Photos by Howard Koby
The first cars imported from Japan were economical to drive, but would anyone ever consider them to be classics?
Koji and Terry Yamaguchi grew up in Japan with what was known as the
“kyu-sha” movement, a celebration of vintage and modified cars and motorcycles. They came to the United States in the late 1990s and brought the movement with them. Ten years ago they launched something they called the Japanese Classic Car Show.
The show recently celebrated its 10th anniversary at Harry Bridges Memorial Park in the shadow of the Queen Mary luxury ocean liner in Long Beach Harbor, where some 400 primarily pre-1985 Japanese cars and motorcycles attracted 10,000 people.
“The show is a good way to pass Japanese culture onto the next generation and show youngsters where these car types come from,” said Terry Yamaguchi.
Cars from Japan began trickling into the United States in the 1950s and ‘60s. But it wasn’t until the oil crisis of 1973 that they started drawing widespread acceptance from drivers used to much larger and more luxurious vehicles. Soon, cars even such upscale cars were being exported from Japan to American dealerships and driveways.
And now not only cars such as the Datsun Z cars, Toyota’s 2000GT and the Mazda Cosmo (Jay Leno featured a ’66 Mazda Cosmo on an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage) are considered classics, but so are the early Datsun 510, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Mazda RX3.
The Japanese Classic Car Show is known as “kyu-sha paradise” by participants and spectators and remains at the forefront of the old-school Japanese-car movement in America.
This year it featured a superb contingent of Honda 600s, the first rotary-engined Mazdas, the very sharp Toyota 2000GT, the all-aluminum Acura NSX and the immensely popular Datsun 1600/2000 Roadsters which were launched in the late 1960s as a competitor to the British sports cars.
Special guests included Peter Brock, founder of the BRE Datsun racing team, and John Morton, the BRE driver who piloted the Datsun 510 to victory in the SCCA 2.5 Trans-Am championship. Also in attendance were Hot Wheels designer Jun Imai and Hot Wheels and Matchbox designer Ryu Asada.
One Datsun that stood out was a 1973 model called the “Giant Killer.” It was driven in competition by Dick Barbour (SCCA), James Brolin (IMSA), Paul Newman (IMSA), Don Prudhomme (IMSA), Clint Eastwood (IMSA) and others.
Also on display was a symbolic model of the emerging Japanese classic car scene, a 1971 Nissan Skyline GTR known as Hakosuka or “Boxy Skyline” and featured in the video game Gran Turismo.
Gerald Quist won First Place in Old School Cars with his yellow 1970 Honda N600 sedan while Best of Show honored Scott King with the beautiful white 1965 Honda S600 Roadster he restored himself over a seven-year period.
For more infomation, visit the Japanese Classic Car Show website.