“Young people don’t like cars” is one of those erroneous beliefs many enthusiasts espouse, based purely on anecdotal evidence. I think the more accurate statement is “Young people don’t like the cars I like.” Of course, I have no raw statistics or figures to back up my rebuttal but instead I can present only my own anecdotal evidence, such as my visit to All-Japanese Day this February.
One thing I’ve noticed about classic car shows is how they tend to skew quite old. That’s not meant as a slight to classic car owners but, rather, it’s the reality of ownership—enthusiasts often are most financially stable and willing to indulge in a classic car purchase when they’re middle-aged or older. And, indeed, there were a fair number of older folks displaying their prized automobiles at All-Japanese Day. But, largely, the older car owners at the show were showcasing their Toyota Crowns and Corollas from the 1960s and 1970s, most completely stock, or rotary-engined Mazdas from the 1970s.
Everything else on display was owned by enthusiasts in their 20s and 30s, and sometimes their cars were older than themselves. I’ve been to other car shows in the past here in Australia, generally with a British or American car bent, and I was always one of the few young people in attendance. Not so at this show, with a bevy of young owners and visitors alike. Alas, I arrived as the crowd was beginning to dissipate.
Understandably, owners didn’t want to be baking in the sun on a treeless school oval in 34°C (93°F) heat and 70% humidity. So, by the time I got there – an hour after gates opened, but more than two hours after owners arrived – the field was thinning out. I had to hurriedly dash around and snap photos before any more people left. This was one of the highlights, a beautiful second-generation Toyota Celica Supra. While these closely resembled the Celica from whence they came, I find these to be the most attractive generation of Supra. There’s something distinctly muscular about these—perhaps it’s those flared wheel arches. The Supra name will return imminently on a coupe co-developed with BMW.
One of the youngest owners was this P-plater (provisional license holder, one step after learner’s plates) with an early Subaru Impreza LX. These were the bottom-rung Impreza models, as is evident by the black bumpers and the steel wheels. It was an example of the Japanese introducing entry-level models in response to the rising yen—other Japanese cars like the Mazda 121 also received the black bumpers and steel wheels treatment.
It’s frustrating when you see empty spaces at a car show and you have no idea what was there. Did I miss out on some 1980s Mitsubishis, or an endearingly retro Datsun 120Y? I’ll never know, but I’m glad I didn’t miss out on this delightful pair of Isuzu Belletts.
To be honest, I’d forgotten these existed but then, Isuzu stopped making passenger cars shortly after I was born. I’ve grown up associating the Isuzu brand exclusively with trucks and SUVs and some of their more famous models (Gemini, Trooper) weren’t sold here with Isuzu badges.
Love the interior!
The Bellett’s styling seems familiar to my eyes but I can’t quite place what they remind me of – something Italian, something British and with a little ’61 Dodge mixed in? Apparently these quite strong sellers in Australia, back in the day, although I imagine that was largely on the back of the more conservative sedan. These GT coupes are real lookers.
Speaking of alluring compacts, the Datsun 510 is easily one of the most revered and respected Japanese cars of all time. This is a design that has stood the test of time, perfectly proportioned, angular and purposeful. And, of course, these were a delight to drive.
The storied name was later reused in North America on the A10-series Violet, sold here as the Stanza. These were rather disappointing sellers for Nissan here in Australia and critics largely agreed they didn’t recapture the magic of the first 510. Note: neither car was sold here in Australia with “510” badging.
There’s no better mobile billboard than a Nissan S-Cargo. There’s a few companies I’ve seen here in Brisbane that use S-Cargos even though they’re now two decades old. It’s the combination of other-worldly styling and a relatively spacious load bay that makes these a compelling used purchase for a small business.
I’d seen plenty around but I’d never had the opportunity to actually look inside one. I was pleasantly surprised to find these are just as quirky inside as they are outside, with that funny dash-mounted gearshift and the central pod for the speedometer. Super cute.
Here’s what the S-Cargo was parked next to: a Suzuki Mighty Boy. While the related Suzuki Hatch of that period is nearly extinct, Mighty Boys can still be found around town.
While the S-Cargo and Mighty Boy are eye-catching for their sheer quirkiness, the Mitsubishi GTO/3000GT is eye-catching because of its supercar looks. Sold only in top-spec, twin-turbocharged, all-wheel-drive VR-4 form here – no FWD or naturally-aspirated models for us – these were decidedly rare thanks to their lofty price tag, in the low six figures.
Of course, that’s Aussie dollars, but that still meant a car with a Mitsubishi badge was selling for as much as a BMW 535i. The 3000GT was never meant to be a volume car and instead served as a halo for the brand here, although the Lancer Evolution was arguably more successful in that role. The few 3000GTs imported here that one sees on the roads have since been supplemented with gray import GTOs from Japan but they are still far from ubiquitous. When I see one – typically painted in arrest-me red – I always take notice.
Although criticized by some for being overweight and overwrought, the 3000GT was a technologically impressive automobile from a time when Mitsubishi really seemed on top of its game.
Sometimes, all you have to do is leave the gates of a classic car show and you’ll find something fascinating. Here’s a 1962-67 S40-series Toyota Crown station wagon.
These have a rather American vibe to them, as though you could put Rambler logos on them and successfully fool some people.
It’s always remarkable how dizzying the variety of Japanese cars is in their home market. While the most popular gray imports here tend to be Nissan Skylines and Silvias, a lot of more nondescript sedan models tend to find their way here. Cars like this Nissan Laurel Medalist tend to blur together in my mind with other JDM sedans like the Toyota Chaser.
I’ve always longed for a resource – either a website or a book – that could take me through the complexities of the Japanese market and guide me through the vast, sprawling vehicle lineups. I didn’t know until just now that these 1989-93 C33-series Laurels were so closely related to the Cefiro, R32 Skyline and Leopard (Infiniti M30), although I did figure they were rear-wheel-drive and sold exclusively through only one of Nissan’s dealership networks in Japan.
The Laurel was probably the least overtly sporting of its platform-mates and the only one available with a diesel engine, a 2.8 inline six. Like the Skyline and Cefiro, there were also petrol inline six engines available.
One Japanese sedan I was familiar – if not intimately acquainted – with was this S120-series Toyota Crown. These were the last generation of Crown sold in Australia but I’m not sure why they even bothered, sales being pitifully low. Nissan also insisted on flogging the Cedric here. Neither the Crown nor Cedric made a lot of sense here—too soft, too conservative, too expensive at the time for a Japanese car. Nissan and Toyota had plenty of other models back home that would have been more logical fits for their Australian lineups.
I was expecting 1980s Japanese Brougham goodness from the interior of these Crown Royal Saloons – I mean, it’s called a “Royal Saloon” ferchrissakes – but I was a bit disappointed to find the owners had seat covers on. Maybe there was some blood red crushed velour hiding underneath. I should hope so for something called a Royal Saloon!
This Chrysler Valiant Charger drove past the show a couple of times as I was leaving, almost as if to taunt the other cars and declare, “There’s no replacement for displacement!”
There was another Aussie car out on the street, albeit one with distinctly Japanese roots. This is a Nissan Pintara TR-X, the sporty trim level of the U12 Bluebird-based, Australian-built Pintara. North American readers will recognize it as the Stanza, although the Pintara was dubiously Australianized and lacked the build quality of its Japanese-built counterparts.
For a school oval that was half empty by the time I got there, there were still plenty of Japanese cars to gawk at. Stay tuned for part two.