Born, raised and terminated during the Asian bubble economy- the story of Mazda’s shortlived design and performance skunkworks.
In Tokyo’s Setagaya ward stands a building that is hard to miss, thanks to its highly unusual appearance. Currently occupied by a funeral company, it originally served as the headquarters and showroom for M2, Mazda’s creator of limited-edition specials and prototypes. The eye-catching structure, designed by architect Kengo Kuma, is made out of reinforced concrete, although it is executed in such a way that it resembles masonry construction. A gigantic central Ionic column dominates the view and contains an atrium plus a glazed elevator shaft. Clearly, this was no ordinary showroom but then M2 was no ordinary outfit.
Established in 1990, M2 was no doubt partly inspired by competitor Nissan’s ‘Pike Factory’ success in selling uniquely styled limited editions such as the BE-1, PAO and S-Cargo. These were based on Nissan’s regular offerings and sold through the Cherry Stores network. Continue reading “M Too”
First published on April 27, 2016, this fine piece by the now-retired DTW co-founder, Sean Patrick formed part of the Japan Theme.
An obvious introduction for an obvious concept. If you want to fit people shaped people into a car, the architecture that allows them the most room to sit in comfort is a box. An empty volume bounded by a series of flat rectangles. In the early days lots of cars were like this, now they are not. A common criticism of car design, used in the UK at least, is that a car is ‘boxy’.
Now that my company’s premises have finally moved (after 27 years of failed attempts…) memories swiftly return to the family run garage, directly across from the old plot. Dealing mainly in the average, everyday eurobox, pleasant surprises could often appear, sitting forlornly outside, awaiting attention.
The last such surprise before the move was no less than a Honda Stepwgn Spada – sadly not a misprint, but Honda’s way of saying Step Wagon. As for Spada, well, what were they imbibing in Hiroshima? Had swords been this slab-sided, the weapon would have an altogether different history. But drop your nomenclature concerns and Continue reading “Waku Waku?”
When asked to name a small Japanese manufacturer famous for its modern day renditions of iconic (and mostly British) classic cars, the first answer given by those with some knowledge of the automotive world would likely be ‘Mitsuoka’. And they would be right, of course, but the majority might have trouble naming others that operate or have operated in the same market niche. Here are a few of the lesser known but no less amusing – or sacrilegious, depending on your viewpoint- manufacturers of such cars on the Japanese archipelago. Continue reading “Staying at the Ritz in Goodwood Park with my Princess”
Japan is a country where traditional values are held in high regard, yet outright wackiness at times abounds, where the business-suited salaryman shares a seat on the subway with a flamboyantly made up cosplay girl dressed in a frilly maid costume and nobody bats an eyelid. Hence, it is an environment where even normally conservative manufacturers are not afraid to Continue reading “Spirited Away”
As age creeps ever on, the eyes often need time to adjust to unexpected occurrences. Seen from a good hundred feet, I liked what I saw. The car was glossy black, small, by modern standards but owning its stance. Goodness, it’s a new Toyota; the fourth attempt at the Yaris. And, by George, Akio’s gone and done it – at least on first impressions.
Released August 2020, saw round four of the BigSmall car bucking the trend; smaller, improved upon by degrees. Yaris part three was doing nicely for Toyota. A rising market share, reasonable looks and prices, typically impressive warranty – a customer mainstay. Nothing lasts forever; Yaris 4.0 moved over to the TNGA-B platform.
From their origins as the Tokyo Gas Industry Company in 1910, another thirty two years would pass before the name Hino (Hee-no) Heavy Industry Company Limited began to develop and produce trucks and diesel engines. By the War’s end, their large marine engine production was halted but permission was granted by the ever watchful Allies to Continue reading “The Countess”
Mention the name Max Bygraves to anyone under fifty and you will inevitably elicit blank stares. In the 1970s when UK television was in its heyday, Max was the doyen of Saturday night TV entertainment. Crooning a ballad, he would then relocate to his armchair, emit the title phrase (which had the public impersonating, ad Infinitum) to begin his raconteur session, replete in chunky knit cardigan. Adored for years, by housewives and knitwear aficionados alike, he most likely encouraged an entire generation into the pleasures of yarn.
