Curbside Classic: The Japanese Retro Trial (1st Witness) – Daihatsu Mira Gino Series 1 & 2

(first posted 11/10/2017)       The retro thing is anything but new – and not limited to Japan, of course, but Japanese automakers have pushed the envelope quite a bit further than the rest of the world. This needs to be addressed in the Court of Automotive Opinion that is CC, and I shall prosecute this case with the required ruthlessness it deserves. To make my case, m’luds, I shall provide the CCourt with three witness statements that may illustrate, in my view, three versions of the most egregious retro styling in Japanese cars. I now call to the stand the Daihatsu Mira Gino, representing the kei car class.

– Please state your make, model and years of manufacture.

Daihatsu Mira Gino series one, 1999-2004.

– Are you related to any other Daihatsu products? Describe your underpinnings, if one may be so bold.

– I am based on the fifth generation Daihatsu Mira / Cuore L700, manufactured in Osaka. I share my sister car’s platform, most of its body and rear lights. I too am powered by a 659cc 3-cyl. engine driving the front wheels via a 4-speed manual or a 3-speed auto. 

– Where do you differ from the standard Daihatsu L700?

– My front clip, mostly. I also have additional chrome trim here and there, most noticeably my bumpers, around my taillamps and on my mirrors. I also have a much nicer interior – that goes without saying.

– So you were designed to emulate the look of a classic Mini Cooper, is that correct?

– That was indeed the intention. And I believe the operation was a success. I sold like hotcakes throughout Japan for five years and am still seen there on a daily basis despite my advancing years.

– Why do you think that is?

– I was affordable, tailored for women, easy to drive and park, cheap to insure and run, evocative of a beloved classic British import, and willing to take it up…

– Watch where you’re going there.

– …Willing to take it up to four passenger doors plus the rear hatch, unlike my unhatched, two-door inspiration. A modern compact has to make certain features available.

– I see. So you consider yourself an improvement over the cult classic BMC Mini, do you?

– I’m not a Mini, I just borrowed her makeup and shoes. Did you notice my lovely Cooper-like wheels? Suits me so well. But did the BMC Mini ever propose an automatic transmission, air conditioning or a CD-player? I think not. I’m better than a classic Mini, if you ask me.

– Please refrain from such blasphemy, Daihatsu-san, or the CCourt may find you in CContempt!

– I’m sorry, but it’s true. Have you ever been in a classic Mini, m’luds? They’re not that well put together. The earlier ones don’t even have seat belts and if they have a radio, you can’t hear it over the engine noise. You sit so low that today’s crossovers look like monster trucks. Plus the ride is harsher than a Jeremy Paxman interview.

– No one will get that reference. I think you’ve made your point, though. So what happened in 2004, when production ended?

– My successor was immediately in Daihatsu stores, along with the sixth generation Mira / Cuore. But you might want to ask it yourself. May I be excused? I have some shopping to carry.

– Thank you, yes, you’re excused. If it please the CCourt, I will now call to the stand the second series Daihatsu Mira Gino. Please state your make, model and years of production.

– Daihatsu Mira Gino (second series), 2004-2009.

– Were you also based on the Daihatsu Mira / Cuore, as you predecessor was?

– Yes, though I only came as a five-door hatchback. My body, underpinnings and platform were identical to my predecessor’s – I was a restyling effort.

– You were restyled to look like the new Mini, is that fair to say?

– Yes, that would be a fair characterization of my essence. The new Mini was a big and expensive car. I remained in the kei class.

– So let me see if I got this straight: you were a Japanese copy of an Anglo-German retro-styled model?

– You want the truth?

– I can handle the truth.

– I was far more faithful to my predecessor than the new Mini was to the classic one.

– Fine way to talk about the car that inspired your styling. Some people in Munich or Longbridge may not take too kindly to that.

– Least of my worries. I’m from Osaka. Besides, I’m not the one that changed the most. Just a facelift.

– And a tuck or two here and there, yes. I understand you were exported?

– I was available in certain Western European countries. My predecessor was too, albeit for a very brief stint and with a 1-litre engine, but couldn’t get a handle on the lingo. I was more flexible, more worldly. They gave me a mesh grille and renamed me “Trevis”, which sounds like a character from the Dukes of Hazard.

– I see. Impersonating a retro-styled car and being called Gino was perhaps a bit too much for Europeans to swallow.

– How dare you? I am very proud of my European career. Lots of JDM cars were renamed. We learned that from the ridicule that was piled on the Nissan Cedric.

– Not to mention your parent company’s old moniker, Toyopet.

– Yes, I don’t know what got into them in those days. Did they not realize the name read “Toyo-fart” in francophone countries? Honestly. We’ve come a long way.

– Thank you, no further questions.

M’luds, I realize the CCourt will soon be in recess. So in summation, I will only say that the kei class have many other retro-styled examples, as well as retro kei vans (some made to look like a tiny Citroën H or miniature VW Transporters). The Nissan Figaro, which was exported far and wide, paved the way for the retro style in this class of Japanese cars. But the Figaro looked like a Figaro, it did not attempt to ape a foreign car’s styling. Our first witness, the Daihatsu Mira Gino, was guilty of ripping off a British institution, the BMC Mini, as well as its 21st Century descendant, the BMW-Rover Mini. It is my contention that the Daihatsu, though an egregious example of blatant retro-styling, has intrinsic value-added as an overall package. Its first series was not unlike a classic Mini with added comfort; its second series was, unlike the modern Mini, a nimble subcompact. I shall ask the CCourt to reconvene at the earliest hour possible tomorrow to depose the Mitsuoka Viewt.