Car Show Classics: All-Japanese Day At Banyo, Part II – “Young People Don’t Like Cars”

(Read Part I)

The sight of a row of first-generation Celicas at All-Japanese Day reminded me of something: the rows of Mustangs at the last two All-American Day shows I visited and, let’s face it, every American car show in Australia. While American car shows here tend to be wall-to-wall Mustangs and ’57 Chevrolets, All-Japanese Day was a delightfully mixed assortment of vehicles and plenty of young people looking at them or showing them off. 

By the time I arrived at All-Japanese Day, just an hour and a half after gates opened to the public, many of the owners were fleeing the scorching hot sporting field. That included the owners of two Skylines: a C210 series sedan, sold here as the Datsun 240K, and…

…a 1982-85 R30 hatchback, the first and last generation of Skyline sold in this body style. Nissan Australia imported the Skyline and 280C/300C (Cedric) and positioned them above the locally-built Bluebird. Those two imports could not have been any more different – the Cedric was your typical, plush, Japanese barge, while the Skyline was trim, nimble and almost European. Power was provided by the same fuel-injected, 126 hp 2.4 inline six as used in the American 810 Maxima.

Sadly, Aussie Skylines didn’t have the iconic “hotplate” taillights of the JDM models which have been retrofitted to this one. Nissan probably thought premium sedan buyers in Australia were too conservative. Well, they eventually brought out the hotplates shortly after the R31 arrived looking almost exactly like the R30. Anything to put some character in that box!

The Datsun 200B was related to the North American 810 Maxima, only without the inline six, IRS and the will to live. To be fair, though, the 200B was targeted right at the heart of the four-cylinder, mid-size sedan market here, building on the strengths of the 180B that came before it. That is to say, the strengths of bland competence and solid reliability.

Early 200Bs were imported from Japan and came with IRS but this is a later, Australian-made GX; a live rear axle was fitted to meet local content quotas. GX was the up-level model with velour trim (plush!) but I don’t believe those wheels are stock.

With the R31-series Skyline, Nissan Australia followed the same strategy as it had before with the Bluebird: take a JDM Nissan, swap out the IRS for a live axle, and pitch it as more of a mainstream offering than it may be sold as in other markets. And while the 200B range initially had an imported coupe model, there was no coupe version of the replacement Bluebird (aka 810 Maxima) nor of the R31 Skyline. This, then, is a coupe imported from Japan.

The subsequent R32 and R33 Skylines were beautiful cars but the R31 was a typically boxy, origami-style Japanese car of the 1980s. The coupe is the looker of the bunch in my opinion, followed by the wagon and then the nondescript sedan. This is a GTS-X with a 2.0 turbocharged inline six, producing 190 hp and 177 ft-lbs. Our Skylines came with a 3.0 naturally-aspirated inline six with 157 hp and 185 ft-lbs, although sporty Silhouette versions bumped up the horsepower number a bit. We also had a four-cylinder Skyline badged as the Pintara.

It’s a pity Americans were so weird about five-door hatchbacks, or automakers were just weird about offering them. They seemed to die out there during the 1980s but they dominated elsewhere, including Europe and Australia. Compact sedans were for old ladies… Hatches were cool! That rule of thumb still carries some significance today but it was especially pertinent in the early 1990s. This is a Mazda 323 Astina, known in other markets as the 323F or Lantis.

While the equivalent sedan was almost always painted white and fitted with innocuous wheel covers, the Astina was the sporty hatchback for young, fun people. Despite this, no Astina/323F ever left the factory with a turbocharger or four-wheel-drive. These were still plenty fun, mind you: the Astina SP had a twin-cam 1.8 four with 123 hp and a 0-60 time of under 10 seconds, while the regular Astina’s SOHC 1.8 produced a still-decent 101 hp. It’s cars like this that arguably cemented Mazda’s image in Australia as the “cool” Japanese brand. Honda never had a Civic quite so rakish.

As a rule, I find the hatchback variant of any Celica generation to almost always be more attractive than the notchback. There are two exceptions: the first-generation models, where the hatchback looks like some clunky Mustang knock-off, and the third-generation. There’s something about these that looks aggressive. Perhaps it’s pareidolia but those taillights look like they’re glaring…

While I almost always prefer hatchback Celicas, the legendary AE86 Corolla Sprinters look fantastic as notchbacks. You’d think that, being another right-hand-drive market, we’d get a lot of juicy Japanese offerings. I can confirm we did get the AE86 (yay!) badged as the Sprinter but with only a carbureted SOHC four, rear drum brakes and no limited slip-differential or exciting performance hardware (boo!)

Even if the Aussie-spec AE86 didn’t really engender as much enthusiasm as the JDM models, the AE86 became a pop culture phenomenon thanks to its appearance in the anime Initial D and the video game Gran Turismo. I doubt there’s a single bone-stock, Aussie-spec AE86 left as they would probably have all been modified.

It wasn’t all young people and sporty cars at All-Japanese Day. Check out these 1969 Corollas. One of them was bought new by the owner’s mother and he’s taken good care of it over the years. That’s sweet.

Here’s another old Corolla in military green.

More vibrant colors abounded in the Mitsubishi section…

…although my favorite color was the pale yellow on this Mazda Capella.

The bright yellow of this Mazda 626 is more era-appropriate. I had forgotten how clean and unadorned the styling of these was.

Here was a poor Mazda 929 sitting all on its lonesome. Ok, so it’s not the more desirable hardtop sedan but I still like it!

These were high-quality, well-rounded cars and probably deserved to sell better than they did.

Those ’69 Corollas weren’t the oldest cars at the show. Here’s a 1967 Datsun 1000 (Sunny), the very first generation of Sunny.

When did interior blinds like those fitted to this Mazda Capella disappear…

…and these rear window louvers, as seen on this Datsun 280ZX, become so popular? By the way, I can’t look at these 280ZXs without that “Black Gold” song getting stuck in my head.

The first-generation Mazda Luce was designed by Giorgetto Giugario and it was quite a looker. I see hints of BMW, Chevrolet (Corvair) and NSU in its elegant lines. These had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it run in the US, offered from 1970-72 with a conventional 1.8 four-cylinder.

Those of us who don’t live in Japan will probably know the Toyota Starlet as being a conventional, rather dull subcompact hatchback. You may be surprised to learn there was a GT Turbo variant.

With a turbocharged 1.3 four-cylinder engine under the hood producing 135 hp and a curb weight of under 2000 pounds, the little Starlet could fly. There was also some juicy performance hardware like an optional limited-slip differential, adjustable suspension, and Recaro seats.

I may have been late to the show and the field may have been half-empty but I, along with my fellow millennials in attendance, got to see plenty of fascinating cars. And the Japanese sightings didn’t end when I left Banyo. After seeing the above Familia Rotary/R100 as I was leaving the show…

…I saw this regular Mazda Familia as I pulled into Aldi to do some shopping.

I’ll be marking my calendar for the next All-Japanese Day. And next time, I’ll get there earlier. Or they could just schedule it for a time outside of the hottest part of the year…

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S – The Legendary AE86

Curbside Classic: 1983 Datsun 280ZX – The Cutlass Supreme Brougham Z?

Curbside Classic: 1986-1991 Mazda 929/Luce – Aren’t You Supposed To Dress For Success?

Curbside Capsule: 1986-90 Nissan Pintara/Skyline – The Boxes Enter The Ring