Month: September 2014

PARKING ON GRASS: Japanese Classic Car Show 2014, Part II

S600 Rdstr Front

Yesterday, we teased our favorite car from the 2014 Japanese Classic Car Show, and now we must confess: we lied a little. We had two.

As we were making our second or third lap of the show grounds in the shadow of the Queen Mary, something we had overlooked before stopped us cold: a tiny, gorgeous white roadster that was vaguely familiar, but whose name we could not place immediately. We stepped closer, and the chrome script on the fender revealed the car’s identity: “Honda.” Of course, it was a 1965 S600 Roadster, Honda’s first mass-market automobile. A little more than 11,000 of these lilliputian roadsters were manufactured during a three-year production run, but few are seen today on our shores…one estimate places the number existing in the United States at around 300. And this one was stunning.

S600 Rdstr Rear

Owned by Scott King of Palm Springs, California, this particular S600 Roadster was a left-hand-drive export example that was sold new in Canada (as were most found in North America; the car was never officially exported to the U.S.) A longtime Honda employee who previously had sold his meticulously maintained Prelude to the Honda museum, King purchased the car in 1995 as a complete but  partly disassembled unit that hadn’t run in many years. “There was more rust than actual body,” he recalled. Much to his delight, after a simple cleaning of the fuel system and a carb rebuild the car started right up. From that point, King embarked on a frame-off restoration, which in those pre-internet days meant sourcing obscure parts via word-of-mouth. The resulting finished product has been displayed at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles, as well as being the subject of articles in Motor Trend and Hemmings Motor News.

S600 Rdstr Int

Besides its obvious aesthetic appeal, the S600 is masterpiece of engineering.  The 606-cc, all aluminum inline four will shriek willingly all the way to a 9500 RPM redline. True, it produces only 57 horsepower, but with a feathery 1,575 pound curb weight, such output is adequate to propel the car from 0-60 in 11.5 seconds on its way to a top speed of 90 miles per hour, figures that compare quite favorably with competing British sports cars of the day (none of which packed engine technology as advanced as this.)

S600 Coupe rear

So dazzling was the white Roadster that we very nearly overlooked the equally spectacular 1965 S600 Coupe parked next to it. Unsurprisingly, this car too is owned by Scott King, and its backstory is even more fascinating than that of its ivory sister car.

S600 Coupe grille

Only about 1,800 Coupe versions of the S600 were produced over its three-year production span, and King’s right-hand-drive example was likely made for the Japanese domestic market. However, compelling evidence exists to suggest that this particular car made its way to North America as part of Honda’s entourage for the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix, which happens to have been the site of Honda’s maiden Formula 1 victory (hence the “HONDA F1” license plate.) According to King, it would have been more cost effective for Honda to have sold the car on this side of the Pacific following the race rather than shipping it back to Japan, and that is precisely what transpired. By the time the car found its way to King about ten years ago, it was rusty and rough, having been vandalized while in long-term storage. A comprehensive restoration followed to as high a standard as was applied to the white Roadster, with equally wonderful results.

S600 Coupe side

Whether in Coupe or Roadster form, the Honda S600 represented a Great Leap Forward in the viability of the Japanese auto industry on the worldwide stage, and pristine examples like those belonging to Scott King are some of the best evidence available that Japanese classics deserve broader acceptance in the car collecting community at large. Yes, it’s difficult to assess them without comparison to their more familiar British contemporaries, but to do so with an open mind will quickly reveal that in many regards, the Hondas were simply superior machines. We’d love to own one.

Parking On Grass is the Desktop Concours’ irregular series on California’s vibrant car show scene.  Occasionally, cars will not actually be be parked on grass.

