The ever-controversial Mitsuoka has released its latest concoction, taking the lines of a beloved classic and shoehorning it onto a modern chassis. In this case, the modern platform is that of a Honda Civic, but which classic is it? English media is saying this is an homage to the Dodge Challenger. In fact, it’s inspiration starts a little closer to home: the Kenmeri Skyline.
The confusion is understandable. Mitsuoka has made a decades-long business out of transforming easily sourced Japanese cars into tributes of European or American icons. The Mitsuoka Viewt turns a Nissan March or Toyota Yaris into a Jaguar saloon, the Rock Star converts a Miata into a Corvette Stingray, and the Buddy changes a Toyota RAV4 into a second-gen K5 Blazer. However, the M55 is the first time Mitsuoka has used a domestic Japanese classic as inspiration.
The M55 Concept was created to mark Mitsuoka’s 55th anniversary. “For our company, which was founded in 1968, the 1970s was an important era that laid the foundation for today’s business,” the Mitsuoka website declares. “At that time, there was a torrent of energy within us full of dreams and hopes.”
The car that in Japan defined the 1970s was the C110 “Kenmeri” Skyline, launched in 1972 at a time when private car ownership had finally reached maturity. A web of highways and byways had spread across Japan and the Kenmeri came to define road trip and car culture.
Remember, not all Kenmeris were GT-Rs — only 197 were — and most were plain old 2000GT or GT-X trims. The grille on the M55 resembles a modern Kia “tiger nose” grille but is probably as close as Mitsuoka could get to an early Skyline 2000GT without getting sued by Nissan.
At the rear the Mitsuoka once again sidles right up to the copyright infringement line without crossing it. The out-most circular taillight elements are tributes to the Kenmeri’s afterburners, but the in-board ones become trapezoids. The dark gray panel that surrounds the lights invokes the Kenmeri directly, with “Mitsuoka” spelled out across the center instead of “Skyline”. Capping off the stern is a ducktail spoiler inspired by the top-spec GT-R.
So why use the new Honda Civic as the base car? We don’t know for sure but we have a theory. First, the Civic’s profile, especially its sloping hatchback, is similar to that of the 2-door Kenmeri. Second, the Civic has a strong diagonal character line kicking up to the rear wheel that’s carried over unchanged, and it’s as reminiscent of the Skyline’s trademark “surf line” as one can get on a modern car.
Last but not least, if we look at the interior of the M55 we’ll find some custom seats with grommets down the center. These recall the Datsun Competition racing seats that were popular items for vintage Skylines. The rest of the cabin is pure Honda, and reveals that the car is a regular Civic with the 1.5-liter turbo engine. The M55 gets bonus points for its 6-speed manual transmission, though presumably if it goes into production an automatic Civic would work just as well as the donor car.
It’s not clear whether Mitsuoka plans to produce the M55, but it rarely builds “concepts” that it doesn’t plan to manufacture. The website states under a section titled “Our Era” (again, evoking the age of private car ownership) that “We will once again revive the energy full of dreams and hopes that swirled like hot magma.”
The page ends with nostalgic reflection that crescendos into something of a rallying cry:
What I dreamed of when I was a boy. That back I kept chasing.
The starting line where we started making things.
Do we still have that energy inside of us today?”
It seems to reference a golden era in Japan that was full of youthful ambition. The Kenmeri Skyline defined that time with one of the most memorable ad campaigns in the history of Japanese television, akin to “See the USA in your Chevrolet” in America. Other Skyline generations may have been more stirring to car enthusiasts but everyone, from kids to grandmothers, knew the Ken and Mary commercials. It’s no wonder Mitsuoka’s first domestic-inspired car is the Kenmeri Skyline.
If you would like to see the Mitsuoka M55 concept in person, it will be on display at the company’s Azabu showroom in Tokyo from November 24 to December 16, and then at their Toyama showroom from January 12 to January 28 next year.
Images courtesy of Mitsuoka.