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0% 10 PANESE

JA

CLASSIC

TOYOTA COROLLA GT

REAR-WHEEL DRIVE FUN!

CARS

Retro

THE SKYLINE STORY FIRST CARS TO HAKOSUKA

HOW A FAMILY SALOON BECAME AN ICONIC RACE CAR

SUMMER 2016 £4.50

NISSAN CHERRY EUROPE

A RARE SURVIVOR, DRIVEN

VTEC PROFILE

HOW DOES IT WORK?

MITSUBISHI DELICA

DETAILED BUYING GUIDE

PLUS: JAPFEST REPORT ● MAZDA HISTORY ● CHEAP, SPEEDY SALOONS ● ISUZU PIAZZA PROFILE ● SUBARU ROADTRIP ● AUCTION NEWS


R E W O P CE

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N A M R O F R PE FROM JAPAN

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CTIONRACEWAY // SUNDAY 2 OCTOBER 2016

SANTA POD

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Retro

Japanese Kelsey Media, Cudham Tithe Barn, Berry's Hill, Cudham, Kent, TN16 3AG, United Kingdom +44 (0)1959 541444

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KELSEYmedia www.kelsey.co.uk RETRO JAPAN E S E

Welcome Sales of the first issue of Retro Japanese were pleasingly high, so I'm pleased to say that we're back for more! We will be publishing four issues per year, with plenty of oriental motoring treats for you. In this issue, I'm afraid I've been ticking off some more personal favourites. Sure, Skylines are fun, but I was thrilled at the opportunity to drive what is possibly the only roadworthy Nissan Cherry Europe left on UK roads. This fascinating amalgam of Japanese and Italian engineering holds a few surprises. See page 10 for more. Talking of Skylines, I also had a thoroughly enjoyable time researching the Skyline Hakosuka feature on page 38. Nissan was good enough to raid its archives in Japan, so we've got some pictures I guarantee you won't have seen before as we uncover the early years of the Skyline. I plan to keep this series going, so we'll look at the 1970s and 1980s next time. Why is the kenmeri Skyline so-called? For those who don't know, you might be surprised! We've also got a buyer's guide in this issue on the Mitsubishi Delica. I've driven a couple of these, and they're extremely capable machines, albeit not exactly swift! Ideal for hauling tat about and dragging new projects home. Page 18 is where it starts. The Corolla GT feature on page 24 was another box ticker. Forget about hot hatches, the Corolla GT is enormous fun, with the drive firmly in the right place – the rear. I managed to find a highly original example to get my hands on. We've also got a review of Japfest at Silverstone earlier in the year, and a preview of Japfest Rock – hello if you've picked up a copy of this magazine at the show. There's a lot more stuff too, including a Subaru Impreza roadtrip, a profile of the remarkable Isuzu Piazza, the most affordable speedy saloons, a look at the VTEC engine and three pages dedicated to the cars you own. As ever, feedback is always welcome. Drop me a line!

Ian Seabrook

ian.seabrook@kelseymedia.co.uk Kelsey Media 2016 © all rights reserved. Kelsey Media is a trading name of Kelsey Publishing Ltd. Reproduction in whole or in part is forbidden except with permission in writing from the publishers. Note to contributors: articles submitted for consideration by the editor must be the original work of the author and not previously published. Where photographs are included, which are not the property of the contributor, permission to reproduce them must have been obtained from the owner of the copyright. The editor cannot guarantee a personal response to all letters and emails received. The views expressed in the magazine are not necessarily those of the Editor or the Publisher. Kelsey Publishing Ltd accepts no liability for products and services offered by third parties. Kelsey Publishing Ltd uses a multi-layered privacy notice, giving you brief details about how we would like to use your personal information. For full details, visit www.kelsey.co.uk , or call 01959 543524. If you have any questions, please ask as submitting your details indicates your consent, until you choose otherwise, that we and our partners may contact you about products and services that will be of relevance to you via direct mail, phone, email or SMS. You can opt out at ANY time via email: data.controller@kelsey.co.uk or 01959 543524. Retro Japanese is available for licensing worldwide. For more information, contact bruce@bruceawfordlicensing.com

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CONTENTS 32

74

94

98

FACTS & FUN 6

News, values, products

The latest auction results, market news and product tests.

32 Top Five load luggers

Need to shift a wardrobe? We explore the best ways to do so.

46 Japfest Report

Catch up on all the happenings in Silverstone, plus Japfest Rock preview

56 Our Stories

What have we been up to? May contain RAV4. And Sportrak.

60 Owners' Stories

You put us to shame with a far more attractive spread of cars!

64 Brochure Time - Daihatsu Dan Hirst takes a look through his archive of brochure material.

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74 Mazda History

How Mazda went from R360 to MX-5 in just under three decades.

80 Spotted!

Stuff our readers have spotted around the country. Are you in there?

94 Supra Mini Test

Trying out a hairy-chested Toyota Celica Supra.

96 Guest fleet

One man's fleet of J-tin – from Laurel to Lexus.

98 Gone, but not forgotten Some of Ian's past favourites, including a stunning T12 Bluebird.

BUYING 18 Mitsubishi Delica

An impressive off-road carry-all. Here's how to grab a good'un.

84 Affordable Speedy Saloons How to go very quickly on a tight budget.

RETRO JAPAN E S E


50

10

MAIN FEATURES

70

24

10 The Italian Nissan Testing the Cherry Europe against its Japanese stablemate.

24 Bucking the Trend

Driving the Corolla that turned its back on front-wheel drive.

50 Aces High – Isuzu Piazza The 'Ace of Clubs' concept that became a production reality.

70 French Road Trip: Subaru Impreza

Gatecrashing a classic road run with a burbling turbo.

88 VTEC PROFILE

How does this remarkable engine work?

The Creation of a Legend

The Skyline story, up to and including Hakosuka

RETRO JAPAN E S E

38 5


WHAT'S GOING ON?

Market News

We have a trawl through the auction houses to see what's going on, and look at the products you can buy

ASTONISHING HILUX MAKES TOP MONEY One of the best Hilux pick-ups in the UK made an astonishing £14,700 (inc premium) at Anglia Car Auctions' 10 April sale, topping its estimate of £9000-12,000. It demonstrates that immaculate commercial vehicles can make exceedingly strong money, driven by sheer rarity. Most have simply been driven into the ground. This one had covered a mere 19,830 miles with its one lady owner and the condition was just extraordinary, down to the perfect rear loadbay cover. What a beauty. A Toyota BJ40 Land Cruiser topped its £3000-4000 estimate to make £5145, despite being a restoration project. Again, classic Land Cruiser values have very much been on the rise of late. A Subaru Impreza P1 also beat its estimate to sell for £19,530. It had been well looked after by the same owner since 2003, and had covered only 44,000 miles. The sale also included a trio of Nissans, which demonstrated just how varied the market can be. A very tidy Nissan Sunny GSX Coupé made a mere £1000, and was something of a bargain, even with its automatic gearbox. A nice grey Skyline R34, with comprehensive Japanese history, made a moderate £32,550. That seems pretty good value given the spec, and it could prove as much fun as an investment as its considerable pace will be on the road. The R33 Skyline still lags massively behind the R34 in value terms. Is that purely down to looks? The R33 N1 in the Anglia Car Auctions sale made just

Just £12,045 nabbed this R33 Skyline N1.

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£12,075, only just scraping over the lower estimate. Sure, the looks are less brutal than the R34, and perhaps even a touch bland, but that still seems a very capable car for the money. R33s are very much the value option.

The next advertised sale was on 18 June. It contained a remarkable gathering of Land Cruisers. Anglia Car Auctions really seems to know how to find them! www.angliacarauctions.co.uk

Wonderful condition helped this Hilux realise £14,700 at Anglia Car Auctions

A strong £19,530 for this Impreza P1, beating its £13,000 top estimate.

£5145 for this Land Cruiser project. More Cruiser action in the next sale.

R34s still appreciating. This one made £32,550.

AHardly Skyline performance, but auto Sunny Coupé was a steal at £1000. RETRO JAPAN E S E


WORDS: IAN SEABROOK

SUNNY TO STAR AT BRIGHTWELLS A delicious, beige Datsun Sunny B310 estate is one of the stand out cars of Brightwells' Modern Classics sale on 23 June. With just 11,150 miles on the clock, the car is described as 'out of the box' by Brightwells, and has a tempting estimate of £25003500. A 36,000-mile Datsun Stanza is also of interest, with an estimate of £2000-3000. A local car from new, it has plenty of history and appears to be in great condition. Keeping the Impreza theme going, this sale also has a very nice one for sale, the eighth P1 built. Recent results suggest it could beat its £12,00014,000 estimate. Time will tell. Sadly, the £2000-3000 estimate on the Honda Prelude 2.0i automatic, in fourth generation form, seems a bit higher than current market reality – which is more to do with how criminally underrated these cars are. We suspect the 1993 third-gen 2.0i 4WS has more chance, with its estimate being £2500-3500. It has covered a mere 34,000 miles and already, these thirdgeneration Preludes are becoming rare, especially in this condition. An Isuzu Impulse is a very rare treat on our shores, with this left-hand drive example previously belonging to the Stondon Transport Museum. The underpinnings are General Motors for the most part, with frontwheel drive and 'Handling by Lotus' which was also under GM's control at the time. The car has MOT until October, and has no reserve. It'll be interesting to see what it makes. In the Toyota section of the sale, the 1978 Corolla SR5 liftback is of particular interest, and its estimate of £2500-

3500 seems, if anything, rather on the low side. It wears period-correct alloy wheels and looks to be in great condition. For not a lot more, a Supra Mk4 non-turbo looks like a lot of fun for £4000-6000. That's pretty much half

what a turbocharged version would cost. Incidentally, Brightwells found themselves with far more cars than they expected for this sale. The world of modern classic cars is truly upon us. www.brightwells.com

How clean does this beige Sunny B310 estate look? £2500-3500 the estimate.

£12,000-14,000 on this Impreza P1, but will it realise more?

Isuzu Impulse is a real rarity. Ex-Stondon Transport Museum, no reserve.

36,000 miles and a £2000-3000 estimate for this delicious Stanza.

Just £2500-3500 for this Corolla liftback. Could be good value.

No Turbo, but £4000-6000 estimate for this Supra Mk4 seems good value.

IN BRIEF FINE CORONA

TOTALLY ACE

It's an overused phrase, but this barn find 1966 Toyota Corona at Derbyshire is something a bit special. The estimate is £40005000 and the sale is on 25 June. We wonder what it'll make. www. derbyshirecarbuyers.co.uk

This Toyota Lite Ace Day Van is another remarkable rarity. It was sold new in Hong Kong in 1978, then shipped to Greece and driven to its new home in Cornwall. It has been kept in good order, and has an estimate of £6000-8000 with Classic Car Auctions. The sale is on 18 June. www.classiccarauctions.co.uk/

RETRO JAPAN E S E

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WHAT'S GOING ON?

Market News Ex-Prince Naseem Impreza 22B hit an eyewatering £73,125

£73,125 IMPREZA IMPRESSES The ex-Prince Naseem Impreza 22B achieved a remarkable £73,125 with Silverstone Auctions at its 20 May sale. The 22B is the Impreza to have, and the former-boxer link only increased excitement for this 2500mile example, though some did not remember that he famously managed to crash it. Still, it shows how collector interest has definitely gripped the world of Imprezas. Will other limited edition models follow suit? Certainly, P1 values are creeping upwards. Honda NSX values are also on the rise, though not enough to secure a

sale for the 2005 NSX in this sale. It was one of the final 12 NSXs built, and described as being of “the highest calibre.” The estimate of £80,000100,000 was certainly very strong, but who's to say it was too high? On the right day, it could have easily made that, and Silverstone Auctions already has a track record when it comes to breaking records with NSXs – it sold another 'final 12' NSX for £80,500 in 2013. Showing that the R33 Skyline certainly isn't incapable of commanding good money, a perfectly stock V-Spec II in attractive Red Pearl

Metallic made £20,250. Based on other areas of the classic car world, completely stock Skylines could prove to be a good investment. www.silverstoneauctions.com

Stock R32 Skyline indicated future trends with £20,250 including premium.

Product News Skyline Intercooler Upgrade Looking to extract a bit more power from your Skyline? This new intercooler upgrade should be an integral part of it. After all, the cooler the boosted pressure, the better that is for gaining power. Designed for R32, R33 and R34, TMS Motorsports' intercooler has a meaty 610 x 280 x 70mm core, a 3” inlet and outlet and has been pressure tested up to 5 bar. It should be good for power upgrades to the order of some 600bhp. Price: £229 Fits: Skyline R32, 33 and 34. Contact: 01189 485132 or www.tmsmotorsport.co.uk

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COMPARISONS THE ITALIAN NISSAN

THE ITALIAN NISSAN We compare a Nissan Cherry Europe with an entirely Japanese Cherry. Just how different can this pair be? WORDS AND PICS: IAN SEABROOK

P

eople have been mocking the Nissan Cherry Europe, or Alfa Romeo Arna, for pretty much as long as these siblings have existed. On paper, this pair were a combination of the worst aspects of both Italy and Japan. Plain Jane styling and nasty-plastic interior from Japan, but with none of the dependable reliability. That's because the Cherry's trusty engine had been replaced by a very Italian flat four. It gets worse though, because while Nissans were already pretty well known for rot, the Arna/Europe bodies were actually assembled in Italy – and often left stored outside before production. They were rotting before they hit the showrooms. When it comes to sporting cars though, you need excitement, and that starts in the looks department. The

10

Arna/Europe just looked like mildly different Nissans. These weren't cars that set the pulse racing at first glance, so people began mocking them before they'd even sat behind the wheel. An entire generation completely bypassed these cars, and now there are perilously few left. A handful of Arnas have survived on the continent, but the badge-engineered Cherry Europe is very hard to find. Thankfully, we know Eddie Rattley, and he owns two of them! Well, one and a half perhaps. Eddie also owns a bog standard Cherry. That means I was able to see just how different the two cars feel. Naturally, I began with the Cherry itself. Tracing the Cherry lineage back, the story begins in 1970 with the Cherry 100A and 120A, or E10 type. The saloons had funky styling and have become rather fashionable, as have

the 120A coupes, with their dainty rear lights. The F10 took over in 1974, with slightly toned down styling, before the N10 really toned things down in 1978. It was hard to argue with the sales figures though – the N10 was the first Cherry to top over a million sales. The N12 arrived in 1983, with more modern styling and larger engines. There was even a turbocharged version with a nifty 114bhp. Really though, the Cherry was all about safe, dependable transport, with very little in the way of excitement. They felt tight and robust, but not exactly entertaining.

MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE Alfa Romeo was looking for an automotive partner, as this stateowned firm was struggling to fund RETRO JAPAN E S E


N12 Cherry has clear Nissan heritage.

Cherry Europe snout is a little anonymous.

a much-needed replacement for its Alfasud. Nissan had a car, and the willingness and Alfa Romeo had the engine and handling expertise. Perhaps it could be a spectacular marriage of convenience. The deal was formalised in 1980. Nissan was rightly proud of the joint-development, and released special editions on the home market to celebrate. These were entirely Japanese, down to the engines, but aped the style of the Alfa Romeo Arna. Nissan even used Alfa badges in the promotional material.

Nissan shipped over dashboards, rear suspension and large body sections to be assembled into shells. Around 85% of the car was locally sourced though. Alfa Romeo was responsible for the engine, transmission and front suspension, though it also tweaked that at the rear. Get the two cars side by side and there's a notable difference in stance. The Cherry used a transverse straight-four engine, while the Arna would use the flat-four boxer engine of the Alfasud – in 1186, 1350 and 1490cc forms. This was mounted longitudinally, ahead of the gearbox,

which then drove the front wheels. Clearly, this was a lot more than a Datsun with an Alfa Romeo badge. In the UK, it was the Nissan Cherry Europe GTI that arrived first, in 1983. The unfortunate Nissan dealers now found themselves with a new car to sell, but none of the skills needed to keep a hot-headed Italian in good shape. Press reviews weren't kind either, reckoning that the combination of Alfa and Nissan suspension was not a good one. It's worth noting that you could specify the Cherry Europe with the smaller, 1.2-litre engine. It can't Âť

Rear ends compared. Cherry Europe does have a sportier look, due to neater tail lights.

RETRO JAPAN E S E

11


COMPARISONS THE ITALIAN NISSAN

Seats and steering column are pure Alfa, in contrast to Japanese dashboard.

Eye-catching seats also provide great comfort.

have been an easy sell when Nissan already had a 1.3-litre version of the N12 Cherry sitting alongside it offering much the same performance for much the same price. Worse, the Cherry Europe GTI cost ÂŁ6370 in 1984, or about the same as Alfa Romeo's new 33 in 1.5-litre form. Or the entertaining AND attractive Peugeot 205GTi. When the Alfa Romeo Arna arrived in the UK in 1985, it didn't really help matters. In total, just 61,750 Arnas and a dismal 27,900 Cherry Europes were built. This Europe/ Japanese alliance had not proved a strong one. Even today, these cars are lauded as a fine example of how not to build a hatchback, but is the terrible reputation deserved? There's only one way to find out.

A RARE SURVIVOR Eddie's Cherry Europe has led an interesting life. He tells us, “ It's survival is largely thanks to it's first owner, a Mr. Roberts, who took delivery of it from Surrey based independent Alfa Romeo specialists, Roadtune Cars in July 1985. Quite why Roadtune supplied a Nissan version rather

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RETRO JAPAN E S E


than an Alfa Romeo hasn't yet been established, but it may have been that the Nissan badged variants were available at a knockdown price, as the Alfa badged cars had hit the market at the start of 1985 and the Nissans were withdrawn. Thankfully, the first owner kept the car for the next 19 years, during which time plunging values and a poor image saw most of the other Arnas and Cherry Europes resigned to the scrapheap. By the time it was sold to it's second owner in 2004, it had accrued a mere 30,000 miles. “It seems that the second keeper ran the car until it's MOT expired in 2005 and then it was laid up until 2011 as the odometer only ticked round another 2000 miles in that time. It was during this period that I first became aware of the car and even tried to buy it in 2007 but I lost contact with the owner and nothing further came of it. “Fortune smiled upon the car once more in 2011 when it passed into the hands of a pair of well known and highly experienced Alfa Romeo enthusiasts, who poured considerable time, effort and money into bringing the car up to a high standard with the aim of entering it into the Alfa Romeo Owners Club Concours at National Alfa Day 2011. Naturally, it was adorned with the Alfa Romeo Arna Ti badging (which is of course the only difference between the Cherry Europe and Arna) for the event. The

Dashboard just isn't special enough for a sports car.

“...these cars are lauded as a fine example of how not to build a hatchback, but is the terrible reputation deserved?” car placed a creditable second and in doing so must hold the distinction of being the only Nissan ever to win a prize in the AROC Concours. Shortly afterwards, it put in an appearance, still wearing Arna badges, at the NEC Classic Car Show where it received a great deal of interest [I remember seeing it there myself - IS]. The

following year, the car went up for sale, badged back as a Nissan but with no takers so it languished in a climate controlled storage facility for a couple of years until I bought it in 2014. “My desire to own a Cherry Europe goes back a long time but until 2001 I had never seen one in the flesh. That changed one day while sitting »

There's a surprising difference in stance. Europe rear is higher.

RETRO JAPAN E S E

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COMPARISONS THE ITALIAN NISSAN

Bland looks hide a very entertaining character.

“B660LCH is now the only roadworthy one left. Possibly the only remaining example of this forgotten hot hatch in the UK” at a red light in Grimsby when a silver Europe GTI crossed the junction in front of me. This car taunted me regularly for more than five years until I finally caught up with it parked in a side street and waited until it's elderly lady owner returned. About a year later, I received a call from her and a deal was struck. I finally had a Cherry Europe, although it was a pretty miserable example. Despite only having 62,000 miles on the clock, the engine smoked badly, the clutch slipped and the gearbox protested

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at every gearchange. The carpet and seats were heavily worn and the classic Alfa Romeo tinworm had taken hold in its nether regions. I didn't care. I had finally found one! Around this time I also discovered B660LCH for the first time and tried to buy it as well but as I alluded to earlier, nothing came of it. “Fast forward to late 2013. I had been trying to collect some parts for a restoration. It was proving to be quite a challenge finding the parts which are unique to the Europe/ Arna. Having calculated just how

much a full restoration was likely to cost, even though I'd be doing all the work, my thoughts turned to B660LCH. Might it be cheaper just to buy a better example? Having sold some of my other projects, I had some cash spare so I set about tracking down the owners who I then contacted via one of the Alfa forums. The car was in storage and available, so I went to have a look in February 2014 and bought the car, almost certainly for less than a restoration on my existing one, which I could RETRO JAPAN E S E


now use as a source of spare parts. Mission well and truly accomplished! Now I had a really nice example I could enjoy driving right away. “Drive it, I did. Since purchase, B660LCH had covered another 3000 miles including a trip to a show in Holland and it has also claimed first place in the inaugural Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional Concours. Out of the 1082 Nissan Cherry Europe GTIs sold, B660LCH is now the only roadworthy one left. Possibly the only remaining example of this forgotten hot hatch in the UK.”

