Classics galore: A miracle amidst a pandemic

While every other show got cancelled, Japan’s annual classic car show made it happen. A beautiful classic car collection that was worth being shown

3w ago


We’ve seen countless JDMs, slammed Ferraris and shiny Lamborghinis that light up at night coming from Japan. One thing we hear less about is the classic car scene here. Japan already hosts a yearly tuning show (Tokyo Auto Salon) and a biannual Tokyo Motor Show but what about something in between? That’s the cool twist about the Automobile Council’s “Classic Meets Modern” concept. It allows for a wider audience to appreciate both past and present, old and new all in one place.

Organized in partnership with Car Graphic Magazine, the Automobile Council has succeeded in bringing something in between. It may not be the biggest, but it is one of the richest automotive events hosted in Japan. Originally planned for March, the event was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Navigating through several postponements and safety measures was far from being an easy task. However, carrying this event through is primordial to keep on perpetuating this comprehensive car culture, here in Japan. Let us walk you through.

Le Mans nostalgia: Iso Grifo A3/C and Alpine M63

Each year, a special exhibition is held where rare and unique cars are presented to the audience. This year’s theme revolved around “The hardships and beauty of Le Mans race cars.” Red for Italy and blue for France, we were welcomed by two rare beauties in absolutely pristine conditions: the Iso Grifo A3/C and the Alpine M63.

The Iso Grifo A3/C isn’t a car we see or hear of often yet it made its mark in history. It is the result of the combined efforts of Renzo Rivolta and Giotto Bizzarrini who released the Iso Grifo in 1965, under Iso Autoveicolo S.p.A. Two different models were made available: the A3/L (L for Lusso) that Rivolta designed to challenge Ferrari’s Grand Tourers and the A3/C (C for Corsa) that Bizzarrini developed right after as he believed there would be a demand for a race car version too. The A3/C raced in Le Mans in 1964 and 1965 and though it did not win the overall race, it did win in its own category twice. The Rivolta-Bizzarrini partnership did not last long as they split in 1965. Only about 20 Iso Grifo A3/C were made within this association and Bizzarrini went on to build his own upgraded Bizzarrini A3/C. What a short lived history, you might think. It was for the A3/C, but you might be familiar with Iso’s legacy through the famous “bubble car,” the Isetta. Though the name is too often associated with BMW, Iso was the original inventor of the Isetta, which became a licensed model for other makers to manufacture.

The Alpine M63, in French Racing Blue was Alpine’s very first race car developed in 1962. Though its story is less filled with drama, it did have its fair share of bad luck. During the 1963 24h of Le Mans, the M63 slipped on a puddle of oil and caught fire, taking driver Christian Heins’s life away. Despite this tragic episode, the M63 did impress with its lightness and speed. Though it “only” produced 95 bhp, its light and aerodynamic body allowed it to reach a maximum speed of 240 km/h.

German holy trinity: Porsche-BMW-Mercedes

Moving on to the neighbouring booths, it is no surprise that classic vintage Porsche models occupied a significant space. Porsche Japan also had their own booths with four different versions of the 911 such as the 1965 Porsche 912 and the 1973 911 E. However, our favourite was perhaps Garage Italya’s beautifully restored 356B super 90. Built in 1962, this 356 was first put on sale in a Porsche dealer in Hamburg and later made its way to the United States. As the car got restored, the body paint was changed from Glacier White to this current Slate Grey.

Not so far from this iconic 356B, we ran into two unusual looking Porsche, customized head to toe by Koa Speed. As Porsche restoration and customization specialists, Koa Speed displayed their 1970 911T customized into a matcha green theme. The front trunk, the assorted suitcase, the dashboard, the sideview mirrors and even the Recaro seats have been re-stitched with a matcha green fabric.

Koa Speed displayed a second Porsche, a Baja themed 1983 911 SC. With a wrap that mimics all the dirt you’d accumulate at a Baja 1000 race and a surfboard attached onto the roof, this is the perfect, summer-ready, Cali-vibe Porsche that we’d all want to drive down to the beach.

Better than nothing, there was a small section dedicated to BMW lovers. Classic BMW specialists Simple Auto displayed three models: a 1974 2002, a 1966 3200CS and finally a 1974 Sbarro replica of the iconic 328. The car itself graced the cover of one of Car Magazine’s very first issues in 1962.

No classic car event happens without a proper dose of Mercedes-Benz and the audience was spoiled with classic models such as the 1963 300SE or the 1971 280E Cabriolet. A slightly more uncommon sight was Yanase Classic’s Beetle-looking 170H. The rear-engined 170H did appear earlier than Volkswagen’s Beetle, yet it is interesting to note that the Beetle designer is no other than Ferdinand Porsche, who had also previously worked at the Daimler-Benz factory. It is also worth mentioning that the very first Porsche model was built using many components from the Beetle, hence the round headlights… Though the connection between the 170H and the Beetle cannot be officially proven, the Beetle-Porsche connection is undeniable. Let’s close the loop and get back to more Mercedes-Benz cars.

The double Evo1 display turned out to be the winning combination as Auto Roman lined up these two models next to each other. The impactful duo was in fact made of one original 190E Evo1, and a simple replica of the 1-of-502, ultimate DTM era car.

