QotW: What’s the greatest Japanese nostalgic van?


We just finished a 1,500 mile road trip with a Toyota Sienna SE (more on this later), which we are ready to crown as the greatest minivan ever made. The only problem: it’ll be 2036 before it’s officially nostalgic. Not to fear, Japan has plenty of incredible bento boxes to choose from.

What’s the greatest Japanese nostalgic van?

The Honda Life Step Van is one candidate. Built from 1972-74, it pioneered the FF, low-floor minivan layout over a decade before the Chrysler Town & Country. Others include the Mitsubishi Delica, rugged camper in 4×4 and and Aussie hoonmobile in FR. Or perhaps the stalwart Toyota Van, that staple of the 80s.

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a toy. Click through to see the winner of the last QotW, “What’s your fondest hachiroku memory?


The winner this week is Neto, who tells a tale of an AE86, even though an SR5, inspire a tale of brotherly bonding.

The one most memorable moment involving an AE86 happened a few years ago. My brother, a car and driving enthusiast had been purchased a beautiful blue SR-5 (auto). Being a young gun, he quickly took to the mountain for the thrill of the speed, maneuvering those tight and tricky corners. He would come home, and boast to me of the passes he had gone through that day. I would listen attentively to his epics of dazzling speeds and intricate turns high up in the mountains of San Jose. I always told him to take me up one day, but he always brushed me off, saying it wouldn’t be a good idea.

A few months later, he had decided. I was coming along with him and his friends for the first time. I finally would have my first taste of the ‘touge’. I hopped in the passenger, and sat there, an eagerly patient kid waiting to see his big bro do what he does. We left the gas station, and headed up the long straight road leading to the mouth of the pass.

We proceeded upwards, my heart racing, I glanced at my brother. I saw pure concentration, even though we where going the speed limit. 1/4 of the way up, we where gifted with a beautiful skyline of San Jose. My brother noticed me staring at the city, then remembered. His little brother is afraid of heights. I snapped out of my trance to the sound of my brother asking, “Dude, aren’t you afraid of heights?” I had to tell him the truth, as the beauty of the view, the awesome feeling of the car bumping along the mountain road, had done something I thought impossible.

“Not anymore.”, I answered. For on that day, I lost my fear of heights.

Omedetou, Your comment has earned you a rare Hot Wheels Super Speeders mystery pack Mazda RX-7!


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14 Responses to QotW: What’s the greatest Japanese nostalgic van?

  1. cesariojpn says:

    I’m gonna get gruff for this, but the first generation Toyota Estima/Previa.

    Okay, so it’s a 90’s car, But you can’t deny that the van is easily recognizable from across the parking lot. It has an iconic “egg” shape, at a time where alot of cars were becoming more rounded from the boxy 80’s (even the Hi-Riser’s/Donks classify 90’s cars as “Bubble” due to the round shape). It’s a MR van, which means near perfect weight distribution since the engine is in the middle. The “Captain Chairs” could swivel. Even the non-us cars got extra iceboxes!! It was even used in the Metal Heroes show Tokkyū Shirei Soruburein to haul around two of the main characters. http://youtu.be/CBLny_fy-0M?t=12m32s

    Of course, those things were deathtraps in high heat. I recall a neighbor of mine actually converting one into a small greenhouse cause “it was much cheaper than making one properly” due to the massive amount of window space compared to other minivans plus it suited her needs on a small scale; it was scrapped last year cause the underside couldn’t hold that much weight anymore due to the rust cause by water going thru the additional drilled drain holes in the floor. Aside from utility uses, you can find Previa/Estima drift videos on Youtube as well. The US has drag racing minivans, the Japanese has drifting minivans.

    It’s coming close to the cutoff date, and these vans will be looked at with scrutiny.

  2. Mazdax605 says:

    It has to be the Mitsubishi Delica. They are so cool I believe even Mazda put their name on the Delica because they realized they couldn’t compete with the coolness factor of the Deli. Someday when they are legal for import here in the US, I am getting a Super Exceed diesel with the high roof, crystal lite roof option, and the factory Karaoke machine in the rear. That’s right, these are so cool that they came with Karaoke machines in them from the factory!!

