Far from simply purveyors of amusing retro-curiosities, Japan’s 10th most significant car maker is in fact at the forefront of modern luxury.
You’ve got to hand it to the Japanese. For a country which is often characterised by rigid social conformity and deep-rooted behavioural reserve, they do seem to have an interesting sense of humour, albeit one that doesn’t always translate that well.
While one wouldn’t necessarily view Japanese automotive products as being anything but entirely serious, there is a joyful aura of non-aggression to some of their more fanciful creations which to Western eyes at least, can translate as farce. However, one sometimes can’t help wondering exactly where the butt of the joke lies.
“Mitsuoka Motor strive to contribute to society by building and selling cars that provide people the joy of seeing their dreams realized”
Mitsuoka Motors was founded in 1979 by Susumu Mitsuoka, producing its first vehicle – the Bubu Shuttle – in 1982. Replica cars followed, including a miniature recreation of the Mercedes SSK in 1987 and the Bubu 505C, a seemingly half scale SS Jaguar 100. 1990 saw the launch of the Le Seyde, a gilded palace of retro-excess even Liberace might have baulked at.
Based on the Nissan Silvia, it’s flamboyant style harked back to American offerings such as the Zimmer Golden Spirit, Stutz Blackhawk and possibly the UK’s Panther Royale. In fact, one could argue that in creating these hammages to the past, Mitusuoka was at the vanguard of the Japanese retro wave that reached its apogee during the early 1990’s.
Perhaps the best-known of Mitsuoka’s cars is the Viewt, announced in 1993. A hilarious collision between a Nissan Micra K11 and a classic Jaguar Mark 2 saloon, the Viewt offered customers an irresistible combination of classic styling, traditional craftsmanship and the kind of fuel economy and reliability Jaguar Mark 2 owners could only dream about.
It also carried with it the admittedly dubious accomplishment of presenting a more cohesive reimagining of Mark 2 styling cues than Jaguar themselves would later achieve with the ‘much-appreciated’ X200 S-Type. Ironically, this year, Mitsuoka has announced a 25th anniversary Viewt – a car which has remained in production longer than the more illustrious vehicle which inspired it.
“Cars that we deliver to customers are most characterized by their keen designs that you cannot find in mass production cars”
But with 1996’s Galue model, Mitsuoka’s ambitions (and stylistic influence) entered new and far-reaching dimensions. Based upon the Japan-only Nissan Crew saloon, the Galue took its reference from luxury British saloons of the 1950s (notably Bentley), although the tail styling could conceivably have reimagined anything from Gordon Keeble via Lagonda Rapide, to Rover P6, taking in quite a number of others along the way.
It wasn’t a bad effort, aided by the upright and rather formal architecture of the donor car, but Mitsuoka was really only getting started. In 1999, a second generation Galue arrived on a Nissan Cedric / Gloria architecture. More expressive than the outgoing car, the Galue II presented a far more imposing proposition. Owners could bask in the grandeur of the larger, more patrician grille which now dominated the car’s visage.
One cannot of course be certain, (the timelines do allow for it), but it’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that the Galue’s impact was not confined to the Far East and that back in the UK, note was duly taken at Crewe. Certainly, the advent of the the Nissan Fuga-based third-series Galue in 2005 can only have confirmed the essential rightness of Dirk van Braeckel’s stylistic vision; 2010’s Mulsanne eloquently demonstrating that imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery.
“Free Ideas and Playful Minds Produce Our Cars”
Latterly, the Galue has downsized to a Toyota Corolla bodyshell, but despite the more compact dimensions, it has not shed an iota of its lofty formality. Far from it. A latter-day Allegro Vanden Plas, some might sneer, but as we can now see, it’s so much more than that.
Meanwhile, as Crewe’s offerings sport ever-larger grilles, equally massive headlamps and an aesthetic which appears simultaneously in step with, yet in diametric opposition to their Japanese source of inspiration, Bentley’s stylists continue to plough a startlingly similar furrow. But given the critical acclaim enjoyed by the storied British automaker, such arguments are moot.
Nevertheless, most observers will undoubtedly remain unconvinced of Mitsuoka’s charms, of its playful sense of humour. Yes, perhaps it’s all rather silly, but what’s wrong with that, might I ask? So be my guest and snigger to your heart’s content. But remember, if Mitsuoka is indeed something of a joke, the punchline really is on Crewe.