By Steve and Tamami Laser
Not that long ago, the notion that Japanese cars would one day become highly sought after collectibles would have been met with raised eyebrows. Yet Southern California is the place where Japanese cars first came ashore in the late 1950s. Now, nearly 60 years later, prices of the rarest Japanese cars are on par with real estate in L.A.
Of course, those with more modest budgets can still enjoy the hobby with cars like the rare Toyota Sports 800 shown above. Now in its 11th year, the Japanese Classic Car Show brought together “Old School” cars, trucks and motorcycles for a one-day meet next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, on September 19.
In addition to vehicles displayed by enthusiasts, automakers are happy to support the show. Nissan brought several cars from its U.S. collection plus a couple of rare birds from the Nissan Motor Company Heritage Garage museum in Zama, Yokohama, Japan.
Nissan vehicles were first sold in the U.S., under the Datsun nameplate, in 1958. The company headquarters were located just up the 405 Freeway from where the JCCS was staged this year. Nissan North America, Inc. headquarters is now located in Franklin, Tenn.
Produced for only one year, the 1960 Datsun VG223 van had the dimensions of a compact wagon. It was a rare sight in the U.S. market, with only 269 Datsun trucks imported in total, and most of those being pickups. Today it looks like a classic beach cruiser, so Nissan strapped a pair of surfboards to the roof.
First introduced in 1968, the Datsun 510 reflected a novel concept at the time: an attractive, economical, fuel-efficient, five-passenger sedan that was fun-to-drive. The 510 was named by Road & Track magazine as “one of the most important cars of the 20th Century.” Today, 510s are collected and supported by passionate owners like Paul Williamsen (above) giving a big “thumbs up” for his racer.
Speaking of racing, the 1997 Nissan R390 GT1 had a brief two-year racing career, including Le Mans. This mid-engine car on display from the Zama collection in Japan utilized a 641-horsepower 3,495cc twin-turbo V6 engine with 470 lb-ft of torque. Nissan says it was timed at 3.3 seconds 0 – 60 mph and 10.9 seconds at 155 mph for the ¼-mile. Two road car versions were built with a price tag of over $1 million each.
Nissan racing legend John Morton was on hand to sign autographs. Morton is widely known for scoring two SCCA National Championships in 1971-’72 in his now famous BRE 510 #46. He also raced Z cars like this 1971 Datsun/BRE 240Z tribute. The original car was built by Peter Brock and his BRE team.
Our library has a copy of a great book that chronicles Morton’s racing career by Sylvia Wilkinson, his partner, titled “The Stainless Steel Carrot.” Click here to read our book review from a previous CarNichiWa.com story.
Although they were not officially imported into the U.S. by Nissan, vintage Skyline models are now extremely popular with collectors. Made famous in movies and video games, these right-hand-drive examples are rare sights on the street.
Datsun really revved up its image with the original 240Z. This bright yellow example with the “G” nose has an amazing history. Its first owner was Yutaka Katayama, who led Nisan’s U.S. operations in the 1970s and is called the “father of the Z.” Current owner Jonnie (in yellow shirt above) served as the secretary for Mr. K, and continues to promote his passion and enthusiasm for the car and the Nissan brand.
Nissan and Datsun Z cars remain very popular with collectors. With a wide range of models to choose from, there’s something for just about every taste and budget. Fun to drive and easy to modify, the Z is an excellent choice for those entering the Japanese collector car hobby.
Switching gears to Toyota, we were surprised and delighted at the large turnout of rare Sports 800 models. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the targas look like smaller versions of the Toyota 2000GT. Powered by a 2-cylinder air-cooled boxer engine, few were made with left-hand drive and even fewer have found their way to the states.
Toyota brought several vehicles from its nearby museum in Torrance. The biggest crowd pleaser, as expected, was this rare 2000GT. With recent sales at private auctions now exceeding $1 million a copy, the 2000GT is perhaps the most highly coveted Japanese collector car.
