Tour d’Elegance Japan: Japan’s Most Exclusive Classic Car Rally
We joined an exclusive classic and vintage car rally featuring the iconic Ferrari 250GT SWB and a Lamborghini Miura to name a few.
The past couple of years haven’t exactly been car event friendly and the year 2021 in Japan has proven to be particularly challenging. As the entire country was getting ready to welcome the Olympic Games with tens of thousands of athletes, organizers and staff, the predicted, inevitable COVID wave followed. Consequently, official car gatherings and larger scale meets simply became non-existent, until the Olympic crowd left the country mid-September as both the Olympic and Paralympic Games came to an end. The pandemic had quieted down. With the restrictive months spent working from home, there was this palpable need for people to escape and have a bit of fun again. To get out and do things.
This setting became the perfect time frame for the Tour d’Elegance to happen: a 3-day gathering of Japan’s finest car enthusiasts bringing a total of 15 classic cars to drive from Tokyo to the surroundings of Mount Fuji and we had been invited to take part in this event to photograph these classic beauties. So, we rented a small hatchback, grabbed our equipment, a few snacks and off we went to chase an incredible group of cars on the many driving roads of Fuji. As we got to drive alongside and photograph each car, they became more familiar to us. Allow us to take you through our favourite cars.
THE 1961 250 GT BERLINETTA SWB
We started off early Sunday morning in the empty, quiet streets of Ginza. As the cars started to arrive and stop in their designated parking spots, a truck pulled up amongst them. The doors opened and an automatic trailer slowly deployed to reveal the 250 GT Berlinetta SWB. Shiny, bright red, fully serviced and ready to go.
Whilst all of the cars that joined were sensational, it goes without saying that this one in particular stood out. The 250 GT SWB (“Short Wheel Base” or “Passo Corto” in Italian) is built on a 2400mm chassis, which is exactly 200mm shorter than the LWB version. Underneath the bonnet is a V12 engine producing 280hp and it can reach a top speed of 268 km/h. Though we unfortunately cannot tell you what it feels like to drive, we can surely describe what it looked like when being driven at high speeds on the expressway.
The 250 GT SWB was the most energetic car out of the 15, passing everyone else with incredible ease as it glided on the smooth, newly built Shin-Tomei highway. It looked and drove as dynamically as it must have had when it left the factory back in 1961. If traffic didn’t impede its route progress, it was easily one of the first cars to arrive at each destination. Nothing surprising here, it is a car that has been built to be a road racer after all. Yet, this is a rare sight. Believed to be the only 250GT SWB in Japan, one would think that such a car would have remained locked up in a prestigious collection and that is what has been so thrilling about seeing this car in action. It may be estimated at $8-10 million but seeing the owner drive it the way it was supposed to be driven made this Ferrari that much more special.
The 1929 Bentley Blower Special
About a year ago, you may have heard that Bentley had revived the Blower after 90 years: a brand new Blower, newly built from scratch by completely dissecting an original Blower and recreating each piece brand new. Today, we are talking about the original Blower as we were lucky enough to have one joining the Tour d’Elegance as the oldest participating car.
The Blower was one of the very few cars we actually heard before even seeing it. Navigating through the one way streets of Ginza, the sound of its loud engine resonated in the quiet morning. Appearing and disappearing behind buildings, we could follow the roars of the Bentley until it finally parked in front of us.
The Blower has been a delight to photograph. Its aggressive face and bold silhouette made this car extremely photogenic from every angle. As a convertible, the car showed us its versatile looks: roof on, top-down and top-down windshield-less silhouette. The Blower could truly transform from Grand Tourer to Racer as folding down the roof gave it a different, more aerodynamic look. It is a car that has shown us a lot of character and panache and can only be appreciated thanks to the amazing care provided by the owner. This car may be 92 years old but it did not look or drive anything like it.
This is perhaps a less known fact but the Bentley Blower, alongside all of the Aston Martins, is a Bond car!
The 1964 Aston Martin DB5
An Aston Martin DB5 does not need to have appeared in a James Bond movie to be special and though this specific DB5 may look like any other DB5 from a distance, you realize as you come closer that this is perhaps the most beautiful DB5 you will have ever seen.
Both the Scotland Blue exterior and the off-white leather interior were pristine and flawless as this DB5 was commissioned by its owner to be rebuilt anew by Aston Martin Works. The new leather didn’t exhibit a single wrinkle, the stitching was precise, the navy seatbelts matched the body paint. A true work of art on the roads.
The 1967 Lamborghini Miura
Who doesn’t like a Miura? With its lush eyelashes, its vibrant Arancio (orange) colour and its low to the ground stance, the Lamborghini Miura has graced this Tour d’Elegance with its presence. Colourful cars make rallies more fun and it has been a true pleasure seeing this orange silhouette appear in our rear view mirror and passing us as we were taking pictures driving alongside it.
The Miura was the fastest car with a top speed of 280km/h, also hosting a V12 similarly to the 250GT but mounted in the rear. The Miura drove in a relaxed manner, matching its sophisticated looks.
The Jaguar E-Type
Originally, it wasn’t supposed to be a Jag. The car that originally joined the Tour d’Elegance was a Ferrari 308 GTB but it would not be a true classic and vintage car rally if we didn’t encounter at least one mechanical issue. After the congested Sunday traffic and the first 200 km (125 miles), we had all arrived at the hotel for the night and while the 308 had made it too, it was where the journey ended for the Ferrari.
The next morning, as we packed up our bags and headed to our car to load all of our equipment, we stopped and stared: there was a black Jaguar E-Type by the gate of the hotel that we had not seen the day before. Parked right in front of the other E-Type that had joined the Tour from Tokyo, it was a picture perfect sight. A black and a white E-Type stopped in front of the tall, traditional Japanese gate. As for the person standing next to the black Jag’, it was none other than the owner of the 308 GTB. His radiant smile said it all: he was absolutely delighted to continue the journey in his E-Type instead of his 308.
These selected 5 cars have been our personal favourites to photograph but each and every car that joined this Tour d’Elegance have added to the quality of this event.
We were in awe over the majestic Rolls-Royce Phantom and its monumental stature. The light, petite and refined silhouette of the Lotus Elite was always a pleasant sight. We were also lucky enough to drive several times alongside the curvaceous and elegant Jaguar XK-120 as our speeds and navigating skills seemed to match closely.
The very first edition of this Tour d’Elegance was a successful one as it created a unique opportunity for owners and cars to gather while stopping by some of the most luxurious hotels in the area. Perhaps more than half of these cars aren’t cars you will get to see out there and such a rally is a rare and special occasion for owners to take their cars out of their garages and to celebrate the simple pleasures of driving. While often hidden, Japan is known for being home to pristine classic and vintage cars and helped with the scenic roads of Fuji, the Tour d’Elegance has beautifully showcased and celebrated Japan's best.
An overview of the other participating cars in chronological order.
The 1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom “Croydon”
The 1935 Bentley Barker
The 1938 Riley Coachbuilder
The 1953 Jaguar XK-120 FHC
The 1961 Lotus Elite
The 1965 Jaguar E-Type Series 1 Roadster
The 1967 Alfa Romeo Spider (Duetto)
The 1969 Ferrari 365GT 2+2
The 1970 Ferrari Dino 246 GT
The 1974 Ferrari Dino 246 GTS