Car Show Classics: Nihonbashi Bridge Spring Festival, April 2023

I took my usual stroll on the first Sunday in April this year – always keeping an eye out for the odd automotive encounter, which happen fairly regularly in Tokyo on weekends. I was making my way back to my northern digs from Ginza when I happened upon a most unusual sight: the bridge at Nihonbashi was blocked and filled with classic cars!

Nihonbashi (literally “Japan Bridge,” seen above in 1946) is a historic and geographical landmark in Central Tokyo, located just north of the old business district and the Imperial Palace. Spanning the Nihonbashi River (actually a canal), the current bridge was built in 1911 – one of only two bridges from the Meiji Era still present in present-day Tokyo. All distances in Japan are calculated from the “kilometer zero” marker located on the middle of Nihonbashi, so it plays an important role, even besides its function as a bridge.

Ever since the early ‘60s, a large elevated expressway looms over the Nihonbashi bridge and river – a rather shocking piece of civil engineering to a European such as yours truly, but these were the bold choices that Tokyo city planners made to accommodate cross-city traffic. It kind of dwarfs the old bridge into looking like an irrelevant relic, but it’s still a wide and very busy piece of local infrastructure. And on the first Sunday in April, they do a little celebration around it, including a modest (but very popular) classic car show.

Let’s have a wander around, shall we?

A small group of prewar cars were located on the northern side of the bridge; we’ll start with those first. One of the oldest was this 1924 Lagonda 12/24, the first Lagonda to feature brakes on all four wheels. Its 1.4 litre OHV 4-cyl. looked almost lost in that tall engine bay. Most 12/24s received a factory body, as this one did. Only a literal handful are still in running order.

Only one French car made it to the show, but this 1928 Bugatti 37A was definitely one if the event’s highlights. These were very successful on the track back in the late ‘20s despite being only equipped with a 1.5 litre 4-cyl. engine. But that little four was really half of a Type 28’s straight-8, with its overhead cam and three valves per cylinder. The “A” version added a Roots supercharger to that little engine to bring power up to 90hp, enabling the lightweight Bug to reach about 120mph – serious speed in those days.

I confess that I was unaware that Ford had an assembly line in Yokohama. It was established in 1925 and produced cars and trucks until 1939, including this superb 1931 Model A. When this car was made, 95% of automobiles in Japan was either a Ford or a GM product (their factory was in Osaka). Good to see one is still with us at least. That’s it for the antiques, we can now move to the ‘50s era and beyond.

This is hands down my favourite iteration of the XK – the 120 “fixed-head” coupé. Not a single line on that car is out of place, it’s a true work of art and design excellence. Plus, there’s a great big 6-cyl. to get that thing going well above the speed limit, which is not always the case for cars celebrating their 70th birthday.

1957 300 SL. Need one say more? Well, yes, inasmuch as this one has been modified to look like the SLS roadster that were made for Mercedes’ US racing team. Because owning a stock 300 SL roadster would be just too common for some…

I think these Zagato-bodied Abarth 750s have all migrated to Tokyo: this is the fourth one I’ve seen. Not that it’s getting old, but leave some for the rest of the world!

Four Bristols were at Nihonbashi. When has that ever happened on any bridge? Two were a 403 and a 406 that we’ve already seen. A third will have its own CC someday. That just leaves this other 406, the final iteration of the 6-cyl. Bristols. All were owned by the same guy, predictably…

Next to the Bristol 406 sat this very nice Austin-Healey 3000, sold here new back in 1962.

Can’t have a classic car meet without an E-Type Jag, that just wouldn’t be proper. Especially when it’s a properly gorgeous series 1 roadster.

Just one true Detroiter on the bridge – but what presence!  Not a fan of the colour though; beautiful though they are, C2 Corvettes really look a lot better in something a little darker.

On the other hand, I have to admit that Lotus Elans look pretty good in white. I’ve seen those checkered floormats inside a lot of classics around here – just like the Watanabe wheels, it’s one of those things that seems to fit (or be made to fit) on virtually everything.

Behold, the mighty Ferves Ranger! Basically a bunch of Fiat bits, including the 500’s rear-mounted 18hp 2-cyl. and the 600’s suspension and brakes, wrapped in a bizarrely high open-top body. Around 650 of these odd little beasts, some of which were 4WD, were made between 1965 and 1970.

I cannot recall what the placard said about this 3500’s model year (I think 1970?), but then those placards were not always 100% accurate, for some reason. No matter, I was drooling all over this lovely V8 Rover.

I’m not sure why I took the time (there wasn’t much, as the event was scheduled to end very soon after I came across it) to immortalize this W114 saloon, sweet though it was, but completely spaced out on the much rarer two-door W114 that sat next to it. Ah well…

A very strange (but very ‘70s) shade of green for that Jensen-Healey. Due to not having seen all that many in the metal, I remember thinking “What kind of Triumph is this?” when I first saw that rear end. There is an esthetic kinship with the TRs and Spitfires, isn’t there? The front is, to me, far more recognizable as a J-H, but also less pretty.

I bet there’s a rule somewhere in the Japanese legal code that mandates the presence of an Alfa 105 Bertone coupé anytime there are more than five classic cars on any stretch of road. No, I’m not becoming jaded.

And finally, to end on a strange note, a rather brightly and widely modded Fiat X1/9. All in all, a very nice little show, there. I did skip a few newer cars and some that we’ve seen before, such as the two Bristols, but on the whole, this was all there was to see.

Well, to be entirely truthful, there were a few additional ones that I really took a little more time on (and that you may have noticed in the background of certain pics), but those deserve their own post, which will happen in due course. Which one would you have gone with? I’m torn between the Xk120 and the Rover, though the more I look at that Bugatti…