Nissan Cherry Europe carries 920 designation in-house.

CHERRY COMPARISONS That's the history, but how do this pair compare? I start in the non-Europe Cherry, in this case a 1.3 three-door. It's interesting to discover that, over 30 years on, its automatic choke still functions correctly. Press the throttle pedal slowly down, then start the engine. Perfect. It's not a very inspiring engine noise, and it just gets louder the faster you go. Then there's the spindly steering wheel, which feels pretty delicate. To drive, this car is very capable, but it would be hard to describe the experience as fun. I get out of it for our photoshoot with no huge desire to get back in it again. Jumping straight into the Cherry Europe, I'm struck by how different the driving position feels. The steering column is pure Alfa, and it sits at a very different angle. The steering wheel is also much chunkier. It feels far better in the hand. You sit with a touch of the classic Italian 'long arm, short leg' going on, though not overly so. It's not uncomfortable. A large part of that is down to the fantastic, bolstered seats. They feel superb to sit upon, and they hug you through the bends. The dashboard itself is entirely the same as the Cherry, and rather uninspiring at that. I imagine many people clambered into one to satisfy curiosity when they were in the showroom. Once on those colourful seats, the view must have been somewhat of a disappointment. Even the dials are identical. The engine, unsurprisingly, has a very different note – the classic flatfour thrum that manages to be chirpy in a Volkswagen Beetle, and brutally aggressive in a Subaru Impreza. This is somewhere between the two. It sound a bit lumpy, but with menace. Throttle response is absolutely instantaneous, which takes a bit of » RETRO JAPAN E S E

Neat alloy wheels part of the GTI specification. Alfa-esque exhaust doesn't actually line up with the gap in the valance!

15


COMPARISONS THE ITALIAN NISSAN

Alfa's flat-four sits longitudinally in the Cherry's engine bay.

“We arrive at a series of bends with perhaps a little more speed than I had intended, such is the nature of the car” getting used to after the Cherry. The Europe feels eager. It wants to get a shift on. Once it has warmed up enough for me to ease off the choke (the control is hidden, Italian style, on the underside of the steering column), and for the temperatures to rise a bit, I give it what it quite clearly needs. As the revs rise, performance is pretty brisk for a normally aspirated 1.5-litre engine. It's not just the acceleration though, it sounds so purposeful too. The revs rise, but it doesn't sound strained. It just begs for more. I oblige, before selecting the next gear. The lever feels very different too, with a slightly clunky action that immediately reminds me of the Citroën GS – another flat-four engined, front-wheel drive car.

Slow steering We arrive at a series of bends with perhaps a little more speed than I had

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intended, such is the nature of the car. At first, I was quite alarmed as steering input really doesn't generate an awful lot of turning action. That seems to be a foible of the car and once you've wound on a bit of lock, it feels direct and precise. It's very vague for that first quarter of a turn though, and a little disconcerting. That's a shame, because, whatever the magazines claimed in the early 1980s, this car handles well. It's predictable and can carry a lot more speed than you might expect. It doesn't feel compromised by its Nissan rear end, though perhaps it is a touch over safe. I never get any feeling that the back end might try to snap out if I'm foolish enough to lift mid-bend. To some people, this potential loss of control is a good thing. I'm not amongst them. It's not all thrash, thrash, thrash though. Ease off a bit and the Cherry Europe is actually happy enough to

cruise around without being dragged by the scruff of its neck. There's a good spread of torque, so even around town, pick-up is some way better than the Cherry – albeit it should be with a bit more capacity. The main difference here is that I get out of the Cherry Europe with an enormous grin. This is fun motoring. It doesn't matter from behind the wheel that the looks are a bit plain. Actually, I think it manages to look nice and purposeful, especially against a standard Cherry. I do concede that you'd struggle to call it pretty though. Perhaps that's why these cars have failed to generate a following, and why so many have simply been scrapped once the tinworm got too bad. I have to say – that really is a crying shame. As we are constantly reminded, and too readily ignore, sometimes, you need to think about more than just looks. Life can be about so much more. n RETRO JAPAN E S E


BUYING MITSUBISHI DELICA L400

THE REAL DO-ANYTHING VEHICLE

These 4x4 MPVs have a lot more to offer than just a lot of seats. We explore the appeal and tell you how to buy one safely. WORDS: GRAHAM KING

G

rey import sports cars and homologation specials may have captured the imagination of UK car enthusiasts, but among the car-buying public, by far the most popular type of JDM-market vehicle is the people carrier. JDM MPVs tend to offer more seats

18

PICS: MITSUBISHI AND IAN SEABROOK

than their European counterparts, more lavish equipment and better reliability. The fact that some of them have hilarious names is just an added bonus – Toyota Granvia Wind Rush, anyone? Among the slightly bewildering array of models available, the Mitsubishi Delica, in L300 and L400 guise,

has struck a particular chord with UK buyers. Largely because, unlike their rivals, the four-wheel-drive versions share much of their chassis hardware with a proper off-roader, the Pajero/Shogun, which lends them serious all-terrain ability. The Delica has acquired something RETRO JAPAN E S E


Sidelamp/indicator lens can degrade over time.

L300 4x4 looks far more unstable than it actually is.

of a cult following and offers a serious amount of metal and ability for your money. Here’s everything you need to know if you’re tempted to part with your hard earned and buy one.

HISTORY The Delica first appeared in 1968 as a pick-up truck, chassis code T100. It featured a cab-over engine layout in a simple chassis and a 600kg payload. The name derived from the English delivery car. Van and passenger carrying models were added in 1969. An 1100cc engine was the only choice initially, serving up all of 57bhp and a top speed of 71mph. The second-generation Delica L300 was launched in 1979. It was bigger, had a wider choice of engines, including diesels for the first time, and was available with four-wheeldrive. It was also officially available in the UK, albeit only in van form. The L300 grew to the maximum 1690mm width allowed under the Japanese definition of a ‘compact’ vehicle and featured independent front suspension, a sliding rear side door and a one-piece tailgate supported by gas struts. Petrol engines ranged from 1.4- up to 2.0-litres, while 2.3- and 2.5-litre diesels were available. The L300 designation continued into 1986’s third generation Delica, even though it was entirely new. It now featured a monocoque chassis, but still used a similar assortment of petrol and diesel engines as before. Mitsubishi took full advantage of Japan’s booming recreational vehicle market by offering lavishly appointed passenger carrying models and a 4WD version that shared much of its chassis hardware with the Pajero/Shogun, which had been launched in 1982. In 1994, the L400 generation, our main focus here, was launched. Passenger carrying models bore the Space Gear name. It was a radical departure from previous generations, RETRO JAPAN E S E

“The Delica has acquired something of a cult following and offers a serious amount of metal and ability for your money” placing the engine ahead of the cabin for the first time and featuring genuinely modern, aerodynamic styling. As before, engines and running gear were shared with the Pajero/Shogun, albeit shoehorned into a monocoque rather than a separate chassis. Diesel engine options included 2.5- and 2.8litre turbo-boosted units, while 2.4and 3.0-litre V6 petrols were available. Manual gearboxes could be specified, though most were automatics as was the Japanese preference by that stage. Two-wheel drive versions were available, which sit much lower to the ground. These are rarely seen in the UK. Production of the L400 continued until 2007 when the current Delica D:5 was launched, making it the longestlived generation of Delica so far.

LIVING WITH IT You might expect the Delica, especially the high-rise 4x4 version, to drive like a block of flats, but that is far from the case. Basic physics demand a measured approach to winding country roads, but it is a stable and secure cruiser. It is surprisingly wieldy in town, too,

as it is little more than five-and-a-half feet wide and visibility is fantastic. In the 4x4 version, you sit at more or less the same height as 7.5-ton lorry drivers. Just remember the length of the thing – long-wheelbase models are over 16 feet from stem to stern. At up to 2.1 metres tall, height restrictions can be a problem, too. Bear that in mind in car parks and when booking ferries. Most Delicas that you will find in the UK are fitted with the 138bhp 2.8-litre turbo diesel engine and an automatic gearbox. Acceleration is best described as leisurely, but it will happily romp along at motorway speeds all day, returning mid- to high-twenties to the gallon in the process. Many late-model L400s have the 210bhp 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine, which is obviously faster but much thirstier. The big appeal of the 4x4 Delica is its off-road ability. Where the likes of the road-biased Toyota Estima have electronic systems, the Delica’s Pajero-based four-wheel-drive features high- and low-ratio gears and locking differentials – proper mechanical elements that unlock far stronger off-road ability. »

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BUYING MITSUBISHI DELICA L400

Overdrive switches can fail. A fiddly fix.

Make sure the dualrange transmission works on all settings.

“Slightly compromised though the seating and door layout may be, there is a vast amount of space for people and things inside”

JDM stereos don't work well in UK. Aftermarket retrofits not always sympathetic!

Sills can rot readily on the L400. Inspect them carefully.

Ground clearance is good and relatively short overhangs means approach and departure angles are better than many traditional off-roaders. As long as you take the wheelbase into account on sharp-edged obstacles, it is pretty much unstoppable. It will happily tow a couple of tons, too. Interior appointments range from World War Two pillbox up to posh hotel room. Most cars that have been imported to the UK are up-scale Exceed, Super Exceed or Chamonix models. Those come with air conditioning, electric everything, plush upholstery and at least one sunroof. Particularly desirable are cars with the Crystal Lite roof, a factory-fitted option with four good-sized glass panels, each with its own electric blind. Most Delicas seat seven or eight and the rear two rows of seats fold down to form a bed – top models often have curtains too, hence the hotel room comparison. The rear two rows of seats are removable, but it’s a difficult process and they are very heavy. On some models, the second row of seats does swivel round up against the offside wall, while the third row folds up against the sides of the boot, which is useful but hardly ideal. Others have single seats throughout. There’s just a single sliding rear door on the near-side. Slightly compromised though the seating and door layout may be, there is a vast amount of space for people and things inside the Delica.

UK AVAILABILITY The L300 Delica was among the first

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Orange diff-lock warning could be a switch fault.

JDM models to be imported into the UK in any great quantity, but that was 15 years ago or more, now. Corrosion has taken its toll and the L300 is actually quite a rare commodity these days. L400s are obviously a lot more common, with plenty in circulation that are now on their second or third UK owner. Most pre-2000 cars on the market fall into that category, as supplies of early cars coming over from Japan have more or less dried up at this point. The vast majority of fresh retail imports are of post-2000 cars; the supply has slowed down but there are plenty out there waiting to be snapped up.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR JDM cars tend not to be rust-proofed at the factory at it will only be a particularly scrupulous importer, retail or private, who underseals a car on arrival in the UK. That said, L400s seem better able to resist rot than the L300. Fresh imports should be alright, though cars from the north of Japan where winters are harsh can be problematic. Any Delica that has been in the UK for a while should be checked absolutely everywhere, especially at the front of the chassis, the sills and around the rear wheelarches. The raised height of the 4x4s at least makes them a doddle to check. Fuel pump seals on diesel models are prone to failure. To check it, start and drive the car from stone cold. If the engine stalls or cuts out within a short distance, the pump has failed. It is not a cheap fix, either. Timing chains on 2.8 diesel models are prone to stretch. This manifests as a ‘chuffing’ noise when driving uphill. A failed tensioner can make it worse. RETRO JAPAN E S E

Rear seat layouts vary, but most can be turned into a bed. Of sorts.

Two-wheel drive L400 is a rare sight in the UK.

Chain failure will likely lead to the need for a replacement cylinder head. The 2.5, rare in L400 form, has a timing belt, so check when it was last changed. Expansion bottles become brittle over time and can literally explode, causing a lot of damage in the process. Check for cracks and crystalisation on the outside. The ‘microfine’ radiator core can become blocked, leading to overheating. Regular overheating can cause the cylinder head to crack. Cars that have seen heavy offroad use can develop cracks around the rear bump stops – apparently not a problem on L300, which was made from thicker-gauge steel. Check that the four-wheel-drive system works as it should by engaging high and low ranges and the locking diffs (centre and, optionally, rear). Flashing lights on the dashboard display indicate failed front solenoids, though it could also be a duff switch in the lever. Give it a tug rearwards to see if the light goes out. The overdrive switch on the columnmounted gear lever can break. It can be fixed, but it is fiddly to do. An

orange tell-tale on the dash indicates when overdrive is not engaged. Dashboard trim gets brittle with age and breaks easily. Stereo and HVAC control surrounds are particularly vulnerable, and attempts to fit UK-ready stereo equipment often doesn't help. Replacement parts can be pricey. All freshly imported cars should have Japanese mileage verification documentation. It is useful to have with cars that have been through a number of UK owners, though may well have been lost somewhere along the way.

MODIFICATIONS Many Delicas were fitted with bull bars, spotlights, extra mirrors, wind deflectors, side steps and other dressup bits by their Japanese owners, or even straight from the factory. These extras are desirable in the UK too, and relatively easy to find on the Internet, should you want to add them to yours. If you want to do some serious offroading, suspension upgrades including beefier springs, shocks and torsion »

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BUYING MITSUBISHI DELICA L400

bars are readily available. You can even go as far as suspension lift kits and airbag kits, as well. Be prepared to buy from a non-UK supplier, though. The 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine responds well to conversion to run on LPG fuel. It is pretty much exactly the same engine as found in Nineties UK-market Shoguns, plenty of which have been converted to LPG, so kits and experienced fitters are fairly easy to find. Just bear in mind where the tank will go.

Camper conversions JDM MPVs found a real niche in the UK for conversion into camper vans.

Contacts Saxon Motors 01202 479688 www.saxonmotorsdorset.co.uk Jap MPV Specialist 01895 439090 www.japmpvspecialist.co.uk Japan Motors 0121 679 6721 www.japanmpvmotors.co.uk Japanese Auto Locators 01386 792946 www.jalimports.co.uk Camper Kong 01204 791905 www.camperkong.co.uk Mitsubishi Delica Owners Club www.mdocuk.co.uk Delica Friends www.delicaownersclub.co.uk Thanks to Saxon Motors and Jap MPV Specialist for their help with this feature.

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No doubt the single rear sliding door most have helped there, as it makes packaging easier. The Delica is one of the less obvious choices, but its vast interior makes it perfectly viable for conversion. Indeed, with its offroad ability, the 4x4 version makes a fantastic expedition vehicle. There are a number of off-theshelf conversions available, notably Camper Kong’s two-berth Boo-oom pack and Japanese Auto Locator’s four-berth pop-top conversion. Alternatively, you could do it yourself and let your imagination run riot. Incidentally, if you are looking to buy a Delica that has already been converted into a camper, go through it with a fine-toothed comb to check the quality of the build.

Parts availability Most parts are readily available new or second-hand in the UK. The Delica is also extremely popular in Australia, where there are a number of specialists who would probably be able to help with anything that is proving hard to find closer to home. It is important to note that, though the 4x4 versions of both the L300 and L400 Delica have suspension and four-wheel-drive systems shared with that of the Pajero/Shogun, there are few directly interchangeable parts. Engines and gearboxes, however, are pretty much exactly the same.

Specialist support When it comes to buying a Delica, there are myriad specialists who will be able to import one specifically for you, or who will be able to

Left: On this model, the centre row of seats can swivel and face different directions. Right: Crystal Lite roof is popular, though check for water leaks.

supply one from their stock. Dealers worth keeping an eye on include Saxon Motors in Bournemouth, Jap MPV Specialist in Uxbridge, Japan Motors in Birmingham and Japanese Auto Locators in Inkberrow. As we’ve already said, the supply of freshly imported Delicas has slowed down significantly in the last few years, but it won’t be too hard to find a dealer with at least one in stock. On the maintenance front, specialist support is thin on the ground. There are some specialists in the Pajero/ Shogun out there who should know their way around the Delica, but it is not an especially complicated vehicle, so any competent mechanic will be capable of looking after it properly. The best port of call for any information and advice is an owners club. There are two in the UK, the Mitsubishi Delica Owners Club and the Delica Friends.

What to pay There are plenty of serviceable Delicas on the market for less than £3000. At this price level, they are likely to have been in the UK for a while, so check it thoroughly. The price of freshly imported Delicas varies surprisingly widely. Age seems to have little bearing, though mileage and specification does. £6000 is the base level for one that’s new to the UK, while the top whack is around £9000 if the specification and condition are particularly good. n RETRO JAPAN E S E


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PROFILE TOYOTA COROLLA GT AE86

BUCKING THE TREND When the Corolla range moved to front-wheel drive in 1983, the AE86 version remained resolutely rear-driven. We drive an early, near-stock example. WORDS AND PICS: IAN SEABROOK

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W

hile the Corolla is, by some margin, the best selling nameplate of all time, it's fair to say that it has changed a fair bit in that time. It isn't like the Citroën 2CV, Land Rover or Volkswagen Beetle, which all stayed broadly similar through their lengthy production runs. The Corolla remains in production today, albeit no longer available in the UK, and has sold over 40 million units worldwide, but today's Corolla owes very little to the first car to bear the name. During the 1980s, there were even entertaining spin-offs that shared even

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less with the regular Corolla saloon. The Corolla story starts in 1966, with the original model aping Ford's Escort, so a longitudinal engine and rear-wheel drive. This format was getting a bit long in the tooth by the 1980s, with transverse engines and front-wheel drive very much the order of the day. Ford's Escort made the leap in 1980, and Toyota joined in a few years later, with 1983's E80 – the fifth generation of Corolla. Yet Toyota also developed longitudinally engined, rear-wheel drive versions of the Corolla, dubbed AE85 and AE86. The former used

low states of tune with the focus on economy, while the AE86 was much more performance focussed. Under the bonnet, the legendary 4A-GE fourcylinder twin-cam engine provided plenty of power – up to 128bhp from just 1587cc. At this time, 90bhp is pretty much all you'd expect from a small, 1.6-litre family car. A live rear axle was well located by a four link setup, to offer entertaining handling – a reason these cars are still desirable today. In the home market, the cars were sold as the Sprinter Trueno and Corolla Levin, with the Trueno boasting different frontal styling and pop-up »

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PROFILE TOYOTA COROLLA GT AE86

headlamps. In the USA, the Trueno was sold as the Corolla DX, SR-5 or GT-S but in the UK, we got the Corolla GT, with the Levin-style snout. UK cars had the three-door, liftback body, though a three-box, two-door style was also available in other markets.

HANDLING PRAISED At the time, the handling came in for praise, though the Corolla badge was already one that wasn't necessarily linked to excitement. Perhaps that Just 67,000 miles from new. This car was taken off the road in 1999.

explains why a mere 2717 were sold in the UK before production ended in 1987. The Corolla GT also had to battle against the rising tide of hot hatchbacks, which offered similar power and excitement, if not the handling finesse of the GT. Toyota also had its own in-house rivals, in the form of the MR2 and Celica – two very different takes on fun motoring and ironically, the Celica made the move to front-wheel drive in 1985, which harmed its sales figures not at all. The Corolla GT could have gone the

way of so many rare 1980s Japanese classics, and just been largely forgotten. Years after production ended though, computer gaming brought these cars back to the attention of the wider world. Customising them in Gran Turismo became so much fun that people began doing it in real life too. There are far more powerful versions of the 4A-GE engine out there, and they could be dropped pretty much straight in. Brilliant. So, an awful lot of AE86s have been modified, making the one we have here Wiper control uses a rotating dial rather than a stalk.

Interior is very driver-focussed, though switchgear is unconventional.

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“...an awful lot of AE86s have been modified, making the one we have here all the more special” Typical Corolla switchgear is somewhat littered around the dashboard

Five-speed gearbox has a nice, neat throw; sounds fantastic.

all the more special. Aside from the wheels, rather stylish and period correct Watanabes with a touch of stretch to the tyre, it's absolutely bog standard – and perhaps all the better for it.

