This was the fifteenth year of the Japanese Classic Car Show in 2019, fifteen years is an extremely long time for a car show series to be held for consistently. If we think about it, 15 years ago NOPI was still happening, Wek’Fest still had a few years before it even came into existence and Hot Import Nights was where the cool kids were being seen at. Needless to say, the timeframe that Japanese Classic Car Show has been happening for usually encompasses the entire lifespan of most shows, Japanese Classic Car Show (hereby abbreviated as JCCS) has a handful of traits to make it enduring but the two that make it special are it’s quality and its position as the cornerstone of the Japanese classic car community.
Throughout it’s existence, JCCS has been at the forefront of the Japanese classic car community. While the collector community is more than fans of just one show, this show represents the heart and soul of the culture. While JCCS is at the forefront, it’s still relatively small. Comparing to another show that is a major part of it’s respective culture, traversing this show is not the massive multiple day odyssey that you get with Back to the 50’s. You don’t feel compelled to buy a Japanese Nostalgic Car so you can actually make through the entire show, you feel compelled because you genuinely want one. Where some shows like BTT50’s are big for the sake of being big, JCCS is surprisingly small but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in quality.
Japanese Classic Car Show’s true beauty resides in where it falls on the scale of exclusivity. No, it’s not BTT50’s where literally anything produced prior to 1964.5 is let in but it also lacks the excessive exclusivity found at Concours D’Elegance where tickets are $300 and cars get denied because the stitching on the seats is incorrect. Cars like this survivor Datsun 411 are given the respect they deserve after being kept original for 50 years but a lowered AE86 isn’t chastised for being modified.
The closest that JCCS gets to Concours particular is the eligibility of the cars. Historically, JCCS has had a rolling 25 year rule matching the United States car importation law. When JCCS started, 15 years ago, plastic bumper imports were barely on the cusp of being allowed into the show but as time has moved on, the cars have gotten newer and newer. The inclusion of newer cars has taken some time to get used to but fears of the chrome bumpers being pushed out were unfounded. What was once a show of early Japanese oddities now has made space for the golden age of Japanese cars without losing its soul.
Originally, JCCS had a separate show called JCCS Neo-Classics, but with the closure of the Toyota Headquarters in Torrance, CA, they had to find a way to merge the two shows. The merger meant that, eventually, JCCS had to leave its long time home of Queen Mary Beach for it’s current location across the bay. While it was briefly lived, the Neo-Classics show was a great way to ease plastic bumper cars into the larger JCCS community and also allowed the series to test the waters of more modern vehicles like this Racing Beat RX7 convertible.
These newer vehicles also represent the time where Japan went from being seen as just an entire country of austerity purchases, and wrongfully thought as keeping up with the world, to a time where they objectively dominated the world. In decades prior the Japanese models had to be sold to us but, by the 1980’s, the world had to be counter offered away from Japanese cars. The 1980’s saw the Japanese brands not only dominate the middle class’s driveways but by the end of the decade, they were coming for the European luxury brands.
The inclusion of plastic bumper cars has also been important for the community as a lot of those cars are some of the fastest appreciating collector cars in the world right now. With that sudden appreciation, a lot of attention is being paid to the trends at JCCS so the larger car community can see what people are doing with these early and golden age Japanese collectors.
As people are coming through for the RX7s and 240Zs, some are discovering the other gems that people don’t talk about. For every two well known cars, something like this Mazda 626 Coupe was at the show. It is never a bad thing when cars that were once looked over as just another semi-sporty RWD Coupe get their moment in the spot light for what they are.
If you’re like most people in the world and you’re coming to see the more well known JNCs like Datsuns, AE86s and Celicas, then you had nothing to fear. Datsun Z cars easily outnumbered any other single make, not model but literally entire make. There was easily a Z car for every Honda, Toyota or other Datsun, Mitsubishi was outnumbered five to one and, for the Subaru to Z-car ratio, it was easily a dozen to one.
While Z cars were a dime a dozen at the show, one would assume the best Z-car in the show would be the rarest and most desirable. However, easily the best Z in the whole show was also the “least desirable” for collectability, being not only the emissions strangled 260Z but a 2+2 at that. Luis Rivera went out of his way to hunt down a 2+2 for the project. His build with it’s molded metal fender flares, a 240Z two-seater front end and a profound split pea soup green combined into what might be my favorite Z-car build in recent years. The car easily stole the show for the Z-car class.
Two of the most authoritative connoisseurs of green cars, Jana and Big Mike from the Think Bigger Project both agree that this car is unbelievable. According to Mike, Luis wanted to build a S30 that would stand out from the crowd and we can rest assured that he has done so. Builds like this are something that can make you think differently about a platform as a whole.
With the prices of S30s going through the roof, the often unloved long boy 2+2 is suddenly becoming all the more desirable. The 2+2s are a bit of a commitment though, every panel of the vehicle is different from the two seaters and they are often in far worse condition due to the relative undesirability as a collector so the chances of being underwater with a restoration is nearly guaranteed. That being said, can you really put a price on the extra cargo space for when you want to bring along some light reading?
Another chassis that was often considered undesirable was the R31 Skyline GTS-R. It is true that it did pale in comparison to the R32 GT-R but we have to remember, back in it’s day, the R31 was neigh untouchable and many consider it entirely worthy of the GT-R badging that Nissan was coy to apply without absolute confidence. It also was the first Skyline to sport the iconic blue Calsonic livery that we see replicated on this R31 coupe. Today R31s demand equal to and in some cases more money than it’s younger R32 brethren.
If you’re completely at odds as to what this is, you aren’t alone. It is actually a RT114 Toyota Corona Coupe, namely a RHD model. The Corona was Toyota’s first compact car sold in America and it eventually moved up market when the Corolla arrived before eventually being replaced in our market with the Camry in 1983. While the Celica was the Toyota sports car of the 1970s, the Corona Coupe occupied an awkward space as their GT model replacing the yet even more rare Carina. It was powered by the venerable Toyota R20, known best as a truck engine reliable beyond reproach and all Coronas that were sold in America were exclusively RWD. Unfortunately like the Mazda 626 and 260Z 2+2, the RT114 Coronas were rare and never got their proper respect stateside. Frankly every generation of Corona gets about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield and should be worth a hell of a lot more than they currently are.
Speaking of not getting any respect stateside, there were several Japanese imported Toyota Hiaces. These have always been the ultimate in Japanese vanning, I absolutely believe that if these were imported to America in the 70’s and 80’s, they would have eaten Volkswagen’s lunch.
Just look how plush that interior is! If you compared this to a Volkswagen Vanagon from the late 80s, this would obliterate in in any comparison test. The van pictured is very clearly a high spec with the rear sunroofs and doilies on the seats. A keen eye will also see how pristine this is in that it even has the Pre-Delivery plastic on the pillars still.
One might ask why Japan never brought these to America and it is a valid question. However when you look at the marketing of the special editions, it begins to make sense. In Japan it was common to put a small paragraph on the side of cars in awkwardly translated English, needless to say this slogan kept me from sleeping the following night.
There is so much to say about JCCS, honestly it is a prime example of why everyone loves the SoCal car community. It isn’t that their cars are objectively better but their great cars are in such abundance that their shows are world class. A lot of shows can take a tip from JCCS because of how well it balances exclusivity, styles and ages. I can’t possibly cover every car in the show that was worthy of looking at in a single post, honestly, I would have to start an Instagram page of just JCCS cars to do that. What I can do is give you a second post with more of the cars, until then welcome back to The Carbitrage.