This “Fantasy Garage” may be Toyota’s creation, but they did leave a fair amount of floorspace for their distinguished rivals, be they Japanese or foreign. In fact, the very first vehicle one sees when approaching the museum is a 1963 Daihatsu Midget. Yes, Daihatsu is part of Toyota, but this one was made when they were still different companies. So let’s tuck in.
The oldest vehicle on display was this 1954 Messerschmitt KR 175. Always fun to see these kooky little things. In France, some folks call cars like these “bus suppositories.” A vivid image. This was not the only vehicle in that collection to fit this apt description.
Not that you could apply it to this. I’m sure I don’t have to divulge the year and marque of this Series 62 convertible. The sheer size of the thing was already astounding, then you factor in the styling. It’s not the first time I’ve seen one of these up close, but it never gets old. And you don’t expect to see something like this in a Tokyo museum.
I had to linger on a bit with this one – just so otherworldly. You have to wonder what was going on in Detroit during the Eisenhower administration to produce this result. LSD in the martinis, peyote in the Chesterfields or just a case of good old-fashioned one-upmanship gone haywire?
Whatever caused these excesses, I’m glad they took place, but also that they stopped after a while. Otherwise, the world’s chromium supply would have been depleted by 1970.
On the other end of the scale, there was a 1960 BMW Isetta 300 – the third we saw that day, if you can believe that. Bad for our cholesterol, that.
One of the oldest non-Toyota JDM cars was this 1960 Datsun 1000 pickup. I caught a similar one in the wild a few years back in the same colour – I assume most were painted blue with a white grille. Utes were routinely available in one colour only in Japan.
This 1962 Fiat 500D was sat right next to the Cadillac. It looked like it was trying to hide in plain sight, like a rodent next to a python. “If I stay still, it won’t be able to see me.”
This was far more interesting to me: a 1962 Mazda Carol 360. The Carol was a four-seater version of the R360, which was Mazda’s first four-wheeled car. Like the R360, its engine was in the rear, but it also had the oh-so-‘60s “cliff-cut” (reversed-canted) rear window, which, if nothing else, is real handy to take a photo of the interior.
This is the four-door version, too. Not all kei cars of the period were so generous with their passengers – nor were they all styled with care like the Mazda. What, you want an example? I think we can arrange that…
The Subaru 360 is older than the Mazda Carol, but that is hardly a valid excuse for this thing’s appearance. It’s an undefined shape, possibly based on a variety of potato, or perhaps a fugu, the infamous Japanese blowfish. Something in that wide-eyed expression…
Now that’s more like it! In 1963, when Honda decided to transition to four wheels with the S500, they really did it their own way. This is the S800, with added displacement for a bit of extra oomph – but this early example should still have the chain drive and IRS set-up of its S500/S600 predecessors. The motorcycle-derived straight-4 in these can rev up to 10,000 rpm and propel this little jewel to over 160 kph (100 mph). Later cars got a driveshaft and a live axle, but also front disc brakes. One of the most iconic Japanese cars of the ‘60s.
Another icon – and another one I admired in person for the first time, having seen it only in two dimensions up to that point. Launched in 1967 after years of careful development, the Mazda Cosmo was the second car ever to feature a Wankel engine and Mazda’s first high-end coupé. This 2nd series example, one of 833 made, has a 130 hp 982cc bi-rotor powering a leaf-sprung de Dion rear axle via a 5-speed manual transmission. Top speed was around 190 kph (110 mph), but this is less a sports car than it is a ground spaceship. (Thanks for the interior shot, Jim!)
It would be a tough choice between this and the Toyota 2000GT. The Toyo is elegant and aggressive – a real sports car, but a traditional one. The Cosmo is just completely weird and wonderful both in its looks and its tech. The styling on this car is nothing short of extraordinary. Those jet exhaust rear lights, that pointed snout, that low beltline – what a sight. Add the Wankel’s whir as the soundtrack and you have something truly exceptional.
Let’s enter the Nissan zone. Much as one may regret some of that firm’s questionable esthetic choices in the ‘70s, the stuff they designed in the late ‘60s was great. Three such cars were at the museum, starting with this 510 Bluebird SSS coupé.
Pretty sure I’ve never seen one of these before, unlike the more common saloon. I could have mistaken this for a Fiat, from the front or the side. The rear is much more Japanese, as in faux-American. Gives this car its identity (or lack thereof).
The C10 Skyline GT-R coupé is much more interesting, in my opinion. Nicknamed “Hakosuka” (boxy Skyline), this was the 3rd generation of this famous nameplate and the first to be called Nissan. The C10 saloon and wagon were launched in 1968; the potent GT-R (2-litre 24-valve DOHC 6-cyl. delivering 160 hp) appeared in early 1969, but the coupé only arrived in 1970.
I prefer the shape of the saloon, but this is still a very impressive car. If nothing else, it represents an important step in Japanese engineering, where they demonstrated they could really compete with Alfa Romeo or BMW. And with only 832 saloons and 1197 coupés made, the first GT-R is a very rare beast, too.
Of course, it was impossible not to have a Fairlady Z (a.k.a 240 Z) in this collection. That’s the sporty Datsun that went around the world and showed Jaguar they weren’t the only cat in town anymore. Early cars like this one look so cool. A few JDM details here and there add to the coolness, of course. In Japan, it had the same engine as the GT-R, too, so the soundtrack must be glorious.
I’m no Lotus aficionado, but who can resist a delicate little Elan in British racing green? Not sharing it would be heartless. This is where our little walkthrough will be ending, though. See, it’s really not that big a museum – the term “garage” was pretty well-founded.
All the more since there was an actual garage on the ground floor, where some of the exhibits were getting fixed up. I did wonder about the lack of M-Bs in the collection – but my fears were allayed by the sight of this Pagoda. However, no Ford, no BMW, no Alfa, no Jag and no Chrysler. And not one French, Swedish or Eastern Bloc car to be seen. And shame of all shames, no Toyota Century. On the other hand, some of the exhibits (the Cosmo, the 2000GT and the Celica GT) now have pride of place in my personal fantasy garage.
Curbside Classics: 1962-64 Mazda 600 – Carols, And It’s Not Even Christmas Yet, by William Stopford
Automotive History: Honda S500/S600/S800 – Small, Brilliant and Fast, by David Saunders
On The Go Outtake: Jay Leno Out For A Spin In His 1970 Mazda Cosmo, by Guest Writer