PARKING ON GRASS: Japanese Classic Car Show 2014

NSX

Until recently, the notion of a “classic” Japanese car might have been met with derision in the mainstream collector car community. True, there have been a handful of models that have enjoyed broad acceptance for years, such as the Datsun 240Z, but for the most part Japanese cars have largely (and unfairly) been considered bland, disposable appliances, not worthy of the adoration heaped upon American and European marques. Thankfully, a reassessment seems to be taking place as a new generation of enthusiasts looks back with fondness on the sporty compacts they once owned or lusted after, while older collectors have finally awoken to the virtues of the lightweight construction, inspiring performance, and sturdy build quality offered by Japanese cars. “J-Tin” is no longer a derogatory term.

Those requiring proof of the Japanese car’s emergence as a viable vintage collectible need look no further than the Japanese Classic Car Show, held this year at Harry Bridges Memorial Park at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Founded by Koji and Terry Yamaguchi in 2005, JCCS has over the years attracted thousands of the most interesting pre-1990 Japanese cars in the country. Though a loose, bring-it-as-it-sits attitude toward a car’s acceptance onto the JCCS lawn customarily has been the norm, the Yamaguchis have always had a rule on the books that cars with substantial dents or rust would be turned away. The announcement that this rule would be more rigorously enforced in 2014 created a minor controversy in certain corners of the internet, as some predicted that attendance would be depressed by a perceived “snobbishness” on the part of the organizers. Such concerns turned out to be unfounded, however, as the show was packed with cars ranging from concours-quality trailer queens to daily drivers with a few blemishes, as well as pieces from the corporate collections of the North American divisions of Toyota, Mazda and Honda (such as the pristine Acura NSX pictured above.)

Hako

If any single model is emblematic of the emerging Japanese classic car scene in the U.S., it’s the Nissan Skyline. Long-revered in its native country for its racing heritage and crushing performance in top specification, the Skyline captured the hearts and minds of America’s youth with its appearance in the seminal driving simulation video game, Gran Turismo. Among the Skyline’s many generations (dating back to the 1950s) perhaps the most popular is the C10 introduced in 1969. Affectionately known as the Hakosuka (or “Boxy Skyline”) the C10 in GT-R trim enjoyed overwhelming success in Japanese touring car racing in the early ’70s, burnishing a legend that lives on in the current-generation Nissan R35 GT-R. The C10 was never officially sold in the U.S., but with aggressive looks that recall our homegrown musclecars of the era, Hakosukas have trickled into the country in the hands of dedicated enthusiasts. Our favorite at JCCS this year was Marco Vargas’ yellow ’72 GT-R.

AE86 Nocum

If any car can challenge the Hakosuka Skyline for dominance of the Japanese classic scene in America, it’s the Toyota Corolla AE86, better known to enthusiasts as the Hachiroku (appropriately, “eighty six.”) A longtime cult favorite among drift racers and other grassroots motorsport proponents, the AE86 exploded in popularity as the hero car of the graphic novel series Initial D. There’s no great mystery in the AE86’s appeal: it’s a lightweight, rear-wheel-drive sports coupe that in top specification packs a rev-happy twin cam, 16-valve four cylinder engine. Finding clean, unmolested examples in the U.S. is practically impossible at this point, making John Nocum’s 1985 GT-S liftback a rare treat.  Though appearing to sit on lowered springs, Nocum’s car was otherwise stock and well-preserved…even its notoriously sun-sensitive dashboard was uncracked.

Janet AE86

Of course, with mint originals in short supply, some AE86 owners choose to go the restoration route.  Few have pulled it off better than Janet Fujimoto with her 1985 GT-S notchback, which has been restored to a standard more commonly seen among six-figure Italian exotic cars.  A perennial favorite at JCCS, Fujimoto finally bagged the coveted “Best AE86” award at the 2014 show.

CRX

Another ’80s classic that has become virtually impossible to find in stock condition is the Honda CRX, most of which seem to have been thrashed as commuter cars, amateur racers, or worse: victims of ill-advised modifications by teenaged “tuners.” Thankfully, a few devoted owners have preserved these wonderful featherweight performers, perhaps none more successfully than Christopher Hoffman and his well-known ’87 CRX Si. Hoffman has owned the car since new, during which time he has accumulated 109,000 miles and more than a little press coverage (including feature articles in Hemmings Motor News, Japanese Nostalgic Car, and Petrolicious.)