AN ORIGINAL BEAUTY This GT was found in a garage, where it had remained since coming off the road in 1999. The car's rescuer then sold it to Faisal Mohammed, who was immediately taken by it. He has carried out only minor improvements RETRO JAPAN E S E

to the bodywork and has been keen to leave the mechanical side of things exactly as they are, bar a beefier fuel pump. “It's an early-spec UK car,” says Faisal, “It's only covered 67,242 miles, so I haven't had to do anything other than give it a basic service.” Faisal has owned the car for about seven months. “It's a car I always wanted, an original UK AE86. As you can imagine, they're pretty scarce here and it's difficult to find a genuine example. I love the way it drives, the old-school body lines and the retro interior

along with the twin-cam engine.” It's unusual to get an opportunity to drive a GT that hasn't been modified and I eagerly slip into the cabin. The driving position is spectacularly right, thanks to the unusual, twotone seats. The ergonomics are good at first glance, though you then notice how the switchgear really is a long way from normal. None of it is particularly terrifying or baffling, but you do need to take time to notice how the light switch also has a ring to control dashboard illumination, »

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PROFILE TOYOTA COROLLA GT AE86

while another rotary control takes car of wiper functions. You push that dial in for screenwash. Being Japanese, there is a host of random switchgear littered about almost as an afterthought, but the heater controls are entirely standard. The important thing is that the sporty steering wheel and stubby gearlever fall nicely to hand, and quality is good. No creaks and rattles here, though the smooth plastic finish to the door cards is an unusual touch.

IMMEDIATE PICK-UP

Door cards are smooth plastic, which is a little different.

“The driving position is spectacularly right, thanks to the unusual, two-tone seats�

The fuel-injected engine fires up briskly and settles to a smooth idle. Pick-up is immediate too, but around town, it's docile and well-behaved. There's always a good burst of power waiting should you need it, but it's no harder to drive than a standard Corolla. That said, the ride is rather firm, which reminds you this is a sports car first, and being a comfortable shopping trolley isn't really on the agenda, despite the generous boot. That firm suspension pays dividends

Supportive seats have two-tone look, but offer great comfort.

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OTHER RIDES

As well as the Corolla GT, Faisal owns a few other tasty Toyotas, including this marvellous brown bug-eye Starlet, which is still on its Irish numberplates. The Corolla saloon is a fine contrast to the GT, and shows just how quickly Japanese cars were developing at this time. It has a far better specification than many of its rivals, and plush velour seats too.

Period Watanabes have a touch of stretch, for the most gentle of mods.

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when cornering of course, keeping the car level and neat. I'm not one to explore power oversteer in someone else's pride and joy, but the instant power is a reminder not to do something daft mid-bend. The power delivery gets more exciting beyond 4500rpm, when the engine takes on a second, more menacing character. It's backed up by transmission whine that just adds a frisson of extra excitement to acceleration. Suddenly, any desire to get up close and personal with an Escort XR3i, Volkswagen Golf GTi or Vauxhall Astra GTE simply evaporates. This is an entirely different machine with a far greater focus on being sporty. It has no need of meaty bodykits or bonnet louvres. There is no need to shout when you can, rather quietly, be quite this good. It's a shame more buyers didn't take to the AE86 when they were new. I can't help thinking that potential buyers must surely have ended up in something quite inferior. It's all the more baffling when you consider pricing. In October 1986, the retail price of the Corolla GT was £8999 – exactly the same as an 8v Golf »

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PROFILE TOYOTA COROLLA GT AE86

UK-spec GTs used the three-door, liftback body. A two-door notchback was available in other markets.

“...any desire to get up close and personal with an Escort XR3i, Volkswagen Golf GTi or Vauxhall Astra GTE simply evaporates” GTi. For the full-blown 16v version, you needed £10,894, but you needed those extra valves to have a hope of keeping up with a Corolla GT. It's a similar story with the Escort. The cheaper XR3i may have only cost £8152, but took an entire second longer to reach 60mph, and would be lost entirely in the bends. The quicker RS Turbo still wasn't GT quick, and cost far more. Perhaps Toyota just wasn't

particularly interested in importing the GT. After all, the Japanese motor industry was obeying voluntary quotas at this time. Therefore, the focus tended to be on volume sales, which is where the regular, front-wheel drive Corolla totally cleaned up. Thankfully, should you have the desire to own a Corolla GT, there's still a pretty fair chance that you can. Finding a genuine, UK-market car like this

one might be a struggle, but Sprinter Truenos and Levins are still finding their way to the UK from the Japanese market. That's perhaps not suprising as close on a million of them were built. With an asking price in the region of £5000-8000, they certainly offer a lot of entertainment to the pound, as well as something a bit different from the norm. Corolla by name, but certainly not Corolla by nature. ■

Above: Legendary 4A-GE provides superb power for the size. Left: Engine bay is in realistic condition. Not polished. COROLLA GT Engine Power

124bhp@6600rpm

Torque

105lb/ft@5200rpm

Top Speed 0-60mph Gearbox

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1587cc/4-cyl/DOHC

120mph 8.6secs 5-speed manual RETRO JAPAN E S E


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ORIENTAL LOAD LUGGERS TOP FIVE JAPANESE ESTATES

ORIENTAL LOAD LUGGERS

We choose our favourites when it comes to tat hauling or people moving. There's genuine innovation, and surprising speed. WORDS: GAVIN BR AITHWAITE-SMITH

PICS: IAN SEABROOK AND MANUFACTURERS

W

e thought it was time to give some credit to a selection of practical motors from the Far East. We’ve loaded everything from pioneering off-roaders to people carriers that were way ahead of the curve. In fact, the only thing missing is the obligatory labrador. The Japanese have displayed real ingenuity over the years, often out-thinking the minds of America and Europe. Not all of these designs had huge appeal here, but all of them are well worth a closer look.

TOYOTA CROWN CUSTOM The Crown: A rather apt name for what could be the king of all Toyotas. It is, after all, the longest-running model in Toyota’s production car history and the first passenger car to be developed and built entirely in Japan. It is to Toyota what the S-Class is to MercedesBenz: a flagship motor, showcasing what us mere peasants can expect to see in the Toyotas of tomorrow. Though it was launched in 1955, the world would have to wait until Badged Toyapet, the Crown Custom was launched in 1962, with an eye on America.

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Fourth-generation Crown Custom featured incredibly bold styling.

the arrival of the second generation Crown for the first estate version, the Crown Custom. In 1962, the use of an estate car for private purposes was virtually unknown in Japan, but Toyota looked across to the US, where the station wagon was already well established. It was marketed as “the plushest and most luxurious passenger car” that was ideal for “hunting,

golf, skiing and weekend drives.” In common with the saloon version, the Crown Custom could accommodate six passengers on two bench seats. The third generation Crown Custom of 1967 introduced a third-row of seats, boosting the accommodation to eight. Amazingly, as part of an attempt to market the Crown to a wider audience, Toyota created no fewer than 34 different varieties of the third generation car. By the time of the sixth generation, the number of derivations had nearly doubled. A Crown to fit all, no less. The fourth generation Crown Custom introduced a bold styling language and was also the first car to be sold around the world as a Toyota. Previous generations had been badged Toyopet. This bold styling was toned down for the fifth generation car of 1974, but when the sixth generation Crown Wagon ceased production in 1983, the car was removed from sale in the UK, with the Camry stealing RETRO JAPAN E S E


300C estate, or Cedric in Japan, offered luxury and space aplenty.

Plush interior, with a five-speed manual gearbox rather than the saloon's auto.

the crown as Toyota’s biggest car. Appealing though the Camry is, this seemed like a cruel end for a car that sat at the upper echelons of the UK car market. Of course, the Toyota Crown lives on in other markets and is perhaps one of the most recognisable taxi cabs in the world.

NISSAN 300C In 1984, Nissan replaced the old straight-six 280C with the 300C, complete with a new 3.0-litre V6 engine. This was Nissan’s attempt to mix it with the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW: an export version of the Cedric Y30, available in both saloon and wagon form. Like the Toyota Crown, it sat at the very top of the range. Its price reflected this lofty status. At launch, the 300C estate would set you back £10,750, the equivalent of around £33,000 in today’s money. To put that into context, the admittedly ageing Mercedes-Benz 200T could have been yours for £11,290, while

a futuristic Audi 100 Avant came in at under £10,000. But if the 300C was pricey and rather dull to look at, it made up for it in other ways. Unlike the saloon, the 300C estate was fitted with a five-speed gearbox, but had to make do with 150bhp compared with the 155bhp of the saloon and its slush 'box. The huge boot featured a pair of foldaway rearfacing seats, with a massive tailgate forming a wide point of entry. Though priced identically, Nissan positioned the estate below the saloon. The 1984 sales brochure suggests that wagon owners would have to make do without alloy wheels, air conditioning and rear map lights. That said, the estate did feature a wonderfully retro slice of inset wood across the tailgate, along with a key-operated electric side window for the load space. Figures suggest that no more than 800 300Cs were ever sold in the UK and, like many other Japanese cars of the era, rust signalled a premature end for these otherwise

mechanically sound cars. Today, no more than two dozen are enjoying active service on Britain’s roads.

SUBARU LEONE 4WD STATION WAGON A pioneering vehicle for pioneers of the (off)road. Quite simply, before the arrival of the Subaru Leone 4WD Station Wagon in September 1972, the off-road estate vehicle didn’t exist. Until then, you either ventured off road in a full fat 4x4 or you didn't bother. So, the likes of the Audi allroad and Volvo XC70 can trace their roots back to this otherwise humble looking estate car. At one point, it was the world’s top-selling four-wheel drive passenger car, although admittedly this was in the days before Audi did something amazing with a certain quattro. But credit where credit’s due, because the Leone was also the first car to utilise Subaru’s famous four-wheel drive system. The Brat pick-up would follow in 1977. »

Left: Leone was the first small, four-wheel drive station wagon. Right: Sold as the 1.6 or 1.8 in the UK, later Leones packed surprising pace. RETRO JAPAN E S E

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ORIENTAL LOAD LUGGERS TOP FIVE JAPANESE ESTATES

Two years later, in 1979, Subaru launched the second generation Leone, with UK cars badged as the 1600GL and 1800GLF. These unassuming vehicles soon became firm favourites within rural areas, cementing Subaru’s reputation for off-road ability, longevity and reliability. The Japanese company went on the offensive, claiming that previous off-roaders were either cumbersome or downright ugly. Back in the days before niche segments, there was a general acceptance that to venture off road you needed an SUV. So while AMC was busy extolling the virtues of its four-wheel drive Eagle to any Americans who would listen, Subaru was venturing along an untrodden path in Japan, Europe and Australia. For a while, the Subaru 4WD was the only four-wheel drive saloon/ estate car available in the UK, with the Japanese firm positioning it in much the same way as Toyota did with the Crown Custom, saying: “a complete answer for the professional businessman, doctor, farmer or vet - who must keep going but who still wants the comfort and performance of a car”. It must have struck a chord, because in its first year in the UK, 25 per cent of the 4553 Subarus sold were four-wheel drive models. And these businessmen, doctors, farmers and vets were prepared to pay

Toyota beat Renault's Espace to market in the new people carrier class.

a premium. A price tag of £5235 for the 4WD estate compared to say the £4373 for the Astra L estate, £4865 for the Peugeot 305 GLS estate and £5450 of the strictly two-wheel drive Talbot Matra Rancho. So perhaps the Subaru wasn’t bad value after all…

TOYOTA SPACE CRUISER The Toyota Space Cruiser represents the very genesis of the people carrier. At its launch in 1983, Autocar gazed into its

Toyota really tapped in to Star Wars fever with the Space Cruiser.

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crystal ball to suggest: “they represent a new style of vehicle which could well gain in popularity”. Gain in popularity they did, though this was thanks, in the main, to the Renault Espace, which arrived like a TGV the following year. You have to remember that, back in 1983, the concept of a car with three rows of forward-facing seats was a new thing. Sure, you could buy minibuses and estate cars with rear-facing child seats, but people carriers - they were otherworldly. And they had otherworldly names, like the Space Cruiser and Space Wagon. To a child obsessed with the big Star Wars movie of 1983, it must have been incredibly cool to be picked up from school in a Space Cruiser. Of course, Toyota went to great to lengths to convince the public that the Space Cruiser was more than just a van with eights seats and a sliding side door. Originally powered by the 1.8-litre engine from the Hiace van, the Space Cruiser was loaded with equipment. It was also, at the time, the only production car to feature two moonroofs, so you could kick back in your plush velour seats and gaze into… ahem… space. In 1985, Toyota launched the more powerful 2.0-litre Space Cruiser, answering one of the criticisms of the original car. The engine provided a 12 per cent increase in power and 18 per cent increase in torque. Other small but significant changes included a centre armrest, foot rest for the driver’s left foot and a revised suspension set-up. As a result, the Space Cruiser was more car-like than ever. At £8995 in RETRO JAPAN E S E


1984, it cost the equivalent of around £26,000, about the same price you’ll pay for a seven-seat Toyota Prius+ in 2016. But unlike today you weren’t exactly swimming in options. And besides, what sounds better: your dad drives a Space Cruiser or your dad drives a Prius? Enough said.

NISSAN PRAIRIE Earlier this year, Renault proudly claimed to have “created the compact MPV segment in Europe in 1996 with the iconic Scenic.” Only it didn’t. Oh sure, in much the same way the Espace took the idea of a sevenseat car to a mass market, the Scenic was incredibly successful at defining the compact segment, but it wasn’t the first. No, the Nissan Prairie has a far greater claim to the title. So why is it so unfairly overlooked? If the shape looks vaguely familiar, it’s probably because it was influenced by the wonderful Giugiaro-penned Lancia Megagamma concept of 1978. Like so many of today’s successful compact MPVs and crossovers, the Prairie was based on a more humble platform, in this case the Nissan Sunny B11. But unlike the Sunny, it featured a pair of sliding doors and pillarless entry. You could even fold down the rear seats to make a double bed: try doing that in your Qashqai.

Nissan easily trumps Renault's claim to have invented the compact MPV.

In 1983, it was also relatively cheap, just a couple of hundred pounds more than a similar spec Nissan Sunny and a full £2000 cheaper than a Space Cruiser. Though the Toyota offered additional seats, the Prairie offered a tailgate that reached as far as floor level and a huge amount of boot space, even with the rear seats folded up. Perfect for families, DIYers, antique dealers and young mothers, or so Nissan would have us believe. And it was this easy access that led to the Nissan Prairie’s spin-off

career as a mobility vehicle. Back in 1985, Rod Brotherwood, founder of Brotherhood Automobility, converted a Prairie for a friend who was paralysed as a result of a motorcycle incident. So successful was the conversion that the Prairie became a mainstay of Brotherwood’s operations. As a result, there’s a surprising number of Prairies still on the road, despite the car’s horrendous reputation for rust. Figures suggest around 125 are taxed in the UK, approximately double the number of Space Cruisers. »

No B pillar here, for even more practicality. In your face Renault Scenic!

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ORIENTAL LOAD LUGGERS Top Five Japanese estates

Honourable mentions If those are our favourite classic Japanese estate cars, here’s a selection of five more cars designed with practicality in mind.

Honda Civic Shuttle Like the aforementioned Nissan Prairie, the Honda Civic Shuttle owes a great deal to Giugiaro’s Megagamma concept of 1978. Launched in 1984, the Civic Shuttle, or Wagovan in the United States, was ahead of the curve, offering a number of different seating arrangement, ranging from a spacious five-seater to a two-seater with a flat load deck. A four-wheel drive option was added to the range in 1985.

626 estate could be specified in fiery GT flavour.

the wagon version was produced at Toyota’s Kentucky plant, making it the first Toyota to be built only in the US and the only US-made Toyota to be built with right-hand drive for export.

Mazda 626 2.0i GT

Toyota Camry XV10 It features a twin rear wash/wipe system, so for that reason alone the third generation Toyota Camry Estate is worthy of an honourable mention. Arriving a year later than the saloon,

In its day, the Mazda 626 2.0i GT was considered to be - by Autocar at least - a ‘GTi’ of the estate car world. Indeed, with 148bhp from its 2.0-litre twin cam engine, Mazda’s load-lugger could sprint to 60mph in just 8.6 seconds, before hitting an unlikely top speed of 122mph. Still want that Volkswagen Golf GTi?

Nissan Stagea Here's proof that estates needn't

be boring. Of most interest are the turbocharged four-wheel drive cars, which are also the most likely to be imported into the UK. Pick of the crop is arguably the Stagea Autech 260RS, complete with the engine and five-speed gearbox from the R33 Skyline GT-R. Stock, it could develop 280bhp. But not many Stageas remain stock for very long… n

Lexus IS300 SportCross Too recent to be considered retro? Perhaps, but it might surprise you to learn that the Lexus IS300 SportCross was launched way back in 2001. It’s also interesting to note that Lexus used the ‘crossover’ word a full five years before the first Qashqai rolled off the Sunderland production line. “This is no boring estate car; the SportCross is a new generation vehicle; contemporary and individual,” said chief engineer Nobuaki Katayama. He was right: the Lexus SportCross was good looking and offered rear-wheel drive dynamics, though only 340 litres of boot space.

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PROFILE SKYLINE 'HAKOSUKA'

THE CREATION OF A

LEGEND The Skyline story starts well before Nissan, and is filled with engineering excellence and motorsport success. We take a look at the early years. WORDS: IAN SEABROOK

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PICS: NISSAN AND CHRIS FROSIN

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hink of very fast Japanese cars, and the Nissan Skyline is probably going to be in the mix. They have become one of the finest demonstrations of what power, styling and, latterly, clever electronics can do. There are many generations of Skyline, and most of them were built very much with performance in mind, certainly in the latter half of the 20th century and into more recent times. Nissan can certainly claim a lot of credit for the way it has managed the Skyline brand, one that still generates huge enthusiasm today, but it wasn't responsible for instigating it. The birth of the Skyline belongs to a company that could be seen as the Japanese Lancia; one which wasn't interested in just copying European family favourites, but which honed its engineering skills

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to better them. We take a look at the history of the Skyline from the very first saloon in 1957, to the most fearsome of the C10s – the first GT-R.

A FORGOTTEN PRINCE The Skyline owes its life to the largelyforgotten Prince Motor Company. Its engineers are responsible for the start of the Skyline legend but, when Nissan took Prince over in August 1966, that company allowed the Prince team to carry on working on their own designs. They wouldn't always have a completely free rein, but for decades, it was the Prince team who developed both the Skyline and, surprisingly, the Cherry range. If you've ever noticed any similar styling cues between the two, now you know why. The early years of Prince take some untangling. The Prince Motor Company

was formed in 1952 initially, having begun life as the electric car arm of the Tachikawa Aircraft Company. It bought parts from Fuji Precision Industries, which had also developed from a former aircraft builder. Both companies were owned by the same man, and they were merged in 1954. Fuji Precision Industries was the company name until 1961, when it changed to the Prince Motor Company. All that detail was in the background with the launch of the Prince Skyline in 1957. The styling had a bit of Hillman Minx Series 1 about it, though both were clearly influenced by America. That means chrome and fins ahoy. Power came from a 1.5-litre, fourcylinder engine, producing all of about 60bhp. The Prince engineers were not shy of being bold though, and had opted for De Dion independent rear suspension – pretty radical in »

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PROFILE SKYLINE 'HAKOSUKA'

Skyline story starts here with the ALSIS-1 of 1957.

a family car for the time, anywhere in the world. All very well, but there was hardly enough power to push such technology to the limits. Things took a slightly sporty feel with the BLRA-3 Skyline Sport in 1962, with exotic coupé or roadster styling by Giovanni Michelotti. Sadly though, power still came from a fairly feeble 1.9-litre engine. The pulse was not yet racing and a mere 60 or so were built. The S50 Skyline of 1963 was a fairly serious overhaul of the Skyline formula, though initially still with four-cylinder engines. Things soon got a lot more interesting however, as Prince installed its new G7 six-cylinder, overhead-cam engine, in a stretched Skyline body, in order to go racing. I must concede that I'm amused by the fact that the G7 was developed into the GR-8 for

“Even though the Porsche did finally triumph, the point had been made. The Skyline was a formidable opponent” The last fully independent Skyline was the S50 of 1963.

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the R380 sports racing car – a car very much inspired by what follows next.

