One of the most reliably entertaining booths at the Tokyo Auto Salon is that of NATS, the Nihon Automobile Technical School. The college teaches auto repair, but each year students get to indulge several far-out projects that end up on the floor of the Auto Salon. For 2024 the NATS creations were especially noteworthy, and each of the four showcase cars had some kind of nostalgic car angle.
Our favorite was the “Phantom Chibi Meri”, a 1983 Suzuki Mighty Boy made to look like a deformed-style Kenmeri Skyline. The kei ute has be heavily modified with Skyline lights and wide C-pillars, as well as the KPGC110’s iconic 1972 Tokyo Motor Show paint scheme.
Interestingly, though the Mighty Boy has an FF layout, the Phantom Chibi Meri still has FR-style staggered wheels. The gold 12-inch RS-Watanabes are 4.5J width in front and 5J at the rear. The interior is just as amazing (9:10 in above video), with vent stud seats and steering wheel like old Nissan competition parts. It even has the twin side-dump exhaust of the Skyline GT-R show car.
The most posted on social media car award goes to NATS’s ultra-slammed Suzuki. Many confused it with a Toyota Mega Cruiser or Hummer, but the car was in fact a JA11 Jimny widened, stretched, and majorly lowered over a Suzuki Escudo platform. The front features a complete JA11 Jimny grille flanked by two additional headlights from a JA21.
Except for the latest model Jimnys are only available with two doors. The students used another set of Jimny doors embedded with the rear glass as the second row apertures. The whole thing was slammed on an air suspension and the rear houses the tanks and a massive stereo system that would make 1999 proud. You can see how much work went into this on the NATS Instagram account.
The NATS Toyota Corona hasn’t been getting as much attention as the Jimny, and that’s a shame. The RT20 has undergone transformation into a lead sled-era lowrider. Putting the Showa Era compact on an air suspension creates the illusion that the car is long. The gray paint is too metallic to hail from the 1960s, but the subdued shade works perfectly to contrast the candy-striped roof.
Of course, a car like this would not be complete without a Continental Kit on the back. All five wheels use original Corona steelies with hubcaps, but an added chrome beauty ring give the wheels depth. It even comes with genuine California license plates. A Corona of this vintage would have had yellow on black plates. These blue on white ones used to belong to a 2016 Nissan Leaf.
Lest you think all NATS creations are wild customs, the school also proves that it can perform high-quality, respectful restorations. In a rare instance, NATS has put their skills into keeping a 1968 Mazda Luce Deluxe bone stock. The single-owner car was purchased new by a Mr Yoshii, who once worked for Mazda. He bought the Luce for himself as a treat after successfully starting his own automotive business. Over time the car deteriorated, but because Mr Yoshii’s company had close ties with NATS the students decided to take on its restoration as a project.
It’s so original that the rear door panels still have the factory protective plastic sheeting still covering them. Most of the restoration involved repairing rust. However, that meant very carefully removing all the 55-year-old trim, weatherstripping, and glass. None of those items are in production any more, and Luces of this generation are incredibly rare. After the bodywork was repaired, the car was repainted in its original Caribbean Blue color. The project still isn’t finished, as the car has not passed the Shaken test yet, but the students will continue to work on that after the Auto Salon Ends.