Other notable classics: Aston Martin, MG, and others

The Automobile Council managed to squeeze into this downsized even a rich variety of cars that would satisfy each and every car enthusiast. Next to the two Evo1 was a first generation 1956 Corvette and further away, an entire Citroen booth with a luxurious and imposing glossy black DS Pallas, dominating this corner.

Backed up with strong James Bond vibes, classic Aston Martins never fail to impress. This time, Auto Direct Classic had displayed a 1969 DBS Vantage in a light blue/grey colour. For a late 1960’s V6, it was an incredibly powerful vehicle that could reach 325bhp at 5,750 rpm. Not so far from it, Atlantic Cars who mostly specialise in vintage Astons had brought their 1994 Vantage V550. It looks rough, it looks imposing and the front tires are massive. The British Racing Green exterior is complemented with green tinted headlights, a green Aston Martin badge and a green-beige interior, making this 550bhp Aston a tasteful machine.

We finally stumbled upon a discreet but magnificent 1936 MG TA Q-Type. Originally made for racing, only less than 10 were ever made yet with splendid details, wine red paint and refined shapes, it is the kind of classic car we all expect to see at a classic motor show.

100 years of Mazda and Japan’s classic car history

Despite the (many) downs, 2020 is also a year of celebration as it marks Mazda’s 100 year anniversary. It is quite a notable event, as other Japanese automotive giants like Toyota, Nissan and Honda are still about 20 years away from their centennial. Talking about which, how much do we truly all know about Japan and its car history? We all know of Nissan’s Hakosuka and Toyota’s 2000GT but beyond these models from the late 1960s, our minds tend to go blank.

Though Japan does have a long history with cars, it never matched Europe’s level of pride of their own history, Car Graphic Editor-in-Chief Mr. Kato Tetsuya told us. For a long time, Japan had this “complex of inferiority” in comparison to European car makers and only now is it finally able to overcome it. Japanese makers are now prouder than ever before of their car history, but it remains something that still needs to be shared with a wider audience, hence the Automobile Council.

Founded in Hiroshima, Mazda displayed their 1938 Type GA three-wheeled truck nicknamed “Green Panel.” It is a vehicle whose production was stopped during the Second World War but as it resumed only four months after the atomic bomb, it helped transporting both people and goods through the devastated lands. Despite Mazda’s long history, its very first car named the R360 only appeared in 1960. Only weighing 380 kg, this 2-door kei car is the Japanese equivalent of the Fiat 500!

Mazda’s booth also consisted of an interactive timeline of their past, from historical moments and launches to the various logo changes and some of their latest models, including the 100th anniversary edition Roadster and latest all-electric MX-30.

A final modern touch: McLaren 620R

As mentioned earlier, combining the old and the new is what makes Automobile Council’s strength. Products take time to arrive on the other side of the planet and for this event, McLaren took this opportunity to reveal their 620 R to the Japanese audience. The 620 R is a road legal GT4 race car and at the top of McLaren’s Sport Series. Limited to 350 examples, this is the upgraded version of the 570S GT4 and specs-wise, it does 0-100km/h in 2.9s and 620PS (610bhp), which gave the car its name.

Neighbouring the McLaren booth was Jaguar and Range Rover with their latest electric models, giving the audience a nice perspective to the older vintage models exhibited by other booths. Last but not least, Atlantic Cars brought us one last modern surprise, a Dallara Stradale. Surprisingly not as known as what we’d all think, this undercover firejet is a real track machine. 855kg light and “only” 395 hp, the massive wing helps generate a significant amount of downforce. With this power to weight ratio, sensations on track are likely thrilling and… chilling.

Making a car event happen during a pandemic is nothing short of a miracle and the Automobile Council managed to safely make it happen. Though downsized compared to previous years, the event still brought a brilliant selection of cars together. With the necessary precautions and prevention measures taken, this event made us reflect on its importance and meaning: keeping this delicate classic car culture alive. With Automobile Council’s concept of “Classic Meets Modern,” it gives us the rare ability to focus on one ‘and’ the other, instead of one ‘or’ the other. Walking through this sea of tartan prints and racing stripes, we can only be excited for what will be in store for next year.

Join In

Comments (20)

  • The cover picture was attention grabbing!

      20 days ago
  • I used to love early Corvettes, then I drove one. Beautiful to look at, horrible to drive.

      20 days ago
  • The MG badge brought me here.

      21 days ago
  • I love that MG

      16 days ago
  • Amazing write up. Thanks so much!

    That Iso is amazing and I exclaimed out loud at 6:15am, “ OH MY GOODNESS, OH OH OH”. Had to gasp in air. There has not been a car I have seen in recent memory that evoked such a response from me. The Iso Griffo gets little attention and love these days. If it were not for a video game growing up I wouldn’t even know what it was. That’s sad.

    Alpine... what can I say other than I love those things. Wish we could get em here in the US. So again, thank you for the pictures of such obscurities.

      19 days ago
    • Grifo. Early typo.

        19 days ago
    • You are very welcome and thanks a lot for reading it!!

      Hahaha! Loved the reaction on the Iso! Agreed, it isn't known enough. The company had a short but intense history and they did such a great job with the A3/C. It just looks good and...

      Read more
        18 days ago