Looking out my workplace window recently, you can only imagine my surprise to find the automotive version of the London born troubadour – a twenty year old Daihatsu Sirion. Cardigans are somewhat unfashionable garments nowadays but this story contains a few twists, as cable-knit. Get settled in your comfiest chair, grab (carefully) a hot drink and a biscuit and Continue reading “I Want to Tell You a Story”
Venturing onto Suzuki’s Japanese Domestic Market web portal is not only a journey of discovery in itself, its colourful site is quite the joy to behold. And should you find the succinctly melodious Alto not to your liking, there’s a whole host of radical, sophisticated and downright interesting models to whet those with a JDM appetite.
Our Western values place freedom, and power alongside that ole chestnut, sex appeal – not to forget the wonders of that new-fangled electricity in brand advertising. Add in easy terms at every opportunity. That’s our way – the choice is yours to accept them or not. The Japanese, to eyes unaccustomed to such a varied culture, appear to promote fun, safety and economy, alongside more subtle allusions to attracting the attention of whomever one is attracted to. Having had electrical cars since Adam was a lad, Suzuki wish to Continue reading “空と、風と遊ぼう”
For such a wee car, the Suzuki Alto packs a musical punch.
Belgian, Adolfe Sax patented the saxophone back in 1864. A lifelong inventor, any influence upon the nascent motor industry he may have had is doubtful, shuffling off this mortal coil, penniless in 1894. Fast forward to 1909, when Michio Suzuki founded his Loom Manufacturing Works – another 28 years passing before becoming a motor manufacturer. Again, it’s somewhat unlikely that he himself (then aged 92) had any input in the naming or gestation of what became his eponymous company’s smash hit selling vehicle in 1979. But this little car was destined to Continue reading “Play, The Adolfe Way”
Having originally been known as the Kwaishinsha Motorcar Works and later by the acronym, DAT, the Nissan Motor Company has traded under its latterday identity since 1933. Introduced into Western markets under the Datsun nameplate; from 1981, this by then well-established brand name would no longer feature on the carmaker’s products.
The fact that Nissan chose to make this sweeping change in spite of the sales success enjoyed by brand-Datsun across global markets can be viewed two ways; an attempt to create a unified, instantly recognisable brand name, à la Toyota, or alternatively, to allow the carmaker to Continue reading “Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père”
If as it seems, Toyota wears the production crown, at least it’s modest and fits snugly. Naturally, there’s the occasional slip, leaving the odd jaunty angle but on the whole their kingdom is based upon more prosaic, unpretentious values, listening to their customer’s needs.
Much of the decadent West (and Japan) demands vehicles adorned with creature comforts and stratified social markers that depending on nameplate can cause snob levels to rise or fall accordingly. Add in design, a language those interested can weave akin to a boxer’s feet. Today’s subject however contains almost none of these qualities. If the Transit van and its ilk are the trade’s workhorse, then Toyota’s Probox is its beast of burden.
Imaginatively named using the combination of the words, Professional and er, box, this most versatile of vehicles has been a Aichi mainstay for practically twenty years. Simple reliable transport, unadorned by trinkets or jewels – besides it’s not technically a car – one can Continue reading “Mule Variations”
Should there exist the phenomenon of an average main battle tank, one is certainly looking at enormous metallic hulks weighing in excess of sixty tons costing millions of anyone’s currency to build. Naturally a secretive beast, tanks remain wieldy objects until disabled by either enemy action or breakdown when an infrastructure is necessary to facilitate their movements. However, if one is not financially replete or that infrastructure non-existent why not Continue reading “Yeoman of the Guard”
In what now seem like very distant times, procuring the services of a taxi in New York would inevitably see one on the vinyl-clad rear seat of either a big yellow Checker, later a Chevrolet Caprice Classic or Ford Crown Victoria, whereas in swinging London an Austin FX4 “black cab” or its similar looking successors.
Nowadays virtually all these once ubiquitous vehicles have been succeeded by more modern, cleaner, more efficient but at the same time also much less characterful replacements. The minor sense of occasion one experienced as a tourist has gone as well since Toyota Prii and such now Continue reading “Comfort Food”
Toyota chose the 1970 Tokyo motor show to reveal their own style of pony car to the world. Clearly influenced by significant occurrences with such cars as the Mustang, Firebird and Camaro over in the United States, not to mention a gentlemanly nod to the European Capri, Toyota (with assistance from Yamaha) contributed their own version of mass produced self-indulgent motoring.