Impulse

There are vintage Japanese cars seldom seen in stock condition, and then there are vintage Japanese cars seldom seen…period.  Such is the case with the first-generation Isuzu Impulse, sold in the U.S. from 1981 through 1989. A supremely handsome coupe with styling by Giugiaro, the Impulse was a fairly popular competitor to the Toyota Celica and Volkswagen Scirocco during its production run, and eventually offered turbo power and a Lotus-tuned suspension. Yet for some reason, only a handful remain today; owners have been known to refer to their cars as “extinct.” Among the few survivors, longtime Isuzu employee Jeff Shein’s ’85 Turbo must be one of the best. (Looming in the background is another popular Isuzu favorite, the 1991 Trooper 4×4 of Bart Wilkus, whose collection also includes an immaculate Impulse Turbo.)

Trueno

Another rare sight on these shores is the Toyota Sprinter Trueno, a high-performance variant of the Corolla made between 1972 and 1974. Russ Capulong’s ’72 was actually born a lower-spec Corolla, but was painstakingly converted over a three-year period into a Trueno clone using original Japanese-sourced parts (including a set of authentic 1970s Watanabe alloy wheels.) The result is striking, and was our favorite early Toyota at the show by a wide margin.

1600Roadster

One of the few Japanese classics to have enjoyed longstanding popularity among American enthusiasts is the Datsun 1600/2000 Roadster.  Launched in the late 1960s as a competitor to contemporary British sports cars, the Datsun Roadster offered a degree of quality and reliability that were unheard of among the English brands. As always, there were numerous examples shown at JCCS; our pick was Rich Scharf’s gleaming white 1970 1600. Like many other classic Japanese car owners, Scharf had previously owned a Datsun Roadster in his pre-parenthood days, and purchased his current ride as an “empty nest car.” Complete but rusty when he bought it, Scharf subjected the 1600 to a three-year restoration which he describes as 95% complete. After viewing the car’s beautifully finished interior and truly spectacular powder-coated undercarriage, we’d be hard-pressed to find the other 5%.

With hundreds of amazing cars to choose from at this year’s JCCS, it would seem that picking an overall favorite would be difficult.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t…the winner very literally stopped us in our tracks.  That car, and its fascinating backstory, will be revealed tomorrow!

Parking On Grass is the Desktop Concours’ irregular series on California’s vibrant car show scene.  Occasionally, cars will not actually be be parked on grass.

COMING SOON: Jackie Stewart’s championship-winning high-wing Matra in 1:18 scale, by Spark

Spark Matra

1969 was a liminal year in Formula One, with constructors experimenting with a variety of new technologies to gain a competitive edge.  As understanding of aerodynamics became more fully matured, one of the major leaps forward in the late ’60s was the addition of wings to F1 cars to develop vital downforce.  Starting in 1968 and continuing into early 1969, a number of car constructors mounted wings on large struts that towered over the car, usually bolted directly to the suspension.  These “high wings” did indeed generate a huge amount of downforce, but they were also prone to collapse…often with catastrophic results.  After only the second race of the 1969 season (the Spanish Grand Prix) the FIA banned wings altogether, though they would return in lower, body-mounted specification later that season.

The winner of that final high-wing race was Jackie Stewart in his Matra MS80, a car which he would later describe as the best-handling F1 car he had ever driven.  Powered by the ubiquitous 3-liter Cosworth DFV, the MS80 was quick and reliable, carrying Stewart to a dominant six victories in eleven races en route to his maiden World Championship.

Spark Models recently announced that they will produce Jackie Stewart’s groundbreaking high-wing Matra MS80 in 1:18 scale (pictured above, manufacturer’s photo.)  Slated for December release, Carriage House Models will proudly carry this incredibly significant Formula 1 car, one that rewrote the rules for the way race cars would be constructed for decades to come.  Please visit http://www.carriagehousemodels.com for availability updates.