Pristine examples of a vintage Toyota Corona and Corolla wagon shared the spotlight with the 2000GT and Toyota Motorsports heroes including this spectacular desert racing truck that was piloted by the famous Ivan “Ironman” Stewart.
While Toyota decided not to put the 2000GT into regular production, it did give the green light to the sporty and affordable Celica. Today, the Celica remains a great way to get into collectible Toyotas with a vast array of models spanning decades of production.
Hot on the heels of Celica, the Toyota AE86 models are rapidly appreciating in the collector market. This model sporting the Japanese “Trueno” badge was sold in the U.S. as a Corolla Sport. The coupes were also known around the world by the names Levin and Sprinter. It’s said that this car was the inspiration for the current Scion FR-S (Toyota 86 or GT86 outside the U.S.).
Toyota Trucks are also popular with collectors. This rare “Stout” model was on display from nearby Cabe Toyota of Long Beach. We also saw primo examples of later model Toyota trucks and the very popular Land Cruiser at JCCS.
Meanwhile, Honda and Acura collectors were overjoyed by the company’s display that ran the gamut from racing cars to the company’s first model in the U.S., the tiny 600, to early examples of the Accord and Civic.
Speaking of rare, this is the first Honda 600 sold in the U.S. Showing the patina of age, it’s going to be restored to its former glory. Honda invites everyone to watch it progress by following the restoration at #HondaSerialOne.
Of course, Honda got its start in the U.S. with motorcycles. This year’s JCCS had plenty of eye candy for bike fans of all ages including beautifully preserved and restored models like this one.
At JCCS, Mazda celebrated its heritage with “Jinba Ittai” as its theme (translated as “horse and rider as one”), a philosophy demonstrated with building lighter, more agile vehicles and defying convention to engineer better cars.
This gorgeous 1967 Cosmo Sport 110S is one of three Cosmos brought to the U.S. by Curtiss-Wright for aviation research for rotary engine applications. Mazda says it’s one of two Curtiss-Wright Cosmos still known to exist and represents Mazda’s first foray into building a mass-production rotary car.
More attainable to collectors is a wide selection of Mazda’s rotary powered models like this vintage RX-2. Also on display and shown in our video is the 1972 RX-2 raced by Patrick Bedard and Don Sherman of Car and Driver in the ‘70s. The IMSA-prepared RX-2 drove to Mazda’s first wins on North American soil.
Our plan was to focus on collectibles, yet we can’t stop thinking about the new Mazda MX-5 that’s gone on sale in the U.S. For those seeking maximum smiles per mile in a brand-new car, this roadster is a tough act to beat. Through the years and several generations, Mazda has remained remarkably true to the spirit of the original Miata.
We enjoyed exploring every corner of the show and saw tricked-out cars and trucks displayed by their enthusiastic owners. Check out the totally cool display sign that the owner of this vintage Datsun truck made from a skateboard.
And then, there’s the remarkably fascinating world of Kei cars and trucks. These mini vehicles, still very popular in Japan, were represented at JCCS with a number of entries. We really liked this vintage Subaru with its unusual rear-hinged doors and original black and yellow series California license plates.
If you’re like us and yearn to get into this hobby, yet your heart is larger than your wallet, you can easily attain the Japanese collector car of your dreams in an even smaller scale. Vendors sold model kits, toy cars and related memorabilia at JCCS. Plenty of others were on hand offering aftermarket performance parts and appearance accessories.
Stay in touch with the Japanese Classic Car Show and make plans to attend next year’s event by visiting and bookmarking their website.
CarNichiWa.com thanks JCCS for providing us with media credentials and full access to the event so we could bring you this story.
Special thanks to Paul Williamsen for his valuable insights and contributions to our coverage of the show.
Story, photos and videos ©2015 CarNichiWa.com
The Nissan corporate display vehicles were [at long last!] superb! I pointed out to the Nissan personnel that their otherwise superb recently acquired RL411 sedan had the wrong trunk “Datsun” marker and should have the “Datsun 1600” marker. Subsequent discussion that I was the original buyer of my 1967 RL 411 led to an taped interview. Don’t know where that may eventually end up.