Using a Latin derivative, coelica to suggest something celestial or heavenly (in Spanish) and given code name TA22, the Celica’s modus operandi was to Continue reading “Heaven Sent”
Casting a covetous gaze, Miles across the ocean. Japan-wards.
Global warming, derisory interest rates, carbon footprints and theatrical leaders – our concerns may skirt those borders but we choose to look beyond them. Further to our recent gaze Eastwards, I have been looking into just what is available from our Japanese cousins, purely for research purposes, you understand.
Several different car club members of my acquaintance have purchased a car from Japan. A Mercedes C180 whose specification resembles nothing to what one buys in Europe, rust-free Lancias, and MX-5s bought on the basis of originality. That’s a pretty wide range of types and pricing. But all were purchased here in the UK, meaning that someone else did the importation and paperwork.
We introduce something of a Japanese (and Toyota-based) micro-theme for the month of February, with an appreciation of a much maligned Grand Turismo from 1999.
No, this is not some Only Connect quiz show number sequence type thing. These numbers actually refer to a decade long tenure (including concept) run of a V8 motor who on its first day of public showing sold six examples. To which do we allude?
The Lexus Sports Coupé 430, a forgotten car, a misjudged one (in my eyes), and now mellowed in middle age.
Much has been learned from last month’s Japan-fest, perhaps most of all that anything we assume about this extraordinary automotive industry is probably wrong, or at least far more complicated than imagined.
For example, most people imagine Suzuki were a confirmed K-car specialist until GM took a modest 5.3% stake in the business in 1981 and promoted the development of the Cultus SA310 supermini – its names were legion; who’s heard of the Isuzu Geminett?
Then, in the depths of the Japanese Society of Automotive Engineers enlightening website I found this forgotten beauty: The 1965 Suzuki Fronte 800. Not to be confused with the big-engined export Kei-car from 1979, more familiar as the Alto and Maruti 800. This one had a long gestation. Continue reading “Yet More Japan – When Suzuki Stumbled”
Driven to Write profiles an unjustly forgotten Japanese outlier.
They say the alcoholic always remembers his or her first drink. I can’t remember mine, so I guess I’m clear on that front, despite none of my assorted ethnicities being notable as strangers to the bottle. On the car-spotting matter, it’s quite different. I can remember seeing my first Ro80, XJ6, and Miura with complete clarity, including colour and location, despite the passage of four and a half decades or more.
The same is true of my first sighting of an Isuzu Bellett. Dark blue 4 door, Market Street, Sydney, June 1992. The Bellett had embedded itself in my automotive consciousness long before, the curiosity fired by reports in Autocar and Motor of saloon racing and rally successes which suggested that this was something out of the ordinary, from an industry about which we were told little. Continue reading “Theme : Japan – Isuzu’s Sporty ’60s Sophisticate”
Toyota’s late-’60s image builder comes under the DTW zoom-lens.
Commercially speaking, Toyota seems to have fared perfectly well without image-building halo cars. While enthusiasts have been well served by numerous performance models over the decades, the Japanese car giant eschewed outright exotics. Not so fast though. As long ago as 1965, crowds at the Tokyo motor show were enraptured by the introduction a sleek and beautifully proportioned coupe from that most conservative of Japan’s burgeoning manufacturers. Deliveries began two years later, but by the decade’s end, after a mere 337 cars, the Toyota 2000GT evaporated from view as quickly as it emerged. Continue reading “Theme: Japan – Toyota’s First Supra-Car”
Scouring the varied cars of Gran Turismo yielded a JDM gem – the Nissan Sileighty.
Don’t go scouring your collections of official Nissan brochures for a SilEighty though; this one is special. Torquepost describes it thus:
“Drifters and street racers who… raced their Nissan 180SXs found that replacing their front ends when they became damaged was very cost prohibitive… due to the pop-up headlamp assemblies. To remedy this… the Nissan Silvia S13’s cheaper parts, including the lighter panel headlamp assemblies, front fenders, hood, and front bumper would be installed instead. Thus, the car would have the front end of an S13 Nissan Silvia, and the rear badge of the original 180SX. And so, the name SilEighty emerged.”
An obvious introduction for an obvious concept. If you want to fit people shaped people into a car, the architecture that allows them the most room to sit in comfort is a box. An empty volume bounded by a series of flat rectangles. In the early days lots of cars were like this, now they are not. A common criticism of car design, used in the UK at least, is that a car is ‘boxy’. This comment needs no expansion – the fact that the car resembles a box condemns it. Yet, of course, a box is the best shape if you want to Continue reading “Theme : Japan – Boxing Clever”
I’ve been fighting this for a while, but have given in to myself and written up some fond memories I have of the fourth generation (BL), 2004 to 2009, Subaru Legacy 3.0R Spec B.
