By Steve Laser
The twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, Calif. have served as the landing grounds for millions of cars imported from Japan. It all started with a trickle in 1958 when Toyota had ambitious plans to crack the American market with its small and underpowered Toyopet Crown sedan. Datsuns came ashore the same year and were eventually followed by the remaining Japanese brands.
With a few exceptions, Japanese cars were inexpensive to buy, proved to be reliable and eventually disposable as forms of basic transportation. To say that they would become coveted classic cars would have been met with laughter not long ago.
Nobody is laughing anymore. While Japanese cars like the Datsun Z, Toyota Supra and Mazda RX-7 have had dedicated fans since they first landed at the twin ports, the notion of widespread collectibility and stratospheric price tags for Japanese cars was off the table.
The cars that people drove in the ’70s and ’80s have become incredibly popular with people who came of age in that era. Witness the huge crowds that descended upon four acres and nearly 400 cars on display at the Queen Mary Events Park for the 10th Annual Japanese Classic Car Show on Saturday, Sept. 27.
Over the years, this show has blossomed into an extremely popular event and a must-see for legions of car fans that come from all points on the West Coast and beyond. As a testament to the show’s popularity, Toyota, Honda and Mazda featured corporate displays complete with the best of their gorgeous classics from their private collections plus a few new cars that may one day become collectible.
One of the biggest new car surprises was the 2016 Mazda MX-5. This right-hand-drive prototype made its world debut just a few weeks before the show. Mazda let the crowd get up close and personal with its new-generation roadster that shared the lawn with primo examples of the original Miata – that are now 25 years old. It was a fitting tribute this modern-day classic.
Other vintage Mazdas on display from the auto maker’s collection included rare cars like the first Cosmo, a low-slung rotary-powered coupe that’s extremely rare in America.
Several legends of both Japanese car racing and design were on hand to sign autographs. Tom Matano, known as the “father” of the original Miata’s design helped celebrate the car’s 25th anniversary. In keeping with his usual car-guy gracious yet understated manner, we asked Tom what he thought about the all-new MX-5? He said that he “liked it a lot.”
Toyota’s display featured several cars from its local museum in Torrance including this super rare 2000GT. To prove that Japanese classics have made the big time, one of these cars in private hands was recently sold at auction for more than $1 million. (Your intrepid editor remembers a 2000GT offered for sale in the 1980s for a mere $6,000…and he thought that was too high.)
Honda brought both racing and vintage passenger cars from its own “secret museum” along with pristine motorcycles and milestone cars from its Acura brand. A beautiful original NSX reminded us that the next generation is coming soon and perhaps we’ll see it here at next year’s JCCS.
Yet to our eyes, the most attractive cars on display were those owned by regular folks. Like others who covet their Corvettes and Mustangs, these dedicated fans know every nut and bolt and can recite specifications, production figures and options without missing a beat.
For example, this proud owner of a Toyota Land Cruiser FJ75 that served with the U.S. Marines wants to keep his truck original. While vintage Land Cruisers are now extremely collectible, these pickups are a rare sight since they were not sold by U.S. Toyota dealers to the general public.
There was a large turnout of cars that we call “forbidden fruit.” Nissan Skylines took the spotlight even though they have never been officially sold in America. Made famous in movies and video games, and cherished in Japan by their original owners, American hobbyists go to great expense to import and certify these rare birds.
When visiting the show, be sure to check out the cars in the parking lot. We ran across this gorgeous Skyline sitting in the public area with Queen Mary smiling in the background.
In addition to the cars and trucks on display at the show, vendors sold restoration and performance parts, vintage model kits, Japanese car books, t-shirts, magazines and collectibles.
Peter Brock, founder of the legendary Brock Racing Enterprises that raced Datsuns in the 1970s, signed autographs and posed with kids while unveiling his newly restored and previously unseen BRE 240Z. As part of his lifelong passion for Datsuns, BRE continues to offer aftermarket parts to current Datsun enthusiasts.
Also on hand was John Morton, BRE’s race-winning driver, who scored two SCCA National Championships in 1971-’72 in his now famous BRE 510 #46. Morton poses here with his partner, Sylvia Wilkinson, author of the recently reprinted book “The Stainless Steel Carrot” that chronicles Morton’s career. (See our separate book review on CarNichiWa.com)
While Nissan keeps Morton’s car as part of its heritage collection, there have been hundreds of recreations made over the years by private parties. One of them was proudly displayed by its owner at this year’s JCCS.
We suspect that one day in the future, this show will be filled with restored examples of the Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf and Subaru WRX as they mature and become the next generation of Japanese collector cars.
Story, photos and videos © 2014 CarNichiWa.com