PORSCHE-BAITING Picture the scene. It's the 1964 Japan Grand Prix. This isn't a Formula One race, but sees a field made up from all sorts, including MGB roadsters, Datsun Fairlady 1500s and Lotus Elans. There's also a Porsche 904, a rather specialist racing machine. The driver, Shikiba Soukichi, probably assumed he'd have an easy win. He didn't reckon on the fearsome pace of the new Skyline GT-2000, of which several were entered. Despite a rather ponderous handling balance, a gaggle of Skylines hassled the Porsche for much of the race. For one lap, a Skyline was actually in the lead. Japan had not enjoyed much success in its home race until this point. Excitement was mounting. Even though the Porsche did finally triumph, the point had been made. The Skyline was a formidable opponent. The next Skyline, the C10 of 1968, was designed from the outset to accommodate both four and six cylinder engines, and had much happier styling as a result. The C10 would wear Nissan badges, though the Prince engineers were allowed to keep their engineering focus. Engine options were initially 1.5- or 1.8-litre, four-cylinder, both with overhead camshafts. The boxy styling led to the Hakosuka name tag – hako for box and suka as a foreshortened sukairain, the Japanese translation of Skyline. Some consider that this tag only applies to the really hot versions but, in truth, any C10 qualifies for the Hakosuka tag. That includes saloons, coupés and estate versions – now very rarely seen. The Skylines slotted in above the conventional Bluebird. The Skylines were to those what Alfa Romeo's saloons became to Fiat's – family motors with a bit more focus on engineering and performance.

At the 1964 Grand Prix of Japan, the Skylines had an epic battle with a Porsche 904, and even led the race for a time.

Skyline C-10 with the R380 sports racer.

THE GT-R ARRIVES Three important initials were put together for the first time in 1969 – GT-R. Now, things got really exciting as the Skyline C10 was given a new, twin-cam, six-cylinder powerplant. With 160bhp on tap at an earshattering 7000rpm, performance was quite remarkable. At first, the PGC-10 was only available as a four-door saloon, but the KPGC-10 » RETRO JAPAN E S E

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PROFILE SKYLINE 'HAKOSUKA'

The GT-R story starts here, in 1969 and initially in four-door form.

The 'Hako' soon became a formidable force in saloon car racing.

The KPGC-10 GT-R is considered the ultimate early Skyline. Check out the mean arches!

coupé followed in 1971, with mean wheelarch extensions and a bootlid spoiler. Fewer than 2000 of these Prince-powered 'Hakos' were built. 1969 also saw another six-cylinder arrival, with the 2000GT joining the range. This used Nissan's own L20 engine, which had a single overhead camshaft and a less-lairy appeal. With 105bhp, it still had enough power, but was far better as an everyday proposition. This GC-10 was available only as a four-door saloon, though the KGC-10 two-door arrived in 1971, badged as the 2000 GT-X. This had 120bhp and for 1972 and the final year of 'Hako' production, you could specify the four-door body. It was on the race track that the GT-R really made a name for itself though. It simply blew the competition away, with its high-revving engine being the perfect soundtrack for such success – over 50 outright victories in just three years. But the Hakosuka really looked the part too. It had very clean, pretty lines, even when covered in spoilers and race stickers. The quadlamp snout was purposeful, with a hint of frowning aggression. Whereas the saloon had a graceful flare that cuts right through the rear wheelarch, the GT-R coupé boasted mean wheelarch extensions that covered wider rubber. To this very day, it remains one of the most attractive cars ever to wear a Nissan badge, perhaps even any Japanese manufacturer badge. The motorsport success, fearsome power and good looks help explain why these days, you'll need a lot of money to bag a nice example. RM Sothebys sold a largely original GT-R in 2014 for a staggering $242,000. That has led to an awful lot of 'recreations' that look the part, but don't necessarily feature the screaming Prince-designed twin-cam engine. Mind you, during the 1980s, a lot of Hakos were customised with all sorts of Nissan engines. Good, original Skylines of this era can be very hard to find.

NOT WHAT IT SEEMS The 'GT-R' you can see on these pages is one such recreation, though its Nissan L20 engine has been bored out to 3.1 litres. That, allied to some other mods, mean it's currently good for something in the region of 200bhp. It may not be genuine, but it's still pretty neck-strainingly brisk. Since this feature was shot, owner Steven Grove

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"It would have been all too easy for Nissan to focus on profits and ditch the Skylines as a waste of money"

While it's dressed up as a GT-R, under bonnet shot reveals that this 'Hako' lacks the necessary twin-cam engine.

has carried out a mild restoration of this car, which is now white and just as eye-catching. You may notice the odd rust bubble in its pre-restoration form. The other Skyline is a more faithful. It's a 2000GT saloon that, aside from a brush with the lowering stick and some cheeky stretch on those dished rear rims, is much closer to stock. Current owner Rich Newton of R&R Classics told us, “I love its style and lowness. It's the most unpractical 4dr car I've ever owned.” He plans a mild restoration for this one over the coming winter. With genuine GT-Rs priced way out of enthusiasts' hands, it must be said that even the lesser C10 Skylines are stretching the definition of affordable somewhat. When you consider the heritage, the styling and the engineering, perhaps that isn't » RETRO JAPAN E S E

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PROFILE SKYLINE 'HAKOSUKA'

2000GT has been lowered, but is largely original in terms of running gear.

very surprising. In total, some 315,000 C10s were built – compare that with 1.3 million Bluebirds between 1967 and 1971 alone. Yet Nissan still allowed the Skylines to flourish. These cars were never about pure volume – Nissan could generate plenty of that on its own. Instead, the Skylines were about passion, enthusiasm and enjoyment. It would have been all too easy for Nissan to focus on profits and ditch the Skylines as a waste of money. It didn't though, and that has helped the legend to grow and grow. Perhaps Nissan saw the sense in creating a halo effect, much as Ford did with the RS brand, and Mercedes-Benz with AMG. The C10 certainly helped bring Nissan's name to owners that may have otherwise gone elsewhere. Frankly, it's a bit of a shame that the Skylines of this era never made it to our shores officially. After all, if it's excitement you seek, these cars deliver it by the box load. They remain a fine testament to the passion and engineering of the forgotten Prince. ■

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The Hakosukas remain the most desirable of Skylines.

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EVENT REPORT JAPFEST 2016

This enormous celebration of Japanese metal has moved to a new, iconic home. We were there to soak up the atmosphere. WORDS: MIDGE BURR

PICS: MIDGE BURR AND CHRIS FROSIN

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raditionally Japfest took place down in deepest, darkest West Country, but having all but outgrown its previous home, this year the organisers had to find something not only bigger and better, but more central to the UK. Only one place would do – Silverstone Circuit. With well over 20,000 people hitting the show and none of the usual traffic problems, it was something of a masterstroke and we’ve no doubt the event will continue to grow even bigger over the coming years. Here's a rundown of the Retro Japanese stuff we found.

TRACK ACTION Matt Carter won the Drift King 2016 title in his Skyline R32.

There was plenty of drift action throughout the day.

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Japfest has always been known for its supreme track shenanigans, but now it’s at Silverstone, the home of British motorsport, we saw more awesome action than ever before. Apart from the Jap-only public track time, which always introduces some of the UK’s maddest street and track weapons, this year also saw the Drift Kings competition where the elite of European prodrifters fought it out for the crown. Sponsored by Toyo Tyres, the Matt's Skyline awaits its next tyre-shredding opportunity.

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competition drew the best of the best and even offered a £1000 prize to the winner. But what was awesome to see was that every single driver promised the money would go straight to charity instead. What’s more, instead of adhering to strict judging conditions, the drivers also decided to throw out the rulebook, taking on the track as they saw fit, to provide the best public spectacle possible.

In the end though, there can only be one winner and the title of Drift King 2016 was take by Matt Carter of Team Japspeed. A well deserved win.

RETRO CARS STAND There were plenty of super-cool retro cars around the entire circuit. But nothing puts the kool into old skool like this fine selection of rides, put

together by our very own JJ for an extra-special display. With everything from an original Datsun Fairlady to a bog standard Honda CRX, there was a mass of stupidly rare fourwheeled treats. Retro Japanese readers would have recognised Eddie Rattley's 1962 Bluebird estate from the first issue, and his Nissan Cherry Europe GTI from this issue. Both drew plenty of attention. »

Preet Dhanjal's Datsun 180B SSS next to Sundeep Sian's 120Y. Above: Eddie Rattley's Datsun Bluebird (RJ1) and Cherry Europe (RJ2) have both been featured in Retro Japanese.

Gorgeous Skyline R30 of Rich Wheatley drew a crowd.

John-Joe Vollans assembled a deliciously varied mix for the Retro Cars stand.

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Rally-spec Datsun Bluebird one of several cars brought along by Autolink UK.

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EVENT REPORT JAPFEST 2016

CLUBS Club stands always have and always will be the backbone of Japfest and as usual every part of Japanese automotive car culture was catered for. From the

brand-spanking new to super-modified, there were literally thousands of Retro Japanese machines to check out on the day. The standard of metal on display

was a true testament to the hardcore British enthusiasts. There was definitely something to inspire everyone, no matter what your age or taste.

UK Starlet Owners put on a huge display of Starlets and Glanzas.

Skylines aplenty in the club area. Left: No shortage of Evos either, from bone stock to much-modified.

TRADE VILLAGE It has to be said, one of the most important parts of any event is the trade area. After all, it’s not just David Dickinson who loves to grab a bargain Bobby Dazzler right? With plenty of space in the sprawling

paddock of Silverstone this year, we saw more trade stands than ever before - most putting up irresistible show deals to lure in the punters. Big names like Scorpion Exhausts, Mishimoto, Kode Performance,

Rota Wheels and SamcoSport joined the line up, offing some of the world’s finest parts and services. So if your wallet wasn’t considerably lighter on the way out, we have no idea how you did it!

MORE JAPFEST ACTION Seeing as this year’s event attracted more of Europe’s Jap fans than ever before, we’re pretty sure it won’t be going back out West any time soon and Silverstone will continue to be the new home of the UK’s number one Japanese event. What we do know is next year’s event will be at the end of April and you’ll need to keep an eye on www.japfest.co.uk for upcoming details. We’ll see you there! ■

Torque GT's Sunny pick up garnered a lot of attention.

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PREVIEW JAPFEST ROCK 26 JUNE 2016

Japfest's sister show will also be packing plenty of exciting action. Here's what's going on WORDS: IAN SEABROOK

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ust days after this issue goes on sale, Japanese car fans will be flocking to Rockingham Motor Speedway for another burst of Japfest action. Last year, this event was known as Japfest 2. This time, it's Japfest Rock. Here's what's going on. It's a full day of events, so you'll be able to experience non-stop high speed track action including tyre-shredding drifting displays and passenger rides, a huge retail village and thousands of UK’s best Japanese cars on display. There is a packed track timetable, full of public and club track sessions to take part in throughout the day. You can also test your own driving ability by taking your car out on Rockingham’s National Circuit in front of hundreds of spectators. No matter what your experience or skill level, track time is available for you. Track session are mixed ability, 20 minutes each and cost just £30 in advance.

Expect great club displays, such as this Piazza party. Take to the track for some unrestricted fun!

CLUB DISPLAYS Make sure you save plenty of time to wander round the massive and diverse range of Japanese car clubs on display. Rockingham Speedway will be packed full with the UK’s finest Japanese club cars, expect to see a massive variety of Japanese marques and models including Skylines, Starlets and Civics to name just a few. Retro Cars magazine will have its own paddock area, with a great display of retro and classic Japanese metal.

SHOW AND SHINE The Show & Shine brings together the best examples of the UK Japanese scene. Whether it’s an impeccably-detailed rebuild, quarter-mile demon or highly-tuned track weapon, you’re guaranteed to be impressed. The overall winner will be picked at the show. Who will be awarded the trophy and crowned as the 2016 Show and Shine Winner?

VTEC CHALLENGE Just when you think this year’s Japfest Rock cannot get any bigger, there’s another new attraction added and this time it’s in the form of the VTEC Challenge race series. The Honda-only series will be giving a full-throttled demo session at the show, so expect to hear plenty of high-revving VTEC engines as they battle it out on the famous Rockingham tarmac.

Show and shine will highlight the best the scene has to offer.

I'LL BE THERE! I will be attending the show, in my bone stock RAV4. If you see me wandering about, do come and say hello. I'd love to hear your feedback on the magazine. What would you like to see more of? What excites you most about Japanese motors? If you can't make the event or have missed it, then don't worry. We'll have a full report in our next issue. ■

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PROFILE ISUZU PIAZZA

Lotus tweaks gave real on-road benefits, including far better body control.

ACES HIGH: THE CONCEPT YOU COULD BUY Despite little experience, Isuzu tried to make a go of the small coupé market with the Piazza Turbo. Forgotten, and chronically misunderstood, Isuzu’s GT is far more than a cheap axle donor WORDS: JON BURGESS

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2.0-litre engine was derived from that in the Fargo van, though with Bosch fuel injection and an IHI turbocharger.

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PICS: JON BURGESS/ISUZU

uick – name a 1980s styling study which made it into production! Most would plump for the 1982 Ford Sierra; few other cars survived the baptism of fire ‘twixt bright lights and forecourt like the Probe III did. Isuzu sneaked its Piazza under the radar a full year earlier. Japan’s oldest car maker revealed its new car to a stunned audience at the 1981 Tokyo Motor Show. Italdesign’s 1979 Asso di Fiori (Ace of Clubs) concept car was rolling off Isuzu’s Fujisawa production line and in to showrooms more or less unsullied. The last of three ‘Ace’ styling exercises, preceded by the 1973 Audi Asso di Picche (Ace of Spades) and the 1976 BMW Asso di Quadri (Ace of Diamonds), the Asso di Fiori completed Italdesign’s ‘wedge’ series

of vehicles. It wasn’t the first time designer Giorgetto Giugiaro had worked with Isuzu; while on a placement at Bertone, he turned the frumpy Florian saloon into the 1966 117 Sports. Britain didn't hear anything of Isuzu until the mid 1980s. What little buyers understood of the marque, celebrating its centenary this year, stemmed from its reputation as a bus, truck and diesel engine manufacturer. The Piazza appeared seemingly out of context because none of Isuzu’s earlier cars were imported here. Few realise the role Britain’s car industry played in Isuzu’s automotive back catalogue. In fact, the Piazza owes its existence to Wolseley and Rootes Group. Isuzu’s forerunners, the Tokyo Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, decided to RETRO JAPAN E S E


Left: The Piazza replaced the Giugiaro-penned 117 Coupé. Centre: The original Asso di Fiori (Ace of Clubs) concept. So little changed for production. Right: Concept sits on an Isuzu Gemini 1800 floorpan.

move into car building in 1916. With the money made from heavy industry, it pooled its resources with the Tokyo Gas and Electric Industrial Company and signed a sales agreement with Wolseley two years later. 1922 saw the first Japanese passenger car, a license built Wolseley A-9, emerge from Tokyo’s Fukagawa works. Tokyo Ishikawajima’s car building concerns split from its shipbuilding parent in 1929 and formed an independent company known as the Ishikawa Automotive Works Co, Ltd. By 1933, it had launched the ‘Isuzu’ (Government Standard Car), named in honour of the river which flows past Japan’s oldest Shinto shrine. The title proved prophetic; 1937 brought Automobile Industries (Ishikawa's new name after consolidating with DAT Automobile Manufacturing Inc to work on diesel engines) and Tokyo Gas & Electric Co. together, establishing Tokyo Automobile Industries Co. Ltd. As far as Isuzu's corporate history is concerned, the firm regards this group as the direct ancestor of the Isuzu Motors Limited we know today. Having survived World War Two, bus and truck production started again with the permission of the occupying authorities. Following a complicated sequence of mergers and rebranding with other firms to capitalise on the growing need for compression ignition engines, the bustling bus and truck conglomerate, then called Diesel Automobile Industry, changed its name for a final time in 1949, to Isuzu Motors Limited. After licence-building Hillmans in the 1950s, Isuzu matured as a car maker in the 1960s. Its truck division, underpinned by the lucrative Elf pickup, helped fund construction of the exclusive, hand built 117 coupé PA90 series styled by Giugiaro. The seeds of the Piazza were sown from this point; having built up an enormous amount RETRO JAPAN E S E

Isuzu clearly wanted to expand the Piazza range, producing a five door Piazza which never made production.

of respect for the designer, a follow up from his drawing board seemed inevitable. In 1971, Isuzu became a General Motors subsidiary. Isuzu designs were then borrowed, with the Isuzu Mu becoming a Lutonbuilt Vauxhall Frontera, and the Fargo van a British-built Bedford or Vauxhall Midi.

UK SALES COMMENCE Jaguar and Porsche distributor Charles Follet brought the first Isuzu passenger cars to Britain, forming Isuzu GB to handle their distribution in 1986. Having studied the vast domestic Piazza model range, it decided to import the top of the range XE Turbo 2000, launched two years previously. The nascent £12,000 coupé sector had seen a great deal of growth as the decade wore on, particularly from

Japanese makers looking to move upmarket. Honda's Prelude, Nissan's Silvia Turbo ZX (S12) and Toyota's Celica 2.0GT joined the fight against established players like the Audi Coupe GT and Ford Capri 2.8i Special; as history records, the Piazza Turbo joined the Subaru XT Turbo as a courageous also-ran. After favourable previews at the 1985 British Motor Show, Isuzu GB initially ordered 300 Piazza Turbos from Fujisawa. Built for the 1986 model year, they're known as 'pre-Lotus' cars by Piazza enthusiasts – cars built before the Hethel sports car maker intervened in the model's development. With a competitive £12,165 price tag, magazines praised the Piazza's level of equipment, build quality and comfort, but had concerns about its facia, handling and »

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PROFILE ISUZU PIAZZA

The iconic BX and BU bus series (BX 352 pictured) made Isuzu a fortune over the years. (image courtesy Spaceaero2)

Isuzu GB tried far harder with its literature than International Motors did.

Handling by Lotus – more than just a badge, it's a real transformation.

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ride. Isuzu retained Giugiaro's dashboard design until the end of Japanese market production in 1991; Isuzu GB weren't as lucky. By November 1986, the receivers had been called in, leaving 535 cars orphaned at Sheerness Docks. London based dealer group Alan Day Limited stepped into the breach, buying up Isuzu GB's bankrupt stock for £3.475 million. The deal took until 1987 to broker and 'pre Lotus' Piazzas ended up for sale via Alan Day's Mercedes and Subaru dealerships. Aware of the Piazza's limitations, Alan Day promoted the car's styling and standard equipment above all else, hoping a lower £8995 price tag would make up for the model's lack of prestige. Slowly but surely, 'pre Lotus' Piazzas found homes, the majority of cars registered with 'D' plates despite being built the previous year. As it turns out, Alan Day weren't the only group interested in marketing the Piazza. As Isuzu GB crumbled, Subaru concessionaires International Motors (IM) moved in to pick up the pieces, buying up Alan Day's warranty tab and travelling to Isuzu's Japanese headquarters in Shinagawaku with the hope of continuing British Piazza sales. Views vary as to what IM's true intentions were; some think it took the Piazza on so as to guarantee its

place at the front of the queue for British Trooper concessions as it never marketed the Piazza with any particular gusto. What's more, four wheel drive vehicles were selling in greater numbers than coupés. IM franchised Isuzu dealers were usually in rural areas, twinned with outlets selling Subarus and tractors – a low slung coupé would not have looked more out of place!