  3. Dave says:

    I have to concur on the Delica, especially the Star Wagon and the Space Gear. First of all, how can you beat the names like Star Wagon or Space Gear?? These were essentially comfortable and luxurious boxes that can also confidently go off-road thanks to their Pajero underpinnings and 4WD gear. Slap on top of that edgy styling with sunroofs galore, there really aren’t anything like it anywhere. It’s quintessentially Japanese and one of the coolest cross country vehicles anywhere.

    …that said, let me just say three words: Dream Factory Blow. They’re Japanese, and they’re kind of nostalgic…

  4. Greylopht says:

    Greatest in the states? Greatest in Japan, or greatest world wide? I have to go hands down world wide.

    The Suzuki Carry. No other Japanese small van pretty much saturated the world wide market. To the point they are still being made by Maruti. They have been sold under numerous name plates and badges. To include, Bedford, Suzuki, Holden, Maruti, Daewoo, Ford, Mazda and even Mitsubishi.

    And remember, this is where the Suzuki Every Landy started to boot.

    If I had to have one of them out of all the series and years. It would have to be the Glugiaro designed L40 because they are just so funky looking and they had a really funny add campaign in some countries. Not to mention the update to reed valves, and the new oiler in 71. They really are a hoot to drive with the column shift too.

    This one is for the truck, but you get the idea.

  5. blue72 says:

    I’ve only ever seen one in person, but early Suzuki Sambar!

  6. gaijinshogun says:

    No question, the second gen Subaru Sambar. They were the only kei vans “officially” (thanks Mr. Bricklin) imported into the U.S to be driven as street legal vehicles …It took some HUGE cojones to drive this thing next to a then new Caddy on the freeway.

    All kidding aside, the Sambar was the van of choice back in the homeland. As a gaijin kid in Japan, the second gen Sambar was responsible for making sure I was properly nourished…our milk, meat, eggs, groceries all came delivered in one. I can still picture the poor milkman bowing apologetically in his tan Sambar in a rare instance where he delivered the morning milk late. My mom gave him the stink eye driving her Honda Coupe 9, as he drove past us on our way to school.

    I thank you Sambar, and one day I hope I have the cohones to drive one on the 405.

  7. Nakazoto says:

    I’m right there with you on the Life Step Van, Ben! It’s based on the 4 door Honda Life platform, so it gets all the wonderful things about the Life. A nice, spacious interior with a miniscule exterior, a water cooled twin that revs to 9,000 rpm (sorry LFA, you were 40 years late), a close ratio transmission, a decently low center of gravity, and so on.

    This was a van that you could hammer on like a proper FF rally machine!

  8. pstar says:

    I almost want a Previa just for the dash. And the exterior. But I’m not interested in a van actually.

  9. j3wman says:

    How has nobody even mentioned the Toyota MasterAce and Toyota Hiace? We got the first gen Toyota MasterAce (Van in USDM land). But, The Hiace is the staple of the JDM Bosozoku van community much as the Previa is the 2nd generation of that, comparable EF and EG Civics to the Honda community. We never got the Hiace with its infinite possibilities but we did get its little brother the MasterAce, designed after a shoe box and infinitely customizable.

    Even in stock form when you pull up with a First generation Caravan people chuckle to themselves and scoff but you pull up in a Toyota Van, thats a pantie dropper for sure. Either of these 2 vans will decimate all at any show and if you got a MasterAce Mid engine rear wheel drive (pretty much a Testarossa right?), you drop that with some solid suspension and you will lose every autocross ever in style! Or make it a sleeper and put in a 7AGE hybrid and have a 200 hp van! That’s a combo you just cant F with!

  10. AndyB says:

    Another “no duh!” for the second gen Subaru Sambar.
    It’s the VW “Bus” of Japan! And I’m not saying that just because they look alike.
    Adorably small, amazingly utilitarian (like all Subaru’s), and one-of-a-kind, equals the best kei-van ever built! Plus it was a first and only for the US.

  11. MickyB says:

    Is it a Camper, is at an MPV, is it a Van…..no it’s the Mazda Bongo Friendee (I am on my second they’re that good. Don’t need to say any more click on the link and see for yourself.

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