When I covered the annual Japanese Classic Car Show a few years ago, it was held in the shadow of the massive and statuesque Queen Mary luxury ocean liner docked and displayed in Long Beach, California. I loved getting the ship in the background of my photos.
But this year, for the 16th such event, we weren’t in Long Beach. Instead, we were in the parking lot of Angel Stadium, the major league baseball facility in Anaheim.
Show founders and organizers Koji and Terry Yamaguchi explained the change in venue: “Due to Covid-19, the City of Long Beach was not able to guarantee our home location in Long Beach at this time. Rather than wait for confirmation, we decided to move to Angel Stadium of Anaheim, so we can proceed with organization of the show.”
Although I was hoping the show would be held inside the stadium, much like the Copperstate 1000 vintage sports car rally in Tempe, Arizona, or the recent Las Vegas Concours d’Elegance in Nevada — both held on the playing fields — this event was staged on the 12,500-spot parking lot.
My disappointment was temporary when I realized the event now could handle more than 500 vehicles displayed, including superb, rare and classic Japanese vehicles, some of which I had never seen before or, in some instances never even heard of previously.
There also was a show within a show — the 10th anniversary of the Japanese Motorcycle Show, plopped dead center in the massive parking lot.
Thousands of enthusiasts attended the show, seeking out the seemingly miles of Toyotas, Nissans, Mazdas, Hondas and Subarus skillfully organized by brand. They strolled rows of vendors, looking for that perfect part, while feasting on some rare machines brought by the manufacturers themselves. Where Jun Imai of Kaido House (die-cast and customs) showed his full-size and wild Datsun 510 wagon, two fans bought limited Signature-edition scale models for more than $300 each.
Mike Malamut, who has been collecting cars for over 40 years and has a private Vintage Car Museum, showed a very unusual Mazda T200 towing a ’64 Mazda R360 coupe.
“Younger collectors are attracted to Japanese cars in part because they’re cheaper,” he said a few years ago. “It’s a way to enter the collector hobby for relatively little money.”
That might not be so true anymore. In the last few years, prices have climbed, and continue to do so for cars such as the 1990s Toyota Supra twin-turbos, late ‘60s Honda S800, and the limited-production Toyota 2000GT.
Crowds gathered around the Mazda RX-7 from the cult-classic Fast and the Furious, as driven by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). The four-way shootout in the movie was between the Mazda RX-7 (which won), a Mitsubishi Eclipse, a Honda Civic, and an Acura Integra.
An interesting machine that caught my eye was a ’59 Datsun 1000 sedan with correct whitewall tires (the Datsun 1000 was based on the Austin A50 Cambridge). The Datsun won honors at Anaheim as the oldest car in the show.
Another classic that stood out was a hot rodded 1966-70 Honda S800. The car was rated at only 70 horsepower, but it’s 792cc inline-4 could rev to 10,000 rpm.
Also drawing attention was a quirky little car, the Autozam AZ1, manufactured by Mazda powered by a turbocharged 3-cylinder 657cc Suzuki engine, With its gullwing doors, the Autozam looks like a little Lamborghini Diabto GTR.
Georg Zotos displayed his cute red Honda ACTY, a 2 door pickup truck, noting, “These are very common in Japan and I first fell in love with them when I was in San Francisco…always loved small cars and trucks.
“I found this one through a private auction in Japan and had it shipped by boat. All these trucks come as a blank canvas in standard paint white and are itching to be modified. Its my daily driver, sporting a three-cylinder engine…gotta have fun when I’m driving,.”
Sergio Arenas, originally from Guatemala, brought two car — his very rare white 1968 Datsun Sunny 1000 pickup truck and a burgundy ’68 Datsun Sunny station wagon de luxe. “I live in the states now but my friend had these two cars down in Guatemala and called me one day and said he wanted to sell the cars. I bought both cars that were in excellent condition and had them shipped to me in a container.”
Arenas added that he enjoys exercising not only those vehicles, but his Datsun 501s, 240Zs and pickups.
Best Truck honors went to Luis Chavez for his awesome 1994 Nissan Hardbody, this one set up for drag racing and powered by a turbo SR20 with a billet intake manifold and pumping out 780 horsepower.
Best of Show went to a 1964 Datsun Fairlady roadster shown by Thanh Lam, and beautifully presented on whitewall tires. Lam said he had never been to such a show and was flabbergasted for the top award.
“This is the first time I’ve showed this car at this kind of show and I’m speechless,” he said. “Out of all these hundreds of classics, they voted mine the best. I can’t believe it but I’m so happy we’re going out to celebrate.”