A little Lotus magic IM reprieve or otherwise, the Piazza was in trouble by the end of 1987. At one end of the critical spectrum, British testers criticised its complicated dashboard and divergent, weather-dependent handling. On the other, Australian publications lambasted its road manners. Softly sprung and crudely suspended, the Piazza's driving characteristics earned it brickbats down under; American and Japanese reviews were, by comparison, ambivalent. With these complaints in mind, Lotus, (also a General Motors satellite after its acquisition in 1986) was called in to comprehensively uprate the Piazza's hardware to a strict brief. The 1988 model year Piazza 'Handling By Lotus' (HBL) was born, although Detroit pulled the purse strings tight. Constrained by a live rear axle and the same 2.0litre turbocharged engine as before, mechanical changes were by and large limited to the suspension and steering; pretty much the only component of the latter to survive unscathed were the front anti roll bars, bushes and links. Fettling soon determined a new angle for the steering rack. Its mountings were changed and tie rod angles were revised. European cars got larger 260mm front disc brakes with calipers redesigned to suit. HBLs sat lower than their predecessors at the front; Lotus stiffened the car fore and softened it aft, making the Piazza less twitchy exiting bends. To that end, the rear anti-roll bar and bushes were redesigned, along with the upper trailing link arms, Panhard rod and mounting points on the rear axle casing. Lotus-badged cars also received stiffening around the B-pillars, new

“The factory had always positioned the car as a junior GT; thanks to Hethel, the HBL Piazzas were now duly equipped to serve that purpose”

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grille badging, a different, hooped rear spoiler and a smoother, simplified rear end, including a pair of redesigned tail lights which had been available on Japanese Domestic Market cars since the mid 1980s (and which also appeared on the 1986 Piazza Space Sports shooting brake concept). Gone were the 16 hole alloys redolent of the Italdesign Medusa. Slotted octagonal items took their place, wrapped in special Goodyear Eagle NCT 2 rubber with a compound

specific to the HBLs, supplanting the easily overwhelmed Dunlop D7s Isuzu previously fitted.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS This thorough tweaking turned the Piazza Turbo into a very different beast. The factory had always positioned the car as a junior GT; thanks to Hethel, the HBL Piazzas were now duly equipped to serve that purpose. Driving the early and late cars back

to back quickly highlights the raft of subtle but far reaching changes. The queasy, haphazard body control of the pre-Lotus cars in tight bends is banished with very little detriment to the Piazza's secondary ride. Really poor surfaces still betray the presence of a live axle but better location helps the HBL's suspension travel without the abrupt compressions and jolts of earlier Piazzas. Performance between the two cars is almost identical. Although Piazza HBLs received an uprated injection Âť

BUSTED: 5 PIAZZA MYTHS It's sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction where the Piazza is concerned; hearsay rules the roost. With the help of the Isuzu Piazza Turbo Owners' Club's (IPTOC's), technical contact Clive Burrough (pictured) we've put the most persistent rumours to bed. 1. "Piazza was an abandoned proposal for the Volkswagen MkII Scirocco which Isuzu bought and re-named. The Piazza was never going to be anything other than an Isuzu. The firm commissioned Giugiaro's Italdesign to create a new model from scratch. The result was the 1979 Asso di Fiori (Ace of Clubs) concept car. 2. "It's just a rebodied Chevette" Piazzas share very little structurally or mechanically with the Vauxhall Chevette - at best, Isuzu's coupe is a [very] distant relative. Isuzu became a GM subsidiary in 1971; as part of a mutual agreement between the two firms, Isuzu got access to the latter's resources in exchange for the former's Asian market share. That meant access to the T car platform, which did include the Chevette. "The only carry-over parts [between the Piazza and its T-car cousins] are the front suspension upper ball joints, which were also used on Isuzu/ Holden Gemini T-car variants. These are not the same as their Vauxhall Chevette/Opel Kadett cousins, which had weedier ball joints and wishbones," Clive Burrough confirmed.

Piazza's parentage and one which saw many rotten Piazzas broken up for their 'slipper' in period. Option G80 (Isuzu-speak for an LSD) consigned many borderline Piazzas to an early grave; people reckon the differentials swap straight over. Although the oily bits look similar, Piazzas are wider than their estranged kin (and geared differently). Yank a Piazza LSD out and not is the casing wrong for a Chevette or Manta, they attach to the body in places other than those specified by Luton or RĂźsselsheim. "LSDs from five-link Piazza Turbo axles do not fit Vauxhall/ Opel axle casings. They are Isuzu axles and are instead closely related to those fitted to those fitted in its KB and TFR pick-ups," explained Clive.

3. "Piazza Turbo rear limited slipdiffs(LSDs) fit straight into a Vauxhall Chevette (or Opel Manta)."

4. "Piazzas used the same engine as the front-wheel drive Lotus Elan"

Another myth related to the

More crossed wires, it seems. British Isuzu Piazza Turbos used a 2.0-litre,

RETRO JAPAN E S E

single overhead cam engine known to Isuzu as the '4CZ1-T' (denoting forced induction). It has nothing in common with the 1.6-litre, 16 valve unit Lotus helped Isuzu develop in the 1980s. 5. "Piazzas were all grey imports my insurance company says so" Isuzu built Piazza Turbos, 1662 of them, for the British market between 1986 and 1989. Imported by Isuzu GB then International Motors, all were official UK specification vehicles. Turbocharged Piazzas were designated 'JR 120' by the factory; naturally aspirated cars (offered to Japan and the rest of the world) displayed 'JR 130' on their VIN plates. Britain never got any JR 130s, although two ended up here in the 1980s as personal imports. One got scrapped and the other was turned into a show car by Swiss tuning firm Rinspeed in 1984. Its current whereabouts are unknown.

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PROFILE ISUZU PIAZZA

SPECIFICATIONS

Indicators, standard fit cruise control and headlights were controlled by the right satellite.

Engine

1994cc/4-cyl/OHC

Power

148bhp@5400rpm

Torque

167lb/ft@3000rpm

0-60mph

8.3secs

Top Speed

127mph

Gearbox

Push, pull, twist - reviewers complained about the Piazza's fingertip controls in period.

The Handling By Lotus cars (right) got a cleaner rear end which moved away from the fussy Asso di Fiori esque garnish of the 'pre Lotus' Piazzas.

system, comprising a new inlet manifold, injectors and fuel rail, running characteristics are outwardly similar. Acceleration is urgent rather than quick, after all, the 2.0-litre turbo was tuned for a broad spread of torque rather than outright power. The Piazza's relatively small IHI blower is incredibly well integrated for a 1980s install. Unlike the aggressive shove of a Mitsubishi Starion Turbo, lag is kept to a minimum. Boost is capped at 8.7psi; helpfully, a solenoid controlled over boost facility holds the wastegate open for short bursts of full pressure overtaking. Keeping the gruff but effective engine in its power band is easy, a lengthened gear lever on the HBL widening the throw between ratios. Drive the Piazza like a modern turbo diesel and you'll make swift progress; push for the red line and the engine

54

becomes rough and unappealing. Learn the controls and the Tetrisesque satellite pods straddling the instrument binnacle quickly begin to make sense. Obscured by the steering wheel they may be, but muscle memory soon makes up for any perceived ergonomic failures. Pre-Lotus cars left Fujisawa with a Citroen-esque two spoke wheel; HBLs moved to a three holer with downward cranked spokes to keep most of the switchgear legible. Everything from the puck-like indicator switch to the heater controls is at your fingertips. You only have to break concentration to alter the settings of the head unit or direction from the air vents; pulling the offside port upwards sees it periscope out of the dash to clear the instrument cowling. Interior trim and minor controls changed for the 1988 model year. HBL

5-speed manual

buyers got better switches, tweed seat trim and better in car entertainment than the hardy souls who braved the Howard's Way jibes synonymous with early Piazza ownership. Disappearing nose aside, visibility, aided by slim pillars and flat glass, is excellent. Two massive lidded door bins mean you're never stuck for oddment storage, and twin cigarette lighters help keep modern items (phones and sat-navs, for example) charged simultaneously. It's an easy victory for the HBL in dynamic terms, but if design purity is your thing, the pre-Lotus cars stay closer to the Asso di Fiori concept car, inside and out. The Handling By Lotus package arrived too late to change the Piazza's fortunes in the market place. International Motors, wedded as it was to the Trooper, let the Piazza wither away without much promotion. Despite proving the worth of its running gear, rear-wheel drive was old hat by the late 1980s; even the beloved Ford Capri would be gone by 1987. What's more, naturally aspirated 16 valve engines could match the Piazza for power and return better fuel economy . As an under-appreciated, rare and off-beat GT, the Isuzu Piazza Turbo has few equals. Marrying concept car looks with effortless long distance cruising abilities, it deserved better than it got. Manual or automatic, 'pre Lotus' or HBL - fewer than 30 roadworthy Piazzas remain. Exclusivity: sometimes it comes from outside the box. â–

THANKS TO The Isuzu Piazza Turbo Owners' Club, Clive Burrough, Luke Edwards, Andrew Freeman, Dan Hirst, Trigger’s Road Tests and The Transport Museum, Wythall (www.wythall.org.uk/)

CONTACT Isuzu Piazza Turbo Owners' Club (www.iptoc.com)

RETRO JAPAN E S E


OWNING OUR RETRO JAPANESE MACHINES

OUR RETRO JAPANESE MACHINES Two roof-off compact 4x4s, a pair of gizmo-laden Mazdas and a zingy Honda Prelude. Welcome to the cars behind the Retro Japanese team.

Ian Seabrook, Editor

Cars: 1996 Toyota RAV4, 2001 Perodua Nippa EX

H

aving sold my Honda Prelude due a lack of funds, I took a rather bold step. I've replaced my Citroën XM diesel daily driver with a 1996 Toyota RAV4. The Prelude was lovely, but just not practical enough for my lifestyle. The lack of a hatchback and the useless rear seats just didn't offer the practicality I need. Ok, so it's not like the RAV4 is massively blessed in loadspace or people carrying ability either, but it is more practical than a Prelude. And has a tow bar. I must concede, I've always been a bit dismissive of soft-roaders. Until now. Toyota knew that most people buying these 'lifestyle' vehicles would not actually value off-road ability that much, though there is a centre diff lock, like a Land Rover. To be fair, Toyota was exactly right, and ahead of the game. These days, you can buy Land Rovers that are front-wheel drive only. Having decided on a RAV4, I found a likely candidate a mere few hours away (I live in rural Wales) and decided it was worth a look. We drove north in my Perodua Nippa – not entirely Japanese, but not very far from it given that it's a cast-off Daihatsu Mira/Domino. On arrival, the RAV looked good at first glance, though closer inspection revealed rear tyres that were nearly bald and a driver's wiper arm that was missing its spring. A bout of haggling occurred and I paid £580. There was evidence of a cambelt change not too far back in time, it drove nicely and seemed solid - corrosion around the rear suspension mounts is a key issue on these. On the drive home, I quickly discovered that the RAV4 is a great car to drive. It almost wants to be driven quickly. The 2.0-litre engine has bags of torque and pulls well, with typical multivalve verve once the revs rise. It handles really rather well, far more like a big hatchback than a traditional 4x4. With all-independent suspension, it is far more technically accomplished than any other four-wheel drive of this era. There were some minor issues. That broken wiper arm would lift off the windscreen at speed, which made driving through rain-lashed Snowdonia rather interesting. I then thought I'd almost run it out of fuel due to a lack of petrol stations, though as I only got 48 litres into the 58 litre tank, I think the gauge may have been lying. The tyres were shot, but it gives me a chance to try Michelin's Latitude Cross tyre, which promises to offer good on-road behaviour, but not leave me stuck in the mud. The oil filter was rusty, but I've already treated it to new oil and filters. I have already taken it greenlaning too! Well, these things have to be done.

56

The greenlaning abilities have already been tested. Difflock was appreciated. Already 22 years since the RAV4 was launched. Still attractive. Well, Ian reckons so.

Interior has a real simplicity to it. No gadgets or gimmicks here.

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Dan Hirst, Contributor

Cars: 1989 Mazda 323 1.5 GLX Executive, 1998 Honda Prelude 2.0i I've always liked to have more than one car on the go and today is no exception. The 323 was an impulse purchase turned daily driver. It's the rather awkwardly-named GLX Executive model, with electric everything on the inside, yet surprisingly basic-looking on the outside. I've driven a few of these old 323s they're a lot more fun to drive than you would expect, with incredible turn-in ability and surprisingly good grip in spite of skinny tyres. Even on a non-sporting model like this, the engine is punchy and free-revving. In my case, the performance is a little limited by a 3-speed automatic gearbox, though it does make those tedious rush hour journeys completely effortless. On initial purchase, it had a small but fairly urgent to-do list. The most obvious was the radiator, which had been replaced with a much smaller unit from a scrapyard Honda Jazz, loosely secured to the slam panel with plastic cable ties. It worked better than you'd expect, so long as you left the heater on full blast and planned around getting stuck in traffic. Thankfully, the original fittings, a potential nightmare to source, were still in the car and a proper replacement radiator was fitted. Another issue was a large oil leak, which was immediately cured with a £9 rocker gasket. Finally, there's the starter motor which doesn't always engage first time, but for now I'll live with it. It's a testament to the strength of these cars that despite some previous neglect, it needed only a wheel bearing and brake shoes for the MOT. Simple, tough and fun. You really can have it all.

The Prelude is a different beast, scratching an itch I've had since my first sighting of one on the big roundabout outside the newly-opened Leeds White Rose shopping centre in 1997. If you can still remember the exact stretch of road you saw a car nearly twenty years ago, it probably made an impression. Gran Turismo on the PlayStation didn't help, with its virtual Honda dealership offering rendered versions rotating around on demand. Mine is the base grade 2.0i, using a 132hp non-VTEC engine also seen in the Accord. Whilst lacking the sports car acceleration of the 2.2, it can still clear 60mph in 8.9 seconds – more than enough to enjoy winding

country roads. A previous owner has fitted some fairly smart looking alloy wheels and aftermarket lowering springs. The suspension drop is such that I can't clear the speed bumps outside the supermarket, making it a car I can only drive for pleasure. With buyers shifting towards practicality (like Mr Seabrook), this style of grand touring coupé has been in sharp decline since the early 2000s. Indeed, this was the final generation of Prelude. Outside of exotic manufacturers, few cars exist in this segment today. Yet despite dramatic looks, values of these cars are at the bottom of the value curve and it's a fantastic time to buy.

Dan's Mazda 323 BF is a posh one – GLX Executive.

Prelude 2.0i is still a pretty brisk grand touring coupé.

Downside to lowered suspension is incompatibility with supermarkets.

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57


OWNING OUR RETRO JAPANESE MACHINES

Paul Guinness, Contributor

Cars: 1998 Mazda Xedos 6 V6 SE, 1992 Daihatsu Sportrak ELXi

T

he last few months have seen me sell one Japanese modern classic and acquire another, although the difference between the two could hardly be greater. The one that went was a ‘compact exec’ with an ultra-smooth V6 powerplant and effortless performance, wrapped in the unmistakeable shape of a Mazda Xedos 6. And the new arrival? Well, that’s a low-mileage Daihatsu Sportrak in pretty remarkable condition for its age. First the Xedos 6. It was mine for almost a year by the time its next owner (a fellow Xedos fan) was due to collect it. For me, that’s a long time to own a car – its performance was such a joy, it took all that time for the novelty to wear off. Built in 1998, this Xedos V6 had a mere 51,000 miles under its wheels when I bought it and being the SE version, it came fully equipped with leather upholstery, aircon and various other niceties. Most important of all, however, was Mazda’s silky-smooth 1995cc V6 powerplant, a 140bhp unit with a glorious soundtrack. When full use was made of the kickdown facility on the four-speed automatic ’box, the Xedos offered superb overtaking ability, adding to its entertainment value. More importantly, though, it proved to be ultrareliable during my year at the wheel, as well as very cost-effective; I sold it for a fair-sounding £950, which is exactly what I’d paid for it twelve months earlier. Cars tend to regularly come and go in my household, so I couldn’t resist snapping up the 1992 Sportrak you see here when it came up for sale back in February. Being sold with a fresh MoT, it looked to be great value at the private vendor’s asking price of £900 – particularly given its genuine mileage of just 69,000. It’s unusual to find a Sportrak that hasn’t been used and abused in the rough, as it’s a popular model amongst weekend off-roaders. This one is something of a rarity, being all-original and still boasting excellent paintwork and a near-immaculate interior. As soon as I’d got the Sportrak home it was treated to a few minor jobs (an oil change, new plugs and fresh coolant for starters), as the previous owner had done very little to it, having covered just 200 miles the previous year. Now though, the Daihatsu is being used on an almost daily basis, and has proved to be both reliable and great fun – albeit with the inevitable compromises of an aged 4x4. Making its Japanese debut in 1987, the Sportrak helped to create the ‘compact 4x4’ sector that’s now allconquering. This early entrant could never be called quick or refined, but its 1.6-litre 16-valve petrol engine does provide reasonable on-road performance. And although it doesn’t handle like a modern SUV, its agility in tough conditions (thanks to its dual-range transfer box and locking front hubs) gives a real off-road advantage. Despite its compromises, this is a fun-todrive machine, particularly now that summer’s here and that removable roof is stored in the garage. Open-air entertainment for 900 quid? I’ll have a bit of that, thank you… ■

58

Paul's overjoyed by his Daihatsu Sportrak.

It's unusual to come across a Sportrak that has been so well cared for. Xedos 6 stayed around for an entire year, largely due to the smooth V6.

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OWNERS' STORIES Your Retro Japanese Stars

Owners' Stories

More tales of the cars you love and own, including another Galant GTO!

Ruhail Ahmad, Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO GSR Photographer Chris Frosin introduced his Galant GTO in the previous issue. Now we've got another one! Ruhail tells us: “I set my eyes on a Galant GTO GSR around five years ago, when collecting classic Toyota parts from a person who is now a very good friend. I saw a stranger among his collection and really fell in love with it. “I did try for several years asking him to sell it, but he wouldn't, and to be honest. finding one for sale was no way going to happen. Back in February, I was on route in the vast hills of the High Peak, Derbyshire collecting a car for work. As I was walking up to my collection address, something caught my eye in a tyre garage in the middle of nowhere. It looked like a Celica RA28 and I thought it needed to be investigated. As I got closer, it was then apparent it was not a Toyota but a (Mitsubishi) Colt Galant. Not just that, but a GTO! I was like woooooow! “I spoke to a lad there who told me it was his dad's and he was planning to restore it. I had a good chat with him, showed him pictures of my past classic Toyotas and then I asked him if it was for sale. To my surprise he

said yes, and that's only because he could not find any parts at all. I made him an offer, he accepted. I came back the next day & left him a deposit and the car came home a week later. “The car had been owned by an elderly gentleman since the late 1970s. He passed away, the house was being cleared out and the car was taken by this chap to his garage, not knowing how rare this car really was. Along with the car I received the old style V5 and a few bits of paperwork were found with it. Its only a two-owner car before me. It had been off the road since 1987. “It is now suffering from rust due to sitting in the garage all these years. But amazingly the interior is near mint, why? Because the old fella had those classic seat covers and they preserved those amazing looking seats. “So today as a proud owner, it sits in my garage whilst I am frantically hunting parts to take this on as a project. No doubt it will be slow but the conclusion will be good. Watch this space." If anyone can help with sourcing parts then please feel free to get in touch via email on japclassics@hotmail.co.uk.

Yes, another Galant GTO! Spare panels are a problem. Can you help?

A photo of the car in its heyday, before it was taken off the road.

Phil Rice, 1987 Nissan Bluebird 2.0 GSX I sold my 1988 Bluebird GSXi to buy this one. I travelled down to London to pick it up with my 4-year old son Oscar. Oscar was just as excited as me as he got to go on a fast train with his dad. The reason why I love Nissan bluebirds is because my late father had two of them; a 1985 1.8 GT U11 and a 1986/7 Bluebird T12. That one was metallic green and I used to wash this as a kid every weekend without fail. I have big plans for my Bluebird. It has very little rot, but it's going to be resprayed in its original colour. I'm currently in two minds as to whether I should keep it original or drop it 40mm an put some old school wheels on it. Lensos would be my first choice.

Alan's Bluebird SSS now lives on Guernsey, and remains rot free.

Huzaifa Khan, 1997 Toyota Carina E I have always wanted a Carina E, as I have memories of my grandfather's one. When this car came on for sale I went down instantly to St Leornards On Sea, Sussex and bought it off a chap who was selling it on behalf of the owner. I contacted the local dealer and they recognised the car instantly and said it has got to be the lowest mileage in the country. It's got 14 Toyota service stamps, a genuine 12,400 miles from new and is the Ltd edition SI with automatic gearbox.

Want to show off your motor?

Drop Ian an email at ian.seabrook@kelseymedia.co.uk 60

Huzaifa's Carina E has covered a mere 12,400 miles from new. RETRO JAPAN E S E


Alan Robinson, 1975 Datsun Bluebird 180B SSS (610) My love of Datsuns all started with a 1980 Violet 160J SSS back in 1991. It was the robust and easy-to-work-on engines, along with all the chrome and polished stainless steel, that made me want to have more. On the way, I've also had a 1979 160J SSS, 1982 Cherry coupé and finally this 1975 Bluebird 180B SSS – now thought to be the only one left. It came from Leeds and was owned by a Mr Senior, who had acquired it in 1977. He had used it only in the summer months and wax protected its underside, which allowed it to remain fairly rust free. I treated her to a respray in 2008, in Nissan's original yellow as the old paint had a

few patches and a set of very 1970s black stripes down each side. I like to keep things original but felt a set of

Wolfrace alloys, Lucas period spotlights and an early 610 SSS JMD steering wheel have enhanced her appeal.

Alan's Bluebird SSS now lives on Guernsey, and remains rot free. 1.8-litre, overhead-cam engine is good for a 100mph top speed.

Adam Carr, 2000 Honda Prelude 2.2 VTI VTEC I purchased the Prelude from a private seller on 29/05/2005. It could be described as having a Jekyll & Hyde character. It is extremely civilised, refined and relaxed when driven normally, but when you put your foot down, the character of the car transforms. The engine springs into life, acceleration becomes rapid and the engine takes on a completely different note as the pace increases. The car also has excellent handling due to 4WS and double wishbone suspension. Mine has also had the optional lowered sports suspension fitted and also the Japanese specification front suspension strut

brace, which was not available to UK specification Honda Preludes. It's nice

driving something different; many people are unaware of what it is.

