a stake in the Hiroshima carmaker since the 1974 and a controlling interest since 1995. Under his leadership Mazda not only regained independence but was able to recover financially and rapidly transform itself, from a carmaker with an unremarkable and mostly platform-shared product line into one with top rankings in quality, safety, and design without sacrificing performance and driving dynamics.
Additional inductees included Yoshiki Mori, a lawyer and advocate for traffic accident victims, and Yasuhisa Nagayama a traffic psychology researcher.
Other awards included the Nissan Note Aura as Car of the Year, the Mercedes-Benz EQA as Import Car of the Year, Honda Vezel as Design of the Year and the Honda Legend (above), whose Level 3 autonomous driving function won Technology of the Year.
Images courtesy of Lexus, Nissan, Kawasaki, Toyota, Mazda, Honda.