Yet More Japan – When Suzuki Stumbled

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.

Suzuki 1-38-1

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”

Theme : Japan – Isuzu’s Sporty ’60s Sophisticate

Driven to Write profiles an unjustly forgotten Japanese outlier.

7989627134_3e84e15c21_o

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”

Theme: Japan – Toyota’s First Supra-Car

Toyota’s late-’60s image builder comes under the DTW zoom-lens.

Image:wheelsage.org
Image:wheelsage.org

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”

Theme: Japan – Nissan SilEighty – Sideways Thinking

Scouring the varied cars of Gran Turismo yielded a JDM gem – the Nissan Sileighty.

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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.”

So there you have it: the Nissan SilEighty. An ingenious piece of sideways thinking from Japanese drifters. Continue reading “Theme: Japan – Nissan SilEighty – Sideways Thinking”

Theme : Japan – Boxing Clever

Why is Japan so good at thinking inside the box?

1989 Nissan Chapeau image : conceptnissan.com
Chapeau, Nissan? Well, it’s a start, I guess. 1989 Nissan Chapeau image : conceptnissan.com

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 maximise on internal volume.  Various European manufacturers have experimented with boxiness but, except for the Quasar Unipower, whose designer, incidentally, was from Vietnam, they have generally lacked conviction. Continue reading “Theme : Japan – Boxing Clever”

Theme: Japan – Subaru Legacy Saloon (BL), 3.0R Spec B

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.

Subaru Legacy Spec.B - Image:betterparts
Subaru Legacy Spec.B – Image: betterparts

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 have what seemed to be, and indeed was, an upgraded and improved version of a car that I already loved. Oh dear, this article is already reading like a therapy session. Continue reading “Theme: Japan – Subaru Legacy Saloon (BL), 3.0R Spec B”

Theme: Japan – 1976 Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste

These days nobody remembers the Renault 17 and nobody at all remembers the car it inspired, the 1976 Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste.

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Continue reading “Theme: Japan – 1976 Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste”

Theme: Japan – The Gentleman

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.

2000 Toyota WillVi: www.carsensor.net
2000 Toyota WillVi. They don´t do much of this, do they?: http://www.carsensor.net

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”

Theme : Japan – Nissan Cube Update

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.

Cube Engine Bay

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”

Theme: Japan – Gotta Catch ‘Em All: In praise of Gran Turismo

At the dawn of the 1990s, the computer games industry was in a state of flux. The emergence of 3D rendering technology was spawning new types of games and gameplay.

in control: source
in control: source

Yet against this background of widespread experimentation, driving games were stuck in a rut. A young Japanese game designer by the name of Kazunori Yamauch was unhappy with the state of play. “There were no simulation-based racing games,” Yamauchi stated to Autoweek. “Most of them were arcade games.” Continue reading “Theme: Japan – Gotta Catch ‘Em All: In praise of Gran Turismo”

Theme : Japan – When Failure Breeds Success

The 1300 was a hugely significant car for Honda, but not in the way it was intended to be.

Honda 1300 A autoevolution-com
Honda 1300 Saloon – image : autoevolution.com

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”

Theme: Japan – 2015 Mazda3 Fastback, 2.2L Diesel SportNav

In recognition of this month’s theme, I thought I would provide a short update on progress with my current car: it’s Japanese.

Mazda3 Fastback - brochure pic

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”

Theme: Japan – Tokyo, Twinned With Turin

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.

1965 Mazda Familia Coupe Source: cartype.com
1965 Mazda Familia Coupe Source: cartype.com

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”

Theme : Japan – The Other Man’s Grass Is Always …. Greyer

50 Shades of Grey?  We look at automotive top-shelf material.

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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 – The Other Man’s Grass Is Always …. Greyer”

Theme: Japan – The Best Ever Toyota Design?

Toyota made their reputation (and the bulk of their profits) on serious (if occasionally dull) cars. The Yaris however was different. 

My favourite aspect - that bold pressing-line from the rear window down to the side indicator repeater (source: HonestJohn)
My favourite aspect – that bold pressing-line from the rear window down to the side indicator repeater (source: HonestJohn)

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. Continue reading “Theme: Japan – The Best Ever Toyota Design?”

Theme: Japan – 1981 To 1989 Mazda 929 coupe

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.

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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”

Theme: Japan – The Structure Of Their Product Ranges and An Overview Of Their Pricing

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.

Adieu Accord - image via motorauthority
No more Accords – image: motorauthority

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”

Theme: Japan – Milestones

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.

1986 Honda Accord Aerodeck
1986 Honda Accord Aerodeck: source

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”

Theme: Japan – 1985 Nissan CUE-X

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.

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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”

Theme : Japan – The Giant Finally Moves Forward

How Toyota finally put the horse before the cart in what was, in one sense at least, a bit of a Triumph.

Spot The Difference - image : japanclassic.ru
Spot The Difference – image : japanclassic.ru

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. Continue reading “Theme : Japan – The Giant Finally Moves Forward”

Theme : Japan – Introduction

The Editor introduces DTW’s first single country theme

1966 Toyota Corona - image : toyota.co.uk
1966 UK specification Toyota Corona – image : toyota.co.uk

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”