Adam reckons his fifth-gen Prelude has a Jekyll & Hyde character. Like all Preludes, fifth-gen is a two-door coupé.

Tim Buttolph, 1989 Nissan Sunny N13 I've owned the Sunny for three years now. I swapped my Bluebird T72 for it. The last owner did most of the improvements, like fitting a complete ZX interior, including electric windows, central locking and converting it to power steering and fitting a full ZX Bodykit. The Sunny has been lowered on coilovers, using the original struts and has WORK Equip alloys ,15” x 7.5j. It then had two tone paint and tinted windows. It's always hard to take on someone else's project or visions and to try and make it your own, but I've added custom made front and rear spoilers, centre caps, an external fake oil cooler, fog lights, a MOMO steering wheel on a short hub plus a Japanese geisha lady novelty gear shifter. Keeping with Japanese styling, I've added a RETRO JAPAN E S E

Tokyo subway ring, a police friendly boso exhaust pipe, the JDM-style fender mirrors and some stickers. I plan to do some upgrades soon to the engine, brakes and exhaust but at the moment, I'm very happy with her

and can't fault her at all. I'm looking forward to going to some of the main Japanese car shows this year. I had a good response from onlookers at JapFest in May, where the car was included in the Retro Cars paddock.

Tim's Sunny began as someone else's project, but he has kept the work going. Custom rear spoiler arguably looks better than Nissan's own ZX bodykit!

61


OWNERS' STORIES Your Retro Japanese Stars

Rob Camber, 1981 Datsun Sunny estate My Sunny estate is almost entirely stock, and in pretty good overall condition, though it's running on Rayvern hydraulic suspension. Means it can be dropped at the flick of a switch, or returned to normal height. I do swap wheels – I've got a set of Alleycats and a set of Rostyles. This car has been my daily for three years, so the body is getting a bit scruffy in places. I'm hoping to get it sorted out this summer.

Rob's Sunny uses hydraulic suspension for that ultra-low look. He has various sets of wheels, including these Rostyles (left) and Alleycats (right).

Zack Malloy, 1999 Honda Civic Jordan I have a Honda Civic Jordan. It is a bit of a strange one for me. I like car modification but due to this Civic being a special edition, I find myself not wanting to alter it too much. With the Jordan, I can't stand seeing them being turned into 'stanced' and 'scene' Civics. Why would you buy a Jordan and make it look like every other modified Civic out there? I am saving up to get the Civic resprayed as 17 years on British roads

have taken their toll on the rear arches. I do have replacement panels but, as ever, money is the issue. I found this 1999 Jordan back in 2002, number 225 for sale on Auto Trader. It was low mileage, great condition, fitted optional extras, one lady owner and came in the fantastic Y56 Sunlight Yellow. The added bonus, the day the car was first registered coincides with my birthday.

I am keeping mine relatively standard or upgrading parts that can be changed back to standard. It has a proven 160bhp (dyno tested) even after 17 years. I have recently changed to a K&N air filter, Ferodo DS2500 brake pads, Longlife cat-back exhaust system made by Interpro Automotive Ltd. and a selection of EK9 Type R interior parts. The bodywork needs a little attention but overall, it is a great car.

Zack's Civic Jordan is relatively standard and very eye-catching in Sunlight Yellow.

A dyno session confirmed that it still has 160bhp.

The interior of the Civic Jordan is just as bright.

George Roper, 1994 Daihatsu Applause GXi I've owned my Applause since November 2015. I've had to replace the head gasket and two temperature sensors. Getting hold of replacements wasn't easy, but it's now fine. I love the noise it makes, particularly the revvy and responsive engine. The gearbox makes a very satisfying straight-cut cog type noise and married to this is 0-60mph time of just over eight seconds, which you don't expect from a car that looks like it belongs on a pensioner's driveway. I plan to keep it running and road legal, especially after all the attention it's had. The underside is nice and solid and to keep it that way it will be getting freshly undersealed. For

62

the most part, it will be kept original because it's so right as standard, with just a few minor alterations to make living with the car day to day

a little easier. I'm currently having to repair the nearside rear door and wheelarch after a taxi drove into it while parked. Not impressed!

Applause remains a very unusual hatchback. George's Applause was recently attacked by a taxi! RETRO JAPAN E S E


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BROCHURES DAIHATSU

DAIHATSU. THAT'S WHO.

We take a journey through the early years of Daihatsu in Europe, via its colourful brochure imagery. WORDS: DAN HIRST

Charade Mk1 took a while to gain momentum in the UK.

Snazzy seats were a world away from the plain velour of an Allegro.

CHARADE MK1 (1977) For the new Charade, Daihatsu's technical division designed a new one-litre engine from scratch, soon theorising that optimum displacement for peak combustion could be achieved at roughly 330cc displacement per cylinder. This would call for their engine to use three cylinders rather than the usual four. While odd numbers of cylinders were widely avoided by car manufacturers due to their inherent roughness, the Charade engine could offset this with a balancer shaft to achieve smooth running. A bold move, the 993cc three-cylinder OHC four-stroke 'CB series' was a technical first and an important milestone for Daihatsu, which would later be symbolized by this off-beat engine configuration. As well as the new engine, the platform used an all-new front-wheel-drive hatchback of Daihatsu's own design. Available in both three and fivedoor formats, the compact body and large round headlights gave the car a somewhat cheeky, fun appearance. The new Charade landed in Japanese showrooms in 1977 and was an immediate hit with the public who admired the modern design, pleasant drive and rev-happy, fuel-sipping engine. British exports commenced two years later, limited to the five door in two trim levels, XG and XTE, both with five-speed gearbox. With

64

few dealers and a relatively unknown brand, initial sales were slow, but steadily increased as positive reviews came in. A facelift model was introduced in 1981, bringing with it a two-speed 'Daimatic' automatic gearbox. The ground was laid for its replacement in 1983.

RETRO JAPAN E S E


Shopping-swallowing abilities were shown off in this great shot.

DOMINO MK1 (1980) Daihatsu had a long tradition of producing small cars and light commercials in the 360cc 'Keijidōsha' (Light Car or kei) Class. In 1966, they launched the Daihatsu Fellow, a small passenger car using a a simple two-stroke, two-cylinder motor. Developments continued with 1970 seeing the Fellow Max SS, a 356cc car with a whopping 40bhp, over 100bhp per litre, from its tiny, highly-tuned motor. Soon after, Light Car sales were hit by tougher pollution controls and more demanding consumers. The government upped engine size and vehicle dimensions limits, rejuvenating the class. Daihatsu acted accordingly, launching the 1977 Daihatsu Max Cuore with a larger 547cc twocylinder engine of cleaner four-stroke design, with twin balancer shafts. In 1980, Daihatsu replaced this

Lurid green was of its time. Twin-cylinder engine not really enough.

model with the all-new Mira Cuore (later dropping to Mira). Still sporting the same engine, it now featured a modern hatchback design. Pleased by the popularity of the Charade, British importers tried their hand with the new Mira, renaming it Domino. From 1981, it would compete in the supermini class alongside the established Mini and newcomers such as the Fiat Panda.

It is against these rivals that the Domino found itself in a difficult position, as most European superminis used four-cylinder engines nearly double the size. Whilst the Daihatsu's engine was a technical achievement, the complex design cost as much to build as its four-cylinder rivals. Fuel economy was excellent on paper, but in real-world driving such gains were nominal as it needed to be thrashed to maintain a reasonable pace. With a top speed of 75mph, motorway travel was optimistic. Consequently, reviews were generally negative. An engine size increase to 617cc in 1983 was not enough. The Japanese Mira was relatively successful with 4WD and Turbo models soon introduced, but the export Domino failed to succeed – for now.

CHARMANT MK2 (1981) The second-generation Charmant was the only generation sold in Britain. Its origins in Japan were primarily to provide continuity for existing customers trading up from compact hatchbacks to family saloons, avoiding a shift to rival marques. Daihatsu’s development focus was on small cars, so by sharing a platform with the Toyota Corolla, it saved substantial development costs on a fairly niche model. Whilst retaining the platform and mechanicals of the conventional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive Corolla E70-series, the external sheet metal was wholly different. The interior trim and feature list could be considered unusually wellspecified at this level, with the ‘LGX’ model featuring overly plush, buttoned velour seats, unusual in a car of this size. Even the intermediate ‘LE’ grade RETRO JAPAN E S E

Corolla-based Charmant offered thoroughly sensible motoring.

featured alloy wheels, deep pile carpet, variable speed intermittent wipe and, rather oddly, parking lights. The 1.3 OHV and 1.6 OHC 4-cylinder engines were lively and economical, though unrefined. A fairly lightweight body and ordinary suspension layout allowed for good handling and excellent fuel economy, but not a particularly smooth or quiet ride. As it inherited both the qualities and limitations of the existing Corolla, it was difficult to seriously term the

Who could resist the lure of plush, buttoned velour?

Charmant as more than a slightly dated family car. Nonetheless, with comprehensive equipment and traditional styling, it still found fans. Production ended in 1987, and the Charmant would eventually be replaced in 1989 by the all-new Applause.

65


BROCHURES DAIHATSU

CHARADE MK2 (1983) The first-generation Charade was a major success for Daihatsu, positively so in the domestic market, but securing a small but firm foothold in many export markets. As the manufacturer's most important car in a relatively small range, the successor would be under a great deal of pressure to deliver the same level of accomplishment. With 1970s styling no longer in vogue, the new model adopted a square-edged, aerodynamic and firmly 1980s style. Slim pillars and a relatively low waistline allowed for a large glasshouse, which gave the cabin a more open feel whilst also improving all-round visibility. Large plastic bumpers replaced the old metal items. Once again, 3-door and 5-door hatchbacks were available, though with an unusual 'High Roof' option for customers requiring more headroom. Mechanically, Daihatsu retained its proven 3-cylinder petrol engine as the mainstay of the range. Perhaps more surprisingly, Daihatsu also introduced a unique

Charade Mk2 had a complete styling overhaul, and a diesel option.

diesel model developed from the same engine. The all-new 993cc normally aspirated 'CL' diesel used a Bosch injection system to deliver a modest 36bhp and achievable triple-figure fuel economy. British imports commenced in 1983, restricted to the 5-door model with both the petrol and diesel versions available. Both versions were generally well-received, albeit with the diesel more for technical achievement than outright driving enjoyment. A 68bhp turbo petrol model was added to the range in 1984, a 'warm' hatch that would later pave the way to the next generation's incredible 99bhp GTti model. In 1985, the Turbo Diesel model arrived in the UK, upping

Diesel was very rare in the supermini class at the time. Turbo later boosted power to 46bhp.

Neater nose treatment brought Charade into line with other Daihatsus.

the power output to 46bhp and narrowing the gap to the 52 of the normally-aspirated petrol model.

DOMINO MK2 (1985) Whilst the previous Domino explored the limits of two-cylinder technology, it was clear that little more could be done within the constraints of the class. In addition, their main competitor Suzuki had adopted a three-cylinder engine in the Suzuki Fronte/Alto which achieved greater popularity in domestic and export markets. With enough power not just for city use but relatively comfortable highway driving, it was clear that three-cylinder engines would be the standard for the 550cc class. Painful as it was to abandon their advanced two-cylinder motors, Daihatsu created the 'EB' series, a 547cc three-cylinder OHC four-stroke, essentially a scaled-down version of the popular Charade engine. To compete more seriously in overseas markets, they scaled this up to 847cc to create the 'ED' series for export. This second generation Mira launched in 1985, with Domino exports following in 1986. The new car carried some

66

styling cues from the prior model, but with a taller body for maximum interior space. Wraparound plastic bumpers provided a fresh, modern look and also provided continuity of styling with the Charade. With 43bhp, the 847cc export engine had a much fairer chance of sizing up to European rivals and the new Domino reviewed favourably, with particular praise for the lively motor which could achieve 0-60mph in just under 15 seconds, several seconds ahead of its rivals. With the rare advantage of a five-speed gearbox, it also had excellent fuel economy. The well-packaged new Domino was an altogether more appealing prospect to the British public and achieved much greater sales success than the previous model. Meanwhile in Japan, the equivalent Mira was a hit. Turbo and 4WD versions continued as before, but the new 'TR' and 'TR-XX' sports models made a notable impact on

the market, boasting 50bhp from the turbocharged, intercooled (and later fuel-injected) 547cc engine. â&#x2013;

Sadly, we never got the fiery Mira TR-XX Turbo here.

UK-spec Miras were badged as Dominos, and boasted a great spec. RETRO JAPAN E S E


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POWER GAMES NSX vs SUPRA vs SKYLINE

FOR JUST COMPARISONS NSX vs SKYLINE vs SUPRA

ROAD TEST: DATS SUN 240 0Z

We drivee thee cou upé thaat offeereed E-Ty ype perforrmaancce for MGB mon ney... and a radiio as standard, too. WOR DS A N D PICS: PAU L WAG E R

I

t’s often accep pted that the Japanese car makers hav ve taken their own direction in spo orts cars over the years, employing a high-tech, high-e ef ficiency route to sp eed in a n era when Europea an and US makers were in the main going for sheer grunt. The popularity of high-revving, four-cylinder, twin n-cam motors in mainstream performance cars was a definite Japanese trademark and it’s a philosophy they’ve e mastered well, as epitomised by the e Honda VTEC engines. Back in the day, though, the young Nissan company knew that if it wanted

ISS

PLAYSTATION HEROES IN A REAL-WORLD BATTLE. WHICH IS BEST?

1 £4.40

ROAD TEST DATSUN 240Z

£15

to o compete in the potentially lucrative US sports car market, a high-rrevving fo our-pot engine just wouldn’t do it, at le east not in the 1960s when th he V8 was still kin g and teenage girls were l earning to o drive in seven-litre behemo oths. Already, Nissan had made an ab bortive attempt to sell the Datsun Fa airlady SPL212 in the USA, an nd it was hampered enormously by y its tiny 1.2-litre, four-cylinder eng gine. The later SR311 also failed to excite th he market, even though the engine was now up to two litres in size. To compete, Nissan needed d a proper,

large-engined d sports car and in the mid 1960s, started work on what was to become the Datsun Fairlady Z in its home market and th he 240Z everywhere else. Rather than sharing the plat form of an existing sa aloon model, the 240Z was an all-new de esign with a swooping long-nose sty yle. The styling was entirely in-house, with chief of desig gn Yoshihiki Matsuo respo onsible

for, though very rarely credited with, its conception. Initiially, the design was for a roadster, but Japan already had an eye on Federal crash requirements and opted to makee the new car a coupé, which also offered greater comfort. The engine was borrowed from the Japanese-market Laurel saloon and was a six-cylinder development of the Datsun 1600 fo our-cylinder. With a single cam, alloy heead and twin SU-style Hitachi carburettorrs, the 2393cc result was good for 151bh hp, and typically Japanese lightweig ght construction saw the car weighin ng in at just over a ton. The result, unssurprisingly, was a quick car. Top speeed was 125mph and 0-60mph took justt eight seconds, making it faster thaan anything else on offer at the pricce. And that price was, in the US at leeast, remarkably low, where the Datsun was positioned to compete directly with the MGB and its

“the 240Z offerred astounding performance for the price and d ended up com mpeting on the rooad with cars frrom a different level entirely” ilk. In the UK, it was positioned further up pmarket, coming in at £2389 on the road in 1972 ,which meant it competed on n price with cars like the Capri 3.0, MG GB GT V8 and TVR 1600M. Itt was faster than all of them, though, and the maain competitors offering similar pace weere more costly four-seaters from the likes of Mercedes-Benz and d BMW, ratther than affordable two-seaaters. This was to be the Z-car’s forte, especially in the US market which was itss spiritual home and the destiination for mo ost of the first year’s producttion run. Just like the Jaguar E-T Type had done beefore it, the 240Z offered astounding

performance for the price and ended up competing on the road with cars from a differen nt level entirely. This was also its undoin ng in the conservative UK market, wh here Car magazine commented th hat the 240Z was “good compared with h a TR6, but terrible when compareed with an E-Type.” One glance at the specification tells you that, in any case. The Datsun employed MaccPherson strut front suspension, which by the late 1960s was a tried-an nd-tested design, but at the rear it used an independent system similar to Lotus’ss ‘C Ch a p m a n strut’ where th he driveshaft itself »

POWER GAMES

If you've got a power craving, these three very different machines certainly pack a punch. We contrast and compare. WORDS: IAN SEABROOK

T

his is a very personal road test. In short, I imagined I was 20 again. I was sitting in my bedroom, playing Gran Turismo on my Sony Playstation. Having worked my way up from a feeble Mazda Demio, I could now choose something with a bit more power. And I did too. Three cars still stand out from my time as a gamer, and those three are the Honda NSX, Nissan Skyline R34 and Toyota Supra Mk4. When it came to creating a big feature for this first issue of Retro Japanese, it seemed there was only one thing I could possibly do. Get all three together and see how the reality compared with the game.

“The laughter may have dissipated somewhat when Honda rocked up at Ferrari's pal Pininfarina for help with the styling”

PICS: CHRIS FROSIN

Gran Turismo came at a time when Japan was getting very silly with power. The NSX had already been in production for nine years when the game was launched in 1999, but the Skyline and Supra were perfect poster cars for this exciting driving game. You didn't just buy your favourite car in Gran Turismo, you got to tune it up too – I seem to recall 'my' Supra had 3000bhp. I also seem to recall that I crashed it quite a lot. This is the great thing about computer games. Crashing doesn't hurt. This sort of tuning was far from the stuff of computer fantasy though. People were actually doing it for real. A massive aftermarket tuning world seemed to open

up almost overnight. Then there was The Fast and the Furious, in which even Hollywood was seduced by the glamour of ridiculous power outputs and rather naughty road racing. Dynos around the world were subjected to ever more crazy power outputs, and cars that looked pretty wild from the factory – especially the Skyline and Supra – were customised beyond their designers' wildest dreams. But let's take a step back. The real world is a very different place from that inside a computer. I wouldn't just be trying these cars to see if they were as exciting as my Playstation had promised. I also wanted to see how they stacked up in real-world conditions. After all,

dream cars don't always work as well as you'd hoped when you were younger. Was this going to be a 'never meet your heroes' moment? Or would I feel twenty years old again hankering for a thrash around the Grand Valley Speedway?

Honda NSX

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HONDA CIVIC MK1 INDULGING IN SOME HONDAMATIC ACTION

Let's start with the Honda. The NSX, launched in 1990, was a bit of a surprise if we're honest. While yes, the Japanese had certainly demonstrated that they could build family and sports cars just as well if not better than Europe and America, designing a supercar was a bit much, wasn't it? Ferrari probably chuckled to itself at the audacity of it all, especially when it was revealed that the NSX would have a puny V6 engine. The laughter may have dissipated somewhat when Honda rocked up at Ferrari's pal Pininfarina for help with the styling.

SUBARU IMPREZA ’S -B XER’S THIS BLOWN-BOXER HISTORY EXAMINED 52

R E TR O JA PA N E S E

53

R E T RO JAPA N E S E

AFFORDABLE FUN £1500 JAPANESE COUPÉS

CRIBER SUBS

W

ith classic car values having increased substantially in recent years, the canny buyer will often look ‘outside the box’ when it comes to finding bargains. That’s true of classic coupés, particularly of the Japanese kind. The days are long gone when you could pick up a Datsun 240Z or 260Z at a bargain price, or snaffle a

first-generation MR2 for not much more than the cost of a night out. But even with a budget as small as £1500 (or substantially less in some cases), it’s still possible to pick up a stylish Japanese coupé that’s good to drive, well preserved and, hopefully, has many more years of life left in it. At this price, we need to be concentrating on models from the 1980s

– Mark Phillips, MX5 Parts

Honda CRX Mk3 £700 - £1500.

