I’ve seen this motley group quite a few times, as they are located pretty close to where I’ve been staying for the past couple of months. I think it was the Ford Econoline that caught my eye first. You just can’t miss it, with that layer-cake paint job. However, once I stopped for a closer look, some of the other vehicles (none of them qualify as “cars” in the accepted sense of the word) were just as unusual.
Let’s start with that Econoline, then. For all you US readers, this may be a familiar sight, but out in Japan (and Asia / Europe / Africa in general), we’re not too accustomed to these. This is a 3rd generation model and the blue Ford badge on its grille indicates it came off the Lorain, Ohio assembly line sometime between 1983 and 1991. I’m sure someone will be able to narrow that down a bit more.
This classic van packs a sturdy IH-sourced Diesel V8, either a 6.9 (170 hp) or a 7.3 litre (185 hp), depending on the model year. That’s not a lot of power for what seems to be a lot of van, but these Diesels are apparently built for economy and pretty reliable.
I couldn’t resist a peek inside and was not disappointed. The ambiance is about as un-Japanese as it could be, with the cupholders and the button-tufted seats. I would be interested to know what that row of unlabeled chrome switches is for in the dash, though. I’m sure someone will enlighten us.
Fords of any sort are very rare here, unlike most of the rest of the world. Strangely enough, big American vans are not uncommon in Japan. I’ve seen a few recent GMC and Chevrolet units about, as well as a Dodge or two – all LHD like this one. But this is the only Ford I’ve seen here so far. Maybe the Blue Oval used to offer these in Japan back in the day and stopped doing so at some point. Maybe this one was imported privately as a one-off. No idea how this got here.
Moving on to the Econoline’s neighbour – a good old Chevrolet C/K GMT400 pickup, made sometime between 1987 and 1999. This one was badged as Silverado, but I will readily admit to being completely ignorant about these vehicles. I trust the CCommentariat will be far more competent than me in identifying the particulars of this pickup.
One thing that does seem clear is that this one was bought new in Japan. It has the typical small Japanese plaque indicating its maximum load on the right of the rear bumper, which I assume is not something one could just tack on for the heck of it.
Finding these American giants was already something to behold, but they were sharing a plot of land – part junkyard, part front yard – with a bunch of other bizarre things. The white van on the far end was of no interest, but on the other side, near the caravan, were a few local contraptions that warranted further investigation, if that was possible.
For this egg-shaped… er… thing, further investigation was decidedly not possible. It was completely boxed in from all sides. I could not even ascertain the marque or get a decent photo, but the one clear factoid was that it lacked a proper steering wheel. Some mysteries are best left unsolved.
But next to that were two examples of one of the oddest kei derivatives ever made. Take a 6th generation (1989-93) Mitsubishi Minica (though you could do this with a Daihatsu Mira if you wish) and slap a great big box on it with folding doors on the left side: welcome to the wonderful world of the Japanese Walkthrough Van.
The driver’s side door is of a more standard design, obviously. As far as the rear hatch is concerned, there were several options available, including folding bus-type doors, as well as a large top-hinged hatch. The Minicas I found both had the more old-fashioned split tailgate.
The headroom inside these things is incredible. Driving one must feel like being in a square goldfish bowl. The 6th generation Minica bowed just before the kei car regulations changed in 1990, so these either have a 548cc or a 657cc 3-cyl. engine, depending on when they were made. Nowadays, pretty much all kei cars are automatics. Seems this 30-odd year old one has one too, but that would have been less common back then.
Speaking of which, there were a couple of literal Easter eggs hidden behind the vans out front. When I first decided to photograph the area, sometime in late July, the overgrowth was such that it prevented investigating the matter further. But even this seemingly unattended plot of land was subjected to the traditional national pastime: tidying. A few weeks ago, someone carefully cleared the wilderness from the yard but left the junk. I decided to take more pictures, having finally got access to the mysterious minicars within.