Feel free not to read this piece, it’s pure self-indulgence. This is the car that, in many respects, I wish I had never sold, but I did for the love of the idea of owning a big, oleopneumatically suspended Citroen. In fact, I bought two – one after the other – which was stupid in itself, but I was overcome with a childish desire to Continue reading “Theme: Japan – Subaru Legacy Saloon (BL), 3.0R Spec B”
It’s a peculiar entity, Toyota. More like a small landless nation than a company. It can produce remarkably effective entrants and also miss the mark in its own unique way. Nobody understands it. I try to.
Like GM, Toyota is a sprawling enterprise, with operations all over the world and a large range of vehicles. Unlike GM, Toyota’s failures are seldom mystifying acts of dunderheadness. Even the least successful Toyotas are quality machines which demonstrate the relentless application of diligence. In contrast, GM cars can be entertainingly terrible which can be put down to missing diligence. What Toyota can possibly match the legendary Pontiac Aztek for its florid incompetence? The Solstice’s boot held only a spare wheel. Which Lexus failed as spectacularly as the Cimarron or Catera? Continue reading “Theme: Japan – The Gentleman”
Although I had put the running report on my Cube on hold, based on the fact that there wasn’t much else to write about it except that I like it, I’m writing something in line with this month’s theme.
Actually, I had intended an April 1st piece detailing the work I’d had done by a sympathetic body shop, cutting mine and a LHD Cube down the middle and mating the two sections in order to impose symmetry. But I missed the deadline. Continue reading “Theme : Japan – Nissan Cube Update”
The 1300 was a hugely significant car for Honda, but not in the way it was intended to be.
Since it was never properly sold in Western markets, the Honda 1300 is rather an unknown in Europe. Introduced in 1969, it looks pretty generic; it might be any ordinary European saloon of the time, maybe a Fiat. Though, if you think that the front hints at a Vauxhall Viva HB, that’s because they both took a cue from a common source – in Honda’s case the link being Soichiro Honda’s own Pontiac Firebird. But, beneath the skin, the 1300 couldn’t have been more different from the mediocre and ultra-conventional Vauxhall. Honda has never been like other Japanese manufacturers, because Soichiro Honda was never like other Japanese car company bosses. Continue reading “Theme : Japan – When Failure Breeds Success”
In recognition of this month’s theme, I thought I would provide a short update on progress with my current car: it’s Japanese.
I have now completed over 12,500 miles in the 3. It had its first service just over a week ago, which set me back just a little under £200, most of which went on labour (the going hourly rate is high around here), oil and filters. The car had an engine software upgrade, which apparently was part of a recall that never found its way to my post-box. This was described as a “rough idle recall”, which was not a problem that I ever noticed. It does seem to have improved the fuel economy of the car (the last two tanks-full have averaged just over 60 MPG – up from about 57). Continue reading “Theme: Japan – 2015 Mazda3 Fastback, 2.2L Diesel SportNav”
Much has been written on the contribution of Italy’s styling houses to the Japanese motor industry in the crucial years when it went from being a tentative exporter to a seemingly unstoppable force.
I have taken a closer look at cars from the last five decades with an Italian connection. Unsurprisingly, the activity was at its most intense in the 1960s. Almost every carmaker was using the Italian styling houses then. They were not so much a service to industry, more a regional art form, but as well as being masters of form and proportion, the carrozzieri could Continue reading “Theme: Japan – Tokyo, Twinned With Turin”
50 Shades of Grey? We look at automotive top-shelf material.
For years, those motoring enthusiasts in the UK who only read the home grown magazines might have been excused for thinking that the Japanese industry was quite cynical – ambitious only in so far as to see how many cars it could sell without changing a boring formula. The cars that came to the UK had always been well-equipped and reliable, slowly they became rustproof and then some of them became quite good to drive. However there was little spark of originality in what was offered – they were just sensible transport for the uninterested. But what we saw was the tip of the iceberg. Continue reading “Theme : Japan – Where The Grass Is Always …. Greyer”
Toyota made their reputation (and the bulk of their profits) on serious (if occasionally dull) cars. The Yaris however was different.