“The days are long gone when you could pick up a Datsun 240Z or 260Z at a bargain price”

through to the early 2000s, the kind of modern-classic coupés that offer great value compared with their predecessors. And one of the most successful was, of course, the Honda Prelude, a model that is still fairly prolific, depending on which generation appeals the most, and can be picked up for extremely sensible money. The second- (1982-87) and thirdgeneration (1987-91) Preludes offer

Mazda MX-3 £500 - £1400.

good value, with decent examples available for £1500-2500 and MoT’d runners from just a few hundred pounds. This good looking 2+2 is capable of providing reliable classic motoring, with both versions sharing similar two-door wedge-inspired styling, with pop-up headlamps and other sporty attributes adding extra appeal, not least a surprisingly entertaining driving experience. For real value, however, it’s worth looking at the fourth-generation Prelude, the 1991-96 model that introduced a softer, more curvaceous look and added sophistication. With eager performance from its 2.0- and 2.3-litre engines (the most powerful being the 183bhp 2.3 VTEC) combined with 58/42 front/ rear weight distribution, it’s a great driver’s car and an effortless longdistance cruiser. We recently spotted a solid-looking (but not immaculate)

2.0 EX from 1993 for a reasonable £600, although nearer the £1000 mark will get you a smarter example. A fifth-generation Prelude was launched in 1996, a sleek model that ran for five years and also offers great value as a modern classic, with prices starting from as little as £500 and rising to £2000 for a well-presented late-model car.

Prefer it quirky?

If something of similar size but with real quirkiness appeals more, then Mazda’s RX-7 and RX-8 models are worth considering, although with a budget of around £1500, you need to be particularly careful of the state of the super-smooth Wankel rotary engine – see our guide on Page 22. The only RX-7 that might come within budget is the Mk2 of 198591, but even then it’s unlikely to be in the best condition, as prices of the finest examples are on the rise. Offering better value is the 2003on four-door RX-8, available in 192 and 231bhp guises and featuring rear-hinged back doors for easier entry and exit. RX-8s can be picked up now from as little as £500, with £1500 buying a decent example with

60-70,000 miles under its wheels. Just make sure you’re aware that the RX-8 is uneconomical and expensive to tax before you take the plunge. Toyota is another big name when it comes to coupés, one of the most popular being the 1984 MR2 midengined two-seater. Prices of the wedge-shaped Mk1 cars have increased strongly, however, which means that our £1500 budget will no longer buy an excellent example. Canny buyers will therefore look towards the secondgeneration MR2, a car that’s still in the doldrums value-wise despite being a handsome machine offering good performance. UK-spec models came with 2.0-litre normally-aspirated power, plus a choice of coupé of targa-top body styles. And with prices starting at less than £1000, it’s well within budget. Another Toyota coupé with a big following is the Celica, with the bestvalue modern-classic version being the final ‘T230’ generation of 1999-2006. As the last of the Celicas, it has ‘future classic’ written all over it, and with its 1.8-litre, DOHC, four-pot engine pushing out 140-192bhp, it offers superb performance, particularly in top-of-the-range VVTi guise. Latemodel cars command up to £5000, but £1500 will buy an early example »

BUYING: MAZDA MX-5 MK1 AND MK2

In this MX-5 Super Guide, we'll tell you all you need to know about this Japanese favourite. We'll start with how to buy a good one. WOR DS: IA N CU SHWAY

A

ffordable, grippy, reasonably swift and as reliable as a Swiss Labrador – there are lots of reasons to buy an MX-5. Once it officially went on sale here in 1990, there was no looking back. Indeed, it

Mazda RX-7 Mk2 from £1500.

FOR

! Still cheap ! Great handling, a hoot to drive ! Cheap to maintain ! Huge scope for customisation

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Toyota MR2 Mk2 £1000 - £2500

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Mazda RX-8 from £500.

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! A tad clichéd perhaps? ! Early ones cramped inside ! Rust can be an issue ! That’s it really…

quickly went on to become the world’s all-time, best-selling open-top twoseater – and it’s still in production today, now in its fourth generation. Buying one should be easy. However, before you start your search it’s crucial to do as much homework as possible because there’s plenty of scope for getting things wrong. Headlamp arrangement aside, while looking broadly the same from launch, quite a few changes took place under the skin during the car’s evolution. Some post-1994 1.8 models had power steering and air conditioning, while some didn’t, so if either of these features is important you will need to pick the 1.8iS, and not the 1.8i. Similarly, when the 1.6 was reintroduced in 1995, that too was only available in ‘poverty spec’ 1.6i form and, disgracefully, power was

lowered from 115bhp to 88bhp on these models. Thankfully, it was back up to 108bhp from 1998 when the Mk2 took over. There was also a so-called Mk2.5 from 2001 that had a variable valve 1.8 engine, which feels a fair bit pokier than the others, so again, you might feel this is a car worth seeking out. The fact that the MX-5 market is awash with imports and special editions only adds to the confusion. Imports generally tend to have a higher specification, with power steering and electric windows more readily included on early ones. In a nutshell, it pays to make a list of ‘must-haves’ and shop accordingly. Bear in mind too that while the Mk1 looks more chic, the fixed-lamp Mk2 is more refined, usually better kitted out and is roomier inside. Like any classic, there are caveats to

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successful MX-5 buying. Despite very good overall reliability, the MX-5 isn’t totally devoid of niggles, which is why we’ve enlisted the help of Mark Phillips from MX5 Parts (02392 644 588, www. mx5parts.co.uk) and Steve Garbutt from MX5 Motors (01302 726763, www. mx5motors.com) to help find the right car.

he warns. “If you catch it early, you might get away with a £75 repair, otherwise you might have to spend as much as £650 cutting it out and replacing it. That’s why I would always recommend a proper inspection.”

Bodywork

By and large, both the 1.6- and 1.8-litre engines are long-lived, assuming they’ve been regularly maintained. In a worstcase scenario, used engines start at £480 from specialists such as Autolink (01489 877770, www.autolinkmx5. co.uk), while Steve at MX5 Motors can supply and fit a reconditioned engine with new rings, valve guides, water pump and cambelt for as little as £850. An issue that affected models up to 1998 was hydraulic tappet rattle. The clearances are small and if the engine oil is not changed regularly, the tappets can get gummed up. Specialists recommend doing an oil change every 3000 miles, using a quality fully-synthetic engine oil. Rattly tappets can usually be helped to re-pressurise by doing a decent engine flush. Mk2 MX-5s after 1998 had conventional solid tappets with shims. The little Mazda can suffer head gasket problems, usually as a result of

What kills most MX-5s? Corrosion. And it definitely isn't a case that later MX-5s are better at resisting it. “Mechanically they’re bulletproof, you don’t need to worry – but given the fact that the earliest ones are now 26 years old, rust can be a much bigger issue,” proffers Mark Phillips from MX5 Parts. Possibly the worst hit spot is the panel at the back of each sill, just forward of the rear wheelarch. Rust sets in here when the drain tubes for the car’s hood become blocked and water rots out the metal from within. “You might get away with a rolled in patch, but if it’s bad, we sell a repair section which is £108,” comments Mark. It’s not unusual on early cars for corrosion to have spread to the sill, floor and inner strengthening sections, so don’t underestimate the importance of a thorough inspection. If there is rust present, it will just keep coming back, so it needs to be tackled properly, according to Steve Garbutt. The good news is that it needn’t be a deal breaker if you get the car at the right price: “We can cut out the corrosion and repair the floor, outer sill and inner strengthening upright and paint it all for £275 a side.” Rear wheelarches are also vulnerable to rot as they feature an inside lip that can collect muck and grime, as well as a plastic liner that can also promote rust. Here Steve says replacing the ‘arch with a heavy-duty section, along with the sill and rear panel will be around £330. Include the boot floor in your inspection, as well as the front wings, the bonnet and headlamp covers. An area that often gets missed on the Mk2, says Steve, is the front chassis section support cradle: “It supports the suspension and can rust severely,”

Engine

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coolant issues. “Ninety nine per cent of the time,” says Mark, “overheating is due to a silted up radiator. It’s only around £80 to replace, so it’s not a big job.” It will also pay, says Mark, to check receipts to ensure that the antifreeze has been replaced every two years. Ideally, there should be a 50/50 concentration to prevent severe corrosion. The cambelt change interval on pre1994 cars is 54,000 miles and on later models it should be changed every 60,000 miles or six years. Engines fitted to cars built prior to 2001 were of a non-interference configuration, so it’s not disastrous in these cases if it does let go, though it will stop you completing your journey if it fails.

Gearbox

Gearboxes are generally pretty bulletproof, but it’s important to ensure that the oil has been changed every 24,000 miles using fully-synthetic gearbox oil – and ideally the diff oil should be done at the same time. If on a test drive you notice that the clutch pedal is very near the floor and there are no noticeable leaks, then suspect the clutch slave cylinder. There is a seal that operates the piston and when it fails, fluid can leak into the dust gaiter unnoticed. “Gearboxes are strong,” confirms Steve, “but if you do end up with one that whines we can source a secondhand one for around £300.” Meanwhile, if you notice lots of noise and unwanted heat in an MX-5 cabin while out for a spin, suspect a perished »

In both 1.6- and 1.8-litre guises the Mazda twin-cam engine will rev freely and provide many thousands of trouble-free miles.

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“Mechanically they’re bulletproof, you don’t need to worry – but given that the earliest cars are now 25 years old, rust can be a much bigger issue”

Honda CRX Mk1 from £1500.

The best thing about Japanese classics is that many of them do not cost the Earth to buy. We tell you how to find find budget-busting fun. WORDS: PAUL GUINESS

R E T RO JA PA N E S E

paper at least, this battle was hot! One party trick the NSX had that the Ferrari did not is an automatic gearbox. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on your tastes. The four-speed auto option reduced power to 255bhp, taking the 0-60mph time to a notvery-quick 6.8 seconds. For a supercar. And that's what we have here. It's Honda's own NSX and the first one to arrive in Great Britain back in 1990. It's a pre-production example that many claim was driven by the legendary Ayrton Senna himself – who helped with the handling of the NSX. Apparently, that's true, but my contact reckons he merely drove it around the block... Of the three cars, this is the one I spent most time with, as I had to drive it 160 miles to and from our photoshoot at Santa Pod, Northamptonshire. Believe me, it doesn't feel any more exotic than a Civic when you're sitting in a traffic jam on the M4, though it certainly garners a »

MX-5 SUPER GUIDE BUYING

XJR ! DATSUN 240Z DRIVEN £1500 PLUS: LEXUS LS400 vs JAGUAR AFFORDABLE FUN: ! TOP 5 4x4s ! BARGAIN COUPES LIVING WITH A MAZDA ROTARY JAPANESE COUPÉS Left: Honda Prelude Mk3 £1000 - £2500. Below left: Honda Prelude Mk5 £500 - £2000. Below: Honda Prelude Mk4 £500 - £1500.

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The construction was novel too, proving that Japan was no longer trying to ape the major motor manufacturers, it was trying to better them. Rather than just a styling exercise, the NSX was a fresh look at how to build an ultimate supercar. For a start, construction would be centred around an aluminium monocoque – a first for a production car. Sure, the engine may 'only' have been a 2977cc V6, but it used Honda's VTEC variable valve timing and produced 270bhp at 7300rpm. Ferrari was getting 300bhp for the 348, but needed a 3405cc V8 to do so. That aluminium monocoque, as well as many aluminium suspension parts, kept the weight down too: 1340kg to the Ferrari 348's 1485kg. The Honda NSX had 206bhp/ton, the 348 207. The NSX could beat the Ferrari to 60mph by two tenths of a second – 5.8 for the Honda – though the Ferrari had a top speed of 171mph to the NSX's 162. On

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SUBARU FRENCH ROADTRIP

BON VOYAGE: SUBARU IMPREZA TURBO TO FRANCE What could be nicer than an overseas adventure behind the wheel of an Impreza Turbo? France, here we come. WORDS AND PICS: JAMES HOWE

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his Impreza belongs to Retro Japanese publisher Kelsey Media and is a firm fleet favourite amongst those lucky enough to have regular access to its Thatcham Alarm-fobbed keys. We included it on a very British roadtrip in RJ1. Unlike so many of its contemporaries, this remarkably original 1999 example has survived the questionable modified car movement of the early Noughties relatively unscathed. That a rally-bred saloon with 215bhp and 214lb/ft of torque has lasted a decade and half without being stuffed into a hedge is also something to celebrate. In standard form, the Subaru Impreza Turbo 2000 is a very capable all-rounder. It’s a car that’s as happy cruising on the motorway as it is cutting a bright blue dash across Aand B-roads. So when Retro Japanese found itself with an invitation to travel to France to take part in the Circuit Historique de Laon, one of the biggest classic and performance car tours in Europe, it only seemed logical to fire up the resident jack-of-all-trades and make a bee line for Dover.

FRENCH CONNECTION The Circuit Historique de Laon has been a staple on the car tour calendar

Ferry exciting...

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for exactly 25 years this year and the tour’s organisers, Scenic & Continental Car Tours, made a special effort to celebrate the occasion. Well over 1000 cars joined this year’s tour, joining in on organised runs through the stunning scenery of northwestern France. Participants flocked to France from all over Europe, with strong contingents from the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands. Those travelling from Britain were able to experience the cross-channel hop courtesy of P&O Ferries. Nothing quite creates a sense of adventure like boarding a boat early in the morning and taking to the high seas. Rolling off the ferry in Calais is a surprisingly slick operation. There’s just enough time to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road before you

are spat out onto France’s famously smooth and well-maintained motorway network. A lunchtime stop on day one was scheduled to take place in the town of Arras, about an hour’s drive south on the A26, with a huge static display in the town’s two main squares. It’s incredible how quickly the contents of a dual-deck ferry can disperse and before too long, the array of participant cars had broken off into smaller convoys according to preferred cruising speed and/ or club allegiance. Being something of a lone wolf, Retro Japanese was free to flit between convoys and get a feel for the sheer variety of classic and performance machinery that was making its way steadily southward. Morgans, MGs and Triumphs were particularly popular, but pockets of RETRO JAPAN E S E


fast and modern machinery had also joined the fun, including a number of fast-moving Ferraris, Porsches and even an Ascari Ecosse. The Subaru could never hope to keep up with the more exotic end of the spectrum in a straight line, but nonetheless sat perfectly happily at the 130kph limit (just a shade over 80mph); the car feels far happier sat 10mph north of Britain's national speed limit. Honest officer. Other aspects of motorway life are easily undertaken by the Scooby; entry slip roads at the exit of many service stops are surprisingly short but getting back up to speed is a brief and faintly hilarious experience. Under full acceleration, the distinctly exhaust note is promptly joined by an addictive turbo ‘whoosh’, swiftly followed by punchy, exciting acceleration. Keep the two-litre unit on boost and it’s incredible just how quickly licencetroubling speeds can be reached. One complaint that can be levelled at the Impreza during long distance, highspeed use is the drone of that bazooka exahaust – over some of the longer legs of our trip, low-frequency tinnitus »

Parked up in Laon for a true classic experience.

“Nothing quite creates a sense of adventure like boarding a boat early in the morning and taking to the high seas.”

Rattling the windows in a backstreet of France. Proof. This is indeed France.

RETRO JAPAN E S E

The Subaru found itself in splendidly mixed company. Parked up to pay respects at one of many cemetaries in this part of France.

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Subaru French roadtrip

A brief stop in the small town of Villiers – the locals weren’t all enamoured with the Impreza’s loud aftermarket exhaust.

Top: Child-sized sports car, in the form of Honda's diminutive S800 Coupé. Above: Motorway toll booths proved a challenge. Get out and run around!

was a common side effect. A switch to a more modern performance item would easily solve this niggle, however.

RALLY-BRED RJ’s arrival into Arras was a real baptism of fire. Weekend town driving in France is a particularly hectic affair, with alien junction layouts, tight lanes and a generally casual attitude to right-of-way. Parked up amidst a sea of classic and performance cars of all kinds, the Impreza didn’t feel at all out-of-place. The meet up at Arras dispersed gradually as a steady trickle of classic machinery made its way southward to Laon, the base for proceedings for the next three days. Car parks for almost every hotel around the town’s periphery were packed with exciting cars by the time I arrived – quite a sight to behold. The second day saw participants split into separate groups that would then take to a number of prescribed countryside loops, complete with traditional road book and rally plaque. RJ had missed the memo somewhat and I was completely co-driverless, so the first run of the day was a real navigational challenge. I wonder if McRae-co-driver Nicky Grist would have been available? The crosscountry route took in some of the best roads in the area and saw the Subaru placed right in its comfort zone; the French equivalent of fast, flowing A-roads and winding, technical

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B-roads were fantastic fun from behind the car’s rather large Momo wheel. It’s a very flattering car at medium to high speeds, the steering is initially fairly numb but weights up very nicely indeed after turn-in, while grip is simply incredible. It’s an immensely satisfying car to feed down a road and the punch from its charismatic powerplant never gets old, pulling the car out of tighter bends with addictive tenacity. My only real criticism, especially as the owner of a small, twitchy, rearwheel-drive Suzuki Cappuccino, is that you’d need to be going very fast indeed to reach the limits of the Impreza’s planted chassis. Deriving pleasure from its sheer competency is a nice consolation, though.

THE WESTERN FRONT Day three of the tour saw the winding historic streets of Laon’s old town closed off for a spectacular parade. The day-long parade was held on a 6km loop and was billed by the organisers as ‘the biggest cavalcade of classic cars and sports cars in Europe’. There wasn't much for the RJ fans, though we did spot a tiny Honda S800. Its high-revving engine sounded superb while its tiny dimensions were clearly a surprise for many onlookers. The final day of the Laon Historique saw the tour head northwards back to Arras via a number of exciting roads and historical sites for a final meeting in the Grand Place. It was a

fitting end to an incredible weekend, but we had a ferry to catch later that evening and needed to fit in some sight-seeing on the way – hopping back on the autoroute saved enough time to facilitate some stops at some of the First World War cemeteries that dot the unassuming farmland of northern France. I stopped at the Arras Road Cemetery, one of many memorial sites located along the Vimy Ridge section of what was the Hindenberg Line. Thousands of Canadian, British and German soldiers died at this part of the Western Front in April 1917; its hard not to be moved by the rows of white gravestones, many of which are marked as belonging simply to ‘A Soldier of the Great War’. Visiting these sites is a solemn and sobering experience, but nonetheless it’s something that should be included on the itinerary of any road trip through northern France. If you fancy taking to the continent yourself, you’ll be hard pressed to find a Retro Japanese vehicle more suited to the task than a Subaru Impreza Turbo 2000 like ours. Comfortable, high-speed cruising on smooth motorways is easily dealt with and once the roads get interesting, the car’s rally heritage shines through. Add in plenty of space for four people and average fuel consumption of around 25mpg during sympathetic use and the Impreza makes a very strong case for its all-rounder credentials. I think we will be procuring the keys to this excellent example again very soon! n RETRO JAPAN E S E


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PROFILE MAZDA

MAZDA – A HISTORY OF INNOVATION

When it comes to technical innovation, Mazda has always been at the top of the tree. It built its first car in 1960, but only a few years later, made a success of rotary power. We explore its history. WORDS: IAN SEABROOK

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hough it didn't build its first Mazda car until 1960, Toyo Kogyo Co Ltd had its roots in a company first set up in Hiroshima in 1920. Toyo Kogyo built an auto-rickshaw in 1931, called the Mazda-go. Three-wheeled commercial vehicles remained the mainstay of production until well after the Second World War. Toyo Kogyo's factories were spared the worst of the nuclear bomb thanks to the protective qualities of a mountain, though a huge number of the company's employees were killed – somewhere in the region of 60,000-80,000 of the town's population gone in an instant. Peace brought a new determination to the city of Hiroshima, and Mazda was, and still is, a huge part of that. The first Mazda car, the R360, was unveiled in 1960. In typical Mazda fashion, it wasn't a copy of anyone else's motoring vision, but an innovative little design that had considerably

PICS: MAZDA

more refinement than its rivals. The key to that was the use of a four-stroke engine, with magnesium alloy used to keep the weight down. With a kerb weight of just 380kg, this was a true microcar, and the 356cc vee-twin engine could push the little car up to 52mph on just 16bhp. As well as a four-speed manual gearbox, you could specify a two-speed automatic with torque converter – pretty remarkable for a microcar at the time. It helped Mazda to sell over 23,000 of them in the first year alone.

HELLO CAROL Two years later, Mazda unveiled the Carol 360, which looked more like a proper, miniature car. It was far from just an evolution and used an entirely new platform with an entirely new four-cylinder, 356cc water-cooled engine. It had four seats, independent suspension front and rear and helped Mazda to take more than half of the

microcar market at home. The larger Carol 600 increased the appeal, but these were still tiny, 3-metre long cars very much for the home market. Mazda had signed a deal with Italian stylist Bertone in 1962, with the first fruit of the relationship being the 800 – the first Familia of 1963. It was initially only available as a van, then a plush estate, and finally a saloon in 1964. It was joined by the Luce (sold in the UK and other export markets as the 1500 or 1800) which was yet another monumental leap forward for a company that had only been building cars for a handful of years. Launched in 1966, the Luce featured sharp, Italian styling allied to a brand new overheadcam engine – pretty remarkable for a medium family car at the time, as was the fact it could seat six. It certainly helped put Mazda on the map. Yet, also in 1966, Mazda actually put a Wankel rotary engine into production. This was just three years after the first production Wankel

The R360 of 1960 was Mazda's first passenger car, after years of small commercials.