PARKING ON GRASS: The 2014 Boots & Bonnets All MG Car Show

B RowFor at least one generation of Americans, the initials “MG” are synonymous with the concept of a sports car itself.  GIs returning from the European Theater following World War II brought with them memories of the spritely performance of the spindly MG TC (and in many cases, shipped home an actual example of the car!)  And of course, the later MGB would become the world’s best-selling sports car over the span of its 18-year production run, a title it held until the advent of the Mazda Miata in the 1990s.

With MG’s popularity as strong as it has ever been, we didn’t miss a chance to check out the Southern California MG Club’s annual Boots and Bonnets car show, held September 7th at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo (one of our favorite local haunts.)  Likely due to a combination of the our gentle dry climate and the vitality of the area’s collector base, the cars on display were of a quality far beyond what we’ve come to expect from a local show.

StipeBGT1The first car to catch our eye was Nancy Stipe’s 1972 BGT, finished in a deep metallic blue.  Nancy was gracious enough to let us paw over her beautiful coupe, and we were blown away by all of the car’s nice touches.  The parchment-colored upholstery was piped in body-matching blue, and the rear-view mirror was etched with the famous MGB GT logo.  Perhaps the most unique feature was the car’s MG-badge radiator cap, which Nancy made by hand.  The care and personal attention that were evident in this car were rewarded with a first-place finish in the show’s GT class.

20140907_121218_resizedAnother eye-catching BGT was Stephen Jones’ ’72.  Featuring twin Webers and a hot cam, trick suspension, and Willwood brakes, this car was set up as much for “go” as it was for “show,” but still claimed 3rd place in the GT class…as well as being our personal choice for car we’d most like to have driven home (with a healthy detour through the canyon roads north of town, of course!)

 

 

TFSadly, there were no TCs or earlier models in attendance, but the disappointment was lessened by the presence of a field of beautiful TDs and TFs, including this sweetheart…check out the green leather!

Graves BThe open-topped MGB remains one of the most popular, most recognizable sports cars on the planet, and there were a healthy number on display at the Boots and Bonnets show, spanning nearly the entire history of the iconic marque.  Our favorite had to be Andrew Graves’ right-hand-drive ’63 in traditional British Racing Green.  Perhaps it was the high quality of its interior, or its upgraded 1950-cc engine, or maybe it was just the position of the steering wheel, but to walk around this roadster was to be transported back in time to Silverstone or Brands Hatch in the mid-60s, where this car might have sat in the paddock while Clark and Hill battled it out on track.

White RostylesMaybe a bit incongruously, our other favorite B was this white ’71, which was a bit more scruffy than some (okay, most) of the other cars at the show.  That was actually part of its appeal; whether it was the nicked paint or whether it was the owner’s decision to forgo wire wheels in favor of the oh-so-’70s Rostyles, this was an MG that looked like it was being enjoyed on a daily basis…exactly as it should be in Southern California.

Tony Li A 2The clear star of the show, however, was Tony Li’s 1958 MGA, being shown for the first time since its recently completed restoration (which was performed mostly by the owner himself, aside from paintwork and a few mechanical bits.)  As he took the time to point out some of the car’s details, including what has to be one of the neatest, most perfectly finished under-dash areas we’ve ever seen, it was apparent that Tony’s infectious enthusiasm for his finished product was entirely justified.  We kept returning to the car again and again during the show, each time staring in wonder at its perfect red finish, its beautiful tan Connolly hides, and its glistening chrome.  The show’s judges agreed, awarding the car first place in a highly competitive MGA class.

Once again, Southern California car culture came through with a typically wonderful local show, with nothing but charming cars (a few of which we’re sure could compete quite nicely at next-level concours events) and gracious owners.  The Boots and Bonnets show was a great reminder of why America fell in love with MGs in the first place.

Parking On Grass is the Desktop Concours’ irregular series on California’s vibrant car show scene.  Occasionally, cars will not actually be parked on grass.