This month’s theme has brought to mind, for the first time, that I don’t really think about the nationality of the cars that I buy – with the possible exception of German ones (I seem to pathologically avoid them for being too obvious a choice). I arrived at this via the realisation that, in the S.V. Robinson car buying nationality stakes, Japan stands second only to France. And I found myself rather discombobulated at this.
We may have dealt with this car before. Today it’s here as a photoseries courtesy of our good friends at Autoscout24 where the cars shown here are on sale.
The images tell most of the story. The bit I want to write about here is the baffling habit the Japanese brands had of multiple names for the same cars. We know this one as the Mazda 929 coupe because that was its European name. In Japan it was either a Cosmo or a Luce. Why the difference? Mazda has a chain of dealerships (Mazda Auto) they owned directly. At Mazda Auto the car you see here had Cosmo badges and could be purchased as a coupe or saloon. Continue reading “Theme: Japan – 1981 To 1989 Mazda 929 coupe”
Do you think we do this for fun? Here is the result of two evenings tediously clicking around slow websites, looking at confusingly arranged line-ups. This is what the Japanese brands are selling in the UK and what they charge.
How did I do this? I tried to count the number of distinct models under the category “passenger cars”. I then noted the base price of each. The “Brougham effect” might alter the absolute numbers somewhat but not enough to alter the general, relative nature of the findings. By that I mean if there’s a Nissan Micra Super De Luxe “Montecarlo” model which costs £9,000 more than the base model I won’t have included it. Continue reading “Theme: Japan – The Structure Of Their Product Ranges and An Overview Of Their Pricing”
I’m about halfway through my life or a little over, if I take the actuarial figures for Irish males seriously. Underway I have changed some opinions and made some discoveries. About time, too.
One of these discoveries is that fortified wines from Jerez, Spain are wonderful with sushi. A good fino like Lustau Jarana or a Manzanilla such as Solear go really well with this class of food. And that brings me to Japan, via raw fish. I discovered that raw fish is delicious, an oriental analogue of the way Europeans consume raw beef in the form of steak tartare though sushi is not about disguising the taste as Europeans do with capers, tabasco, onion and egg. The Japanese must find Europeans rather distasteful in some ways.
Sushi brings us finally to Japanese car design which provides plenty of visual interest and more simplicity than complexity. While I feel I am certain that there is more design Continue reading “Theme: Japan – Milestones”
Japanese automotive engineering went into warp-drive mode in the middle 1980s. The Nissan CUE-X of 1985 remains an impressive tour de force of the purest styling and technical experimentation.
Starting under the skin of this elegant and minimalistic design, we find electronic air suspension which controlled the spring rates, ride height and attitude. The damping could be altered as well making this a car which had the potential to fill a brief written by Citroen. Going further than Citroen did with their 1988 XM, the Cue-X also boasted four-wheel steering* The description of how it works is very similar to that of the XM: sensors sent signals to the vehicle’s central processor. The data described vehicle height, road speed, steering input, braking forces, throttle position and gear position. Continue reading “Theme: Japan – 1985 Nissan CUE-X”
How Toyota finally put the horse before the cart in what was, in one sense at least, a bit of a Triumph.
Despite promises of Waku-Doki and its work with EVs, Toyota remains in many ways a cautious company. Once I might have said this with a tinge of contempt, but certainly not now. The motor industry is a dangerous business, yet Toyota has survived and prospered because, generally, they know exactly what they are doing.
By the end of the 1960s, it was clear that front wheel drive was no fad. Even GM had started dabbling with it in, of all things, the 7 litre Oldsmobile Toronado. In Japan, Subaru had produced its 1000 in 1966, Honda the N360 in 1967 and Nissan the E10 Cherry in 1970. But Toyota waited. And waited. Finally, in 1978, Toyota revealed its toe-in-the-water exercise in front wheel drive, the Tercel. Naturally they had been biding their time, assessing the various forays into FWD by other manufacturers.
The Editor introduces DTW’s first single country theme
My standard answer to American acquaintances who asked me why, despite their entire continent and the rest of Europe doing otherwise, the UK and Ireland still insist on driving on the left hand side of the road, was that we were only conforming with the largest motor vehicle manufacturing nation on Earth. That nation was, of course, Japan, a country reasonably larger than the UK, but considerably smaller than France. Continue reading “Theme : Japan – Introduction”