Here they are in all their tiny glory. There are not many of these minuscule things around on Japanese roads – far fewer than on French roads, for instance. The white one seemed obvious to identify, as the marque or model was pretty prominent, but I had no idea what I was looking at, really. I sure am glad to be living at a time when the Internet and Google translate can enable one to one’s curiosity satisfied for free and without breaking a sweat.
So according to my research, this is a Takeoka Abbey Type 4, built sometime in 1988-90. It has a 50cc 2-stroke air-cooled Honda engine in the rear, cable-operated “bicycle brakes” and room for one lucky (and patient) owner/driver. It’s unclear what kind of “bicycle brakes” were installed on these things – perhaps some sort of caliper system within the wheel or a rim brake. The bodyshell is naturally made of GRP, which is one of its marker’s signature products.
The Takeoka Automobile Crafts Co., based in Toyama City, started making three-wheelers in 1982. Four-wheeled microcars followed by 1984 and gradually grew ever so slightly wider. This Type 4 was not a particularly popular model, as the brakes were not entirely satisfactory under all weather and road incline conditions. After all, most people who bought these needed them because they had a disability, so the thought of crashing in one probably didn’t appeal.
Soon after this type 4, Takeoka launched a revised model called “Carrot” whose brakes switched to cable-operated drums. The engine eventually changed to a Yamaha 4-stroke and an EV version became available. The Abbey Carrot became something of a success and Takeoka are still making them, along with a growing array of other microcars.
Tax-wise, these are considered to be motorcycles, so they’re probably quite a bit cheaper than a kei car. However, unlike the French system, you still need a full car license to drive one. And getting a car license is no joke in this country: you have to sit in class for several hours, practice driving for yet more hours, pass a battery of written, practical and emergency-preparedness tests before you can drive. It takes about six weeks and costs around US$ 4000. And only then can you drive a Takeoka Abbey. Harsh.
The other vehicle had me stumped for a little bit. This canvas roof thing is always a sad sight on junkyard vehicles, but especially so here, as the poor thing even lacked solid doors. Whoever zipped the right-hand side door off did me a favour tough, as it allowed me to look at the luxurious interior of this luscious limousine to my heart’s content.
The front end of this thing was just as enigmatic as the side. From this angle, it really looked like something out of an amusement park. Actually, this kind of reminds me of the photos of Pripyat, that abandoned Soviet town just outside Chernobyl. Maybe it’s because of those strange “radioactive” reflectors. Gotta love the go-faster stripes on a vehicle that could not top 60 kph if its life depended on it.
Here’s the rear of the beast – and the end of the guessing game. It’s a Mitsuoka MC-1. The rear is definitely this Mitsuoka’s coolest angle, with those rear lights on stalks. Imperials used to have a similar gimmick in the Exner era, but this takes it to a whole new level.
Mitsuoka made the MC-1 between 1998 and 2007. Power came from either a 1-cyl. 49cc (6.1 hp) with a CVT or a fully electric motor. I have no idea which one I found. This car was available in kit form as the K-1. Being Mitsuoka, they fashioned a sporty roadster K-2 kit as well, which looked like a Messerschmitt.
This was not Mitsuoka’s first foray into the microcar arena, as they had gotten started in the carmaking game back in the early ‘80s with the Bubu 501, incidentally with a plastic body made by Takeoka. From this MC-1 to the gaudy heights of the Galue limousine, is there anything Mitsuoka cannot do (besides something bland)?
Well, that’s it for this little multi-CC junkyard special. From massive Murican metal to diminutive domestic plastic, this place has everything but what you’d expect. If there is a theme to this collection of rotting relics, it might be “eccentricity, dialed up to 11.”
