Amelia Island concours d’elegance founder Bill Warner called it “a coup for us,” the featuring of a Japanese car on the show field back in 2004, when one of the Bob Sharp Datsun 240Z racers was displayed.
More recently, in 2017, the northern Florida coastal concours had a “major showing” of Japanese race cars, including the 1965 Honda F1 driven by Richie Ginther, as well as every Japanese car that had won at Daytona, Sebring or Le Mans, as well as the SCCA C-Production national champion.
While concours d’elegance tend to feature pre-war classics from Europe and America, Warner explained, “The racing angle made it work, as for the most part, the Japanese culture for luxury and rare cars such as a Mercedes-Benz 540K did not exist pre-war.”
Truth be told, Japanese cars don’t seem to exist even now, judging by the number you see at the major or even minor concours d’elegance. Oh, there might be a Mazda Cosmo as part of a post-war sports car class here or a Toyota 2000GT as part of a grand touring group there, but the concours and even the major car shows have yet to catch up with the growing popularity with collectors, and especially with younger car enthusiasts, of cars made in Japan.
Not only would early Mitsubishi Evos, Nissan Skylines, Subaru STIs and Toyota FJs attract young enthusiasts to a show or concours, but even non-car enthusiasts would be amazed to see a class of the often wacky (at least to Western eyes used to wide-open spaces) urban concept cars from the Tokyo Motor Shows in the 1980s and ’90s and beyond.
Perhaps coming closest so far, except for the annual Japanese Classic Car Show in Long Beach, California, is the Japanese Automotive Invitational, a free event staged just up Peter Hay Hill from the show field for the Pebble Beach concours.
The Japanese invitational is arrayed adjacent to Infiniti’s corporate display stand and was created in 2018 by Nissan’s luxury brand and the Motor Trend Group “to bring even more diversity to the premier celebration of classic, vintage automobiles and demonstrate the prowess Japan brings to the industry.”
Some of the cars on display were provided by automakers or museums while others came from the personal collections of early Japanese car collectors such as Mike Malamut and Myron Vernis.
The show ran for two days in 2018 and for three the following year. Like everything at Pebble Beach, it was postponed last year until 2021 by the coronavirus pandemic.
The first two showcases were impressive, even while limited in the space they were allotted. As we reported back in 2018, “don’t be surprised if the Japanese Automotive Invitational spawns a major Monterey Car Week show,” a Japanese-car version of Concorso Italiano, the Porsche Werks Reunion, or Legends of the Autobahn.
And, we noted, “don’t be surprised if sometime, and perhaps not too far down the road, some of these same vehicles are showcased just down the hill, on the 18th fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Links.”