Cars Of A Lifetime: 1988 Ford Diesel Van – A Killer Van Or Big Ugly Number Two, by JunkHarvester
Curbside Classic: 1990 Ford E-350 by Cabriolet – Purpose-Built Fifth Wheel Trailer Hauler, by Jason Shafer
CC Capsule: 1994 Chevrolet 1500 Pickup – Still Hard At Work, by Joseph Dennis
I love those little microcars. Can you imagine them in the States, with a Ford F250 tailgating them down the road? Gives me the chills just talking about it.
They have them in the States. They’re called chock blocks.
There was at least one single seat microcar sold in the US, the electric Corbin Sparrow. I had a chance to drive one at the Corbin plant in Hollister, California, in 2001. It was an experience, though perhaps less frightening than actually seeing one later, several times, commuting on US 101 in heavy rush hour traffic, near Palo Alto.
The Ford van is unusual, period. Most of these conversions were on the light duty E-150 chassis with five lug wheels. This is a heavier duty E-350 with eight lug wheels. Most of these Ford vans were gas powered (all E-150s were) so diesel is unusual. I’d wager this rig has pulled a trailer for many miles.
The black Chevrolet appears to be an ordinary half-ton pickup; all were badged as Silverado. It appears to have six lugs, indicative of the half-ton units. The fender flares appear to be aftermarket and are a terrific way of hiding rust.
If I had to make a guess, there’s the trailer sitting right next to it.
I know little about these kind of trailers. It looks like an American transplant, and the “Warrior” name in English might lend some credence to that theory. But do the Japanese also have travel trailers that look just like ones you find in the states?
I’m inclined to say the Chevy truck is the product of a conversion company that does vans, also. Evidenced primarily by the non-factory upholstery on the seats and door panels, plus of course the fender flares, lift kit, and wheels. Many van converters also “upgraded” trucks and SUVs, too. I wouldn’t doubt there were hundreds of such companies at one time, but those conversions have definitely gone out of style.
To a previous commenter: I recall Ford introducing the blue oval on the grill of its entire lineup for the 1982 model year.
” I recall Ford introducing the blue oval on the grill of its entire lineup for the 1982 model year.”
They did for much of their lineup, but the full-size vans (maybe all trucks?) didn’t get the blue oval until the 1983 model year:
“all were badged as Silverado”
From the 1960 to 1998 model years, Chevrolet’s full-size pickups were known as the “C/K Series”, and identified more precisely by an alphanumeric designation which indicated whether the truck was 2WD or 4WD (C=2WD, K=4WD), and which weight class it was in (number starting with a “1”=half-ton, number starting with a “2”=three-quarter-ton, number starting with a “3”=one-ton). During this period, Chevrolet made these trucks available with several different trim packages. From the 1970s onward, these trim packages typically had distinctive Western-themed names like Scottsdale, Cheyenne, and Silverado.
For the styling generation that was introduced for the 1999 model year (GMT800), Chevrolet apparently decided that these trucks needed a proper model name, and began badging the entire model line as the Chevrolet Silverado.
Prior to 1999, I had thought that Silverado was always just one of multiple C/K Series trim packages. Or did things reach the point even before 1999 where Chevrolet was badging all of these trucks under the Silverado name, even if they were technically still the C/K series?
Two additional notes about the timespan of this design (GMT400):
–It went on sale early in calendar year 1987, but as an early 1988 model (according to Wikipedia, production actually began in December 1986). A true 1987 model year full-size Chevrolet pickup would use the styling of the previous generation.
–According to Wikipedia, some remnants of the GMT400 generation continued into production into the early years of the following generation (GMT800). Most specifically, for the 1999 model year Chevrolet continued to produce C/K Series half-ton pickups from the GMT400 generation, but only with Silverado trim, only with the Extended Cab, and only with V8 engines.
During the 1999 model year Chevy’s new style truck was introduced, and they named the model “Silverado”, used formerly as the top trim designation on the C/K. The C/K continued on that year, also, but was referred to as the “Classic”. Chevy repeated this ”Classic” designation when the styling changed again in 2007, as the old style was carried over again for one year during transition. I only recall the 1/2 ton being carried over and referred to as “Classic” that second time. Ford did the same thing in 2004, carrying over the old style F-150 as a “Heritage”.
I remember when I bought my 2000 Silverado 1500 in November of 2002. I was driving a plain jane, white 1995 Isuzu P’up with over 200k miles. I was ready for a new work truck. Driving past a dealership a plain, white 1999 C2500 was advertised at $9999. I figured I’d look at it. I drove it, liked it (I was disappointed to see on the frame where the receiver hitch had been removed); but I said I’d like to sleep on it. After several days and several follow up calls from the salesman, I returned and explained I decided a 3/4 ton with a V8 was more truck than I needed (remember, I’ve been driving my 4 cylinder compact Isuzu for 5 years).. I said what I’d really like is a plain, white 1/2 ton full-size long bed with 6 cylinder. He said he didn’t have that, so we said goodbye. As I was leaving he ran back up and said one just came in. He asked I keep an “open mind” as it was still dirty. He showed me EXACTLY what I desired, in the new body style, no less. After wrangling over the numbers, I got it down from $12500 to $9250 with a receiver hitch included. My favorite truck, ever.
It’s curious that THIS Mitsuoka actually has the company name in the steering wheel hub, some of the more modern ones that you have shared have the Nissan logo…
What a superbly odd pairing of vehicles though, complete opposite extremes. I’ll bet Paul N. would love one of those Pope-mobile looking van-thingies. He could practically drive it standing up.
Re: your 1st paragraph, I guess that might be because the MC-1 was actually built by Mitsuoka from A to Z, as opposed to just disfiguring a Nissan.
I also thought of Paul when I looked at those walk-through micro vans. A lot of JDM cars would really appeal to him. Your automotive paradise is just an ocean away, Paul!
All I could think of when I looked at the pictures was Jeff foxworthy and his
“You might be a redneck” jokes. Japanese version!
Absolutely! This isn’t a junkyard. This is a hoarder’s stash!
The Chevy truck is a 1994 (old dashboard, new grille).
The Econoline is at least an ’87,
The first year for the colorful plastic power window switches, the previous ones were a silvery toggle switch.
These are great, thanks again for sharing. In my limited travels in Japan, I seem to recall that collections like this are not uncommon, especially in the more rural areas. More so than I was expecting based on my preconceptions of the country and culture.
I trust that you are surviving Hagibis OK.
Thanks – it was a bit wet out there yesterday.
A few weeks ago, I came across the Japanese used-car website goo-net-exchange.com (as a result of searching for info. about one of these Japanese posts), and it became somewhat addictive for me. One thing that surprised me is how many large American vehicles like Suburbans are advertised for sale. While the actual number is small considering the size of the country, I had expected that number to be close to zero, so seeing any of them in Japan surprises me. I’d love to know who on earth buys Suburbans and big conversion vans in Japan?
This mixture of micro-cars and maxi-trucks is a great assortment — thanks for posting it.
I agree with Jason, an E-350 conversion van is a real oddity. The E-350 diesel was the chassis/engine pairing of choice for ambulances and package delivery trucks. Virtually every Ford conversion van I ever saw was an E-150.
An awful lot of those began life at one of the conversion shops around Elkhart, Indiana. But I don’t see the builder identified. This one even has the raised roof. I can see Jason Shafer thinking about an upgrade. 😀
Well, those seats do look mighty comfortable and it’s not like a person will easily overload this thing. There’s something positive to be said about that.
I’m wondering if the Econoline was a 350 Diesel to exploit some Japan tax loophole.
Maybe it was so it could be registered as a bus or commercial vehicle.
You’re forgetting one vehicle, arguably the most boring one – that white van on the left, next to the Chevy. It looks like an Iveco Daily, but I’m under impression these might have been sold as Isuzu in Japan as I saw one or a couple of them in NZ and they had Isuzu badging. However, a quick Google search came up with absolutely nothing on this!