R360 gently evolved into the R360 Carol in 1962. Still tiny, but with four doors.

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The 1000/1200/1300 was the start of the Familia brand.

The Luce of 1966 was a very advanced saloon, just six years into Mazda's car-producing life. Cosmo 110S Futuristic Cosmo introduced Wankel rotary power.

The 323 FA4 really put Mazda on the map in the USA and Europe.

engine had been launched – the NSU Spider – and the Mazda Cosmo 110S narrowly beat the iconic NSU Ro80 to production. Sure, Cosmo production was always limited – just 1176 – but it certainly demonstrated that Mazda was not afraid to embrace new technologies. It had no interest in just following the same path as others. It must be said, such an approach isn't necessarily a recipe for financial success, and Mazda had to produce far more conventional cars to keep themselves going. Cars such as the next generation Familia (1200 or 1300 in Europe) kept the wheels on the wagon, as did a tie up with Ford during the 1970s.

Familiar (808 or 818) begat the RX3 and the Luce developed into the RX4. Mazda continued to sell these rotary engined speed machines alongside their conventional cousins, but produced over one million rotary engined cars during the 1970s,

despite the oil crisis putting rather a damper on such a thirsty design. Things had settled down by the late 1970s, with the new 323 (still a Familia back home) adding hatchback practicality from 1977, and the RX7 being the sole focus of rotary engines »

Mazda used the rotary engine in conventional saloons too.

WANKEL'S SPACE ODDITY Meanwhile, perhaps as a kick against the more conventional models, Mazda began inserting Wankel engines into most of its cars. The Familia became the R100, the new Capella (616 in Europe) the RX2, while the Grand RETRO JAPAN E S E

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PROFILE MAZDA

– for overseas markets at least. The Luce had continued to grow, and was sold as the 2000, then 929 in the UK. From 1981, it was only available in estate form, but its enormous size and sturdy reliability won it many friends. Despite selling over 900,000 323s in just three years, Mazda completely revisited the formula in 1980. Not that the old design died off particularly quickly. The estate retained the old rear-wheel drive platform for another six years, while the old hatchback design would live on around the world, most notably in Indonesia, where it was sold between 1990 and 1992 as the Mazda Baby Boomers. No, really.

FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE The fourth generation Familia (BD, sold as the 323 once more in the UK) was yet another huge leap forward though. Ford's influence helped with the development of the entirely new platform, while Mazda developed its own new range of overhead-cam engines – now sited transversely to drive the front wheels. It was staggeringly successful, selling over 2.5 million units before the fifth generation took over in 1985. That fifth generation included the enjoyably brisk 323 Turbo 4x4, which produced a meaty 148bhp from just 1597cc. Meanwhile, the third generation Capella (626) was starting to find success overseas too. Mazda would later jump on the bandwagon for all-wheel steering with the Capella's fourth generation from 1987, using it on the 2.0i GT. With 148bhp on tap, it was a brisk machine.

The 323 BD introduced transverse engines and front-wheel drive.

Mazda's 626 Coupe was a rarely seen treat here.

Meanwhile, the RX-7, now in its second generation, boasted turbocharging to take the power output up to 200bhp. There was also a convertible, for those who wanted to experience the hair-styledestroying effects of over 140mph. A turbocharged version of the first generation had been available in Japan,

but UK buyers had to wait until 1988 for their forced induction kicks.

MX-5 BREAKS THE MOULD 1989 was the seminal year though, with two very sporty additions to the range – the sleek, fastback-styled 323F, and

323 BF became a very common sight on British roads.

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All-wheel drive option boosted the appeal of the 626 GD. Practical 626 hatchback found many fans.

Enormous load space of the 929 estate made it a rival to the Volvo 740.

the MX-5. Until the launch of the MX-5, everyone had assumed that the small, two-seater sports car market was pretty much dead. Alfa Romeo was still doggedly selling the roadster it had launched in the 1960s, but MG and Triumph had bowed out of the market (Triumph was gone altogether) and it was left to the niche manufacturers such as Reliant and TVR to try and carve out a little financial success. The MX-5 just looked right, which Rotary options reduced largely to just the RX-7 from 1978.

“Once again, it's complete failure to follow any plan but its own worked a treat” is a hugely important part of cracking the sports car market. But, it was also entirely usable everyday, had a roof that actually kept the weather out and was hugely entertaining to drive. Mazda could hardly build them quickly enough. Once again, it's complete failure to follow any

plan but its own worked a treat. Not that Mazda always got it right. The smaller MX-3 coupé, even with V6 power, failed to capture the imagination in quite the same way, and the same is sadly true of the larger MX-6 – jointly developed with Ford. Good cars, but not destined to become icons. Nor did Mazda have much success » Sadly, we never got the Familia Turbo Cabriolet. What a tempter!

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PROFILE MAZDA

BG version of the 323 featured dramatic fastback styling.

This is a rarely-seen concept for the MX-3 coupé. It would never match the success of the MX-5.

“Many brave steps have been taken. Sometimes, they worked an absolute treat. Other times, not so much” Again, the MX-6 was a very compenent car, but lacked the MX-5's character. Launched in the UK in 1990, the MX-5 became a phenomenal success.

chasing Lexus with the premium brand idea. The Xedos was certainly an unusual looking car, but its frontwheel drive chassis left it struggling in the BMW and Mercedes-dominated small executive market. Here, image is everything. Lexus would bide its time and attack with the IS200. The Xedos 6 and 9 gave a fair fight, but would not champion here. It's all rather typical of Mazda's approach over the years. Many brave steps have been taken. Sometimes, they worked an absolute treat. Other times, not so much. By 2012, even the Wankel dream had finally faded, as ever-higher emission standards proved too high a hurdle to clear. It doesn't matter that not everything Mazda has done has been successful though. What makes the company great is that it had the commitment to experiment. ■

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Mazda attempted to move upmarket with the Xedos 6.

RETRO JAPAN E S E


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SPOTS STREET SCENES

STREET SCENES Here's a selection of Japanese vehicles spotted by our team and our readers. What have you spotted? I A N S E A B R O O K , WA L E S Found languishing in a Powys scrapyard, this Toyota Hiace pick-up seems doomed.

Above: Spotted just before we went to press, this lovely Hiace camper seemed in great condition. Spotted in Ceredigion.

Oh dear! The incident was missed, but this Nissan Silvia drift car had met something very hard at the Coventry Motofest.

Below: This Land Cruiser was in pretty crusty condition, but still soldiering on. Seen in Aberystwyth.

This Toyota BB is a bit of a cheat, as it was visiting the photoshoot for the Corolla GT feature earlier in this issue.

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RETRO JAPAN E S E


JON MALE, LONDON Drop top Celicas are pretty rare of any generation. Jon found this one hiding in the shade.

This poor Corolla 4wd estate was last taxed in November 2014.

Jon is based in London, where he spotted this rally-style Celica.

An overseas spot, as Jon found this clean Mitsubishi L300 camper in Amsterdam.

Allowing us to have a VehiCROSS in every issue of Retro Japanese so far, this really is a top quality spot. RETRO JAPAN E S E

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SPOTS STREET SCENES

ANGYL ROPER, YORKSHIRE Plenty of stickers on this Nissan Laurel. Condition suggests it's a very fine daily steed.

We wonder if this Figaro has undergone any mechanical tweaks to match those meaty alloys. A great sleeper?

M AT T H E W S TOK E S , S COT L A N D Civic saloon never really took off in the UK. This one was spotted on the M6.

A meaty 300ZX Targa spotted in Dumfries. An R33 Skyline is always a pleasant spot. These still seem undervalued.

Completing Matthew's powerhouse collection is this Toyota Supra Mk4. Still looks nice; imported in 2003.

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RETRO JAPAN E S E


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BUYING AFFORDABLE SPEEDY SALOONS

AFFORDABLE SPEEDY SALOONS Looking for a Japanese saloon that’s guaranteed to entertain and isn’t too expensive? We take a look at some of the best modernclassic choices available for sensible money WORDS: PAUL GUINNESS

T

he main focus for most Japanese importers of the 1970s was Britain’s mainstream family car market, with major inroads made as the decade progressed. Sporting cars did arrive, of course, bearing such badges as 240Z and Celica, but most of the offerings were of the mainstream bread-and-butter variety – and understandably so. Success breeds confidence, however, and it was in the 1980s that Japanese manufacturers began looking at niches to fill, which included go-faster versions of some of their regular family saloons and hatchbacks. Leaving the burgeoning hot hatch sector for another time, what were the biggest events of the decade in terms of performance saloons? At the start of the 1980s, Colt Cars (which later adopted the Mitsubishi moniker here in the UK) launched the

2000 Turbo version of its secondgeneration Lancer, a model that was then followed by the Tredia 1600 Turbo saloon – the latter pushing out 113bhp, a very healthy figure for a 1597cc ‘blown’ engine. Finding either model now won’t be easy, but when you do, you shouldn’t need to pay more than £4-6000 for an excellent example. Nissan also joined the performance saloon market in the mid-1980s thanks to the 1.8 ZX Turbo version of its ever-dependable Bluebird. The addition of a turbocharger, beefed-up suspension and some add-on styling tweaks managed to transform a capable but unexciting rep’s car into a proper performance saloon. From its 1809cc turbocharged motor came 135bhp, giving this family-size machine a top speed of 121mph and 0-60 in around 8.7 seconds; by standards of the time, those numbers were seriously

“...it was in the 1980s that Japanese manufacturers began looking at niches to fill”

Colt Lancer Turbo is rare these days, but £4000-6000 if you find one.

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PICS: MANUFACTURERS

impressive. Bluebird ZX Turbos don’t come up for sale every day, but when a decent one does you should find £2-3000 enough to secure it. Other Japanese importers of the 1980s looking to offer sporting machinery tended to focus on coupes rather than performance saloons, but all that was to change in the following decade, with the 1990s marking the start of two high-powered success stories.

SUBARU SENSATION The transformation of Subaru’s image began with the UK debut of the Impreza 2000 Turbo in 1994. With four-wheel drive grip combined with a mighty 208bhp from its ‘blown’ flatfour engine, the Impreza Turbo was always going to generate headlines. And with a 137mph top speed (hitting 60mph along the way in 5.8 seconds), the Impreza was fantastically quick – particularly its mid-range acceleration, with 30-70mph overtaking in a mere 6.6 seconds. A 242bhp Impreza WRX STi was

Bluebird ZX Turbo is an oddball, yet surprisingly brisk choice.

RETRO JAPAN E S E


Impreza first-gen values are rising. Be quick!

launched in Japan in 1994, while the following year saw Impreza Turbos and WRX models fitted with a Suretrac limited-slip rear differential for even greater grip and handling. A new Phase 2 engine (complete with new intake manifold and redesigned camshafts) arrived in 1998, but Subaru decided that for the New Millennium a fresh Impreza look was required. What arrived in 2000 sent shockwaves worldwide. As before, the Impreza Turbo was available in both four- and five-door guises, and from the side and rear looked handsome enough; but the front end’s ‘goggleeyed’ oval headlamps and widemouthed grille led to plenty of negative comments. In every other sense though, the turbocharged version – now sold in the UK as the WRX – was a superb machine, with 218bhp (plus higher torque levels) on tap. The good news now is that the second-generation Impreza offers particularly good value, with a reasonable WRX achievable from £1500 or a superb low-mileage example from less than £3000. Values of the original Impreza Turbo

Second-gen Impreza currently offers a lot of value for money.

are rising, although presentable ones can be found from £2000 and immaculate cars from £4000 upwards. If you’re prepared to put up with less performance but the same good looks, meanwhile, a non-turbo Impreza Sport might fit the bill from just £1000-1500.

THE EVO ARRIVES The other 1990s success story was Mitsubishi’s Lancer-based Evolution series, a process that began with the Evo I – of which just 2500 were needed for homologation purposes, although soaring demand saw this increased to 5000. With 245bhp from its 1997cc twin-cam engine, plus all the reassurance of fourwheel drive, this rally-bred newcomer was a sensation out on the road. It would soon become a motorsport sensation too, with Finnish rally driver Tommi Makinen at the wheel. Throughout the 1990s, the Mitsubishi Evo was changed, upgraded, updated and made ever more exciting – and it all started with the Evo II, unveiled at the end of 1993 and featuring a more powerful 256bhp engine. By January

1995 the Evo III was ready for launch, bringing with it a larger rear spoiler and a dramatic new front air dam for extra downforce, plus another power boost (to 266bhp at 6250rpm). The new Evo IV of 1996 saw the biggest change of all, thanks to the launch of a bigger new-generation Lancer – although output was unchanged at 276bhp. January 1998 saw the Evo V arrive, with increased front and rear track, bigger wheelarches, 17-inch wheels and reconfigured suspension geometry. But by the following year the new Evo VI was on the scene, bringing improved cooling and – according to Mitsubishi – greater engine durability. That was to be the last of the Evo models based on the second-gen platform, for 2001 would see the launch of the completely restyled, larger-dimensioned Evo VII based around the latest Lancer Cedia. For Retro Japanese purposes, we’ll leave the Evo story there, as later models are well into the realms of modern motoring. So what do you need to pay now for a classic Evo in decent order? In the last few weeks we’ve seen Evo VIs advertised at £9-10,000 in

Evo definitely speedy, not so affordable these days.

Galant offers a lot more power to the pound.

RETRO JAPAN E S E

85


BUYING AFFORDABLE SPEEDY SALOONS

Barge-like LS400 offers a fair degree of pace too.

decent order, although exceptionally low-mileage cars can cost twice as much. Meanwhile, anyone seeking one of the earliest Evo models can expect to pay a substantial premium.

OUTSIDE THE BOX If an Impreza or Evo is simply too obvious a choice for you, don’t worry: there are some intriguing alternatives out there, some of which offer great value now. Anyone seeking a large saloon, for example, could do worse than to spend £4-8000 on a Mitsubishi Galant 2.5 VR-4, the four-wheel drive super-saloon of 1996-2002; it offered 276bhp from its 2.5-litre quad-cam V6, resulting in a 150mph top speed and 0-60 in less than six seconds. If that’s too pricey for you, then the samegeneration regular Galant V6 (with front-wheel drive) is a sound choice, offering 161bhp when new and now available from well under £1000. Still on the subject of large saloons, let’s not forget the V8-engined Lexus LS400 of 1989, Japan’s answer to the most upmarket Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar models of the time. The British motoring press was hugely impressed

Toyota Camry is attractive and cheap.

86

Lexus IS another value option. Watch for dogs.

by the quality, finish and equipment levels offered by this Lexus flagship, a model that went on to enjoy a fiveyear career before being usurped by its similar looking successor of the same name. The original 3969cc LS400 could reach almost 150mph, allowing you to waft along at high speed in near silence; yet nowadays it offers spectacular value, with presentable examples available for £1000-2500. If a slightly smaller Lexus appeals, then a 3.0-litre V6-engined GS300 of 1991-97 might fit the bill, with its 209bhp output giving it effortless performance – and all from less than £1000. It’s also worth considering the IS range that arrived in Britain in 1999 to rival the BMW 3-Series, with a healthy 153bhp from its 2.0-litre 24-valve straight-six engine. The IS got more exciting in 2001, however, with the launch of the 3.0-litre IS300 offering the same engine and output as the bigger GS300 – resulting in a top speed of 143mph and a 0-60mph time of 8.2 seconds. Buy any first-generation IS now for just £800-2000 and enjoy what is still a genuinely impressive compact exec. We should also remember what Honda was up to when it came to

‘brisk’ saloons, even though the choice is limited by the company’s performance focus being on coupes and sports cars. Still, the fifthgeneration Accord of 1993-97 offered an interesting version in later life, thanks to the arrival of the 148bhp 2.2-litre VTEC; what it lacked in exciting looks it made up for in decent performance, making an excellent survivor priced at £10001500 seem very tempting now. Finally, like Honda, the most interesting Toyotas of the 1980s and 1990s tended to be proper sportsters, but anyone seeking big-car power might want to seek out the XV20generation (1996-2001) of Camry, which in top-spec 3.0-litre V6 guise pushed out a useful 185bhp; it’s not an exciting looking car but it is handsome, and with prices starting in the high hundreds is one of today’s Japanese bargains. As is the Mazda Xedos 6 of 1992-99, which offered a silky-smooth 2.0-litre V6 at the top if its range, pumping out 146bhp and offering 130mph performance; prices of this svelte looking saloon remain low, making a budget of just £700-1500 enough to find a decent example with a sensible mileage. ■

Xedos a civilised choice, and very affordable.

RETRO JAPAN E S E


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PROFILE VTEC

THE VTEC EFFECT A simple theory, very cleverly engineered, Honda's VTEC system revolutionised the internal combustion engine. We take a closer look. Words: Ian Seabrook

V

ariable valve timing has been around for a surprisingly long time. Engineers employed it on steam engines in the 19th century, and prototype aeroplanes were using such technology as early as the 1910s. Getting it to work reliably in a production motor car engine took a bit longer to sort out though, due to the constantly varying engine speed. Alfa Romeo used a variable valve timing system in the Alfa Romeo Spider from the early 1980s, primarily to try and improve engine emissions for the US market.

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P i c s : H o n d a , R J A r c hi v e

Nissan also had a variable valve timing system in production in the 1980s, with its N-VCT system on the VG30DE and VG20DET engines. But, these systems only adjusted the valve timing. Honda came up with something different â&#x20AC;&#x201C; an engine where not just the timing of the valve openings could be adjusted, but also the duration and lift. It was a huge engineering challenge, but Honda has a reputation for fine engineering which is richly deserved. The VTEC system works by having six valve lifters per cylinder, and six camshaft lobes. With four valves per

cylinder, the four small lifters (two inlet, two exhaust) are what you'd expect. Slotted between the pair of lifters per valve is another lifter. The lobe for this is much larger, which gives a greater valve opening, a greater duration and altered timing. When the ECU signals it, oil pressure is used to operate a locking pin, which links all three lifters per valve together. Now, the larger camshaft lobe is controlling the operation of the valves, which boosts efficiency at higher engine speeds. Having such a lairy valve operation at lower speeds would be pretty horrible RETRO JAPAN E S E


JDM Mugen Civic VTEC was one of the first Hondas to use the new engine.

to live with on a daily basis. It's why race engines are often exceedingly difficult to control at lower speeds; they sacrifice lower speed running smoothness for high end power. As the engine speed of a VTEC engine drops, the pin is withdrawn and valve operation returns to the control of the smaller camshaft lobes. This means that an engine that can be very powerful at higher speeds, can still produce good torque and demonstrate a docile nature at lower speeds.

VTEC IN THE UK That impressive low-speed torque is often done a disservice by the on-paper Âť

First UK VTEC was the CRX 1.6i-VT. 150bhp from just 1.6-litres was pretty extraordinary when the CRX was launched.

RETRO JAPAN E S E

89


PROFILE VTEC

“It's a credit to the engineers that their hard work resulted in an engine that truly was of two characters” EK9 Civic Type R another JDMonly model, with astounding performance.

VTEC turned the Prelude from a good sports car into a great one.

figures. When the CRX 1.6i-VT was launched in the UK in 1990, its 150bhp at 7600rpm was quite extraordinary – Saab's much larger 2.3-litre engine produced a similar output at a lower speed. What truly astonished was the maximum torque figure though – 106lb/ft at a remarkable 7100rpm. By way of comparison, an MG Metro Turbo produces its maximum torque at just 2650rpm. That said, the CRX VTEC boasts a remarkably flat torque curve from 4000rpm upwards. On most engines, torque would drop off considerably after that point. That means that to drive, the engine had a decent spread of torque way below that physics-defying 7100rpm level. It was what made the VTEC system so good. That said, of course the main headline is the way the engine took on a completely different character once the VTEC engaged at 5200rpm. You got a proper kick in the back and the car would surge down the road with considerable gusto as the extra power kicked in. Below 5200rpm though, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was all a bit dull. It's a credit to the engineers that their hard work resulted in an engine that truly was of two characters.

INTEGRA ARRIVES Soon, the VTEC system was fitted to other cars in Honda's line-up, including the softer CRX Del Sol of 1992. A pinnacle for many was the Integra Type R of 1995, which had a truly remarkable

VTEC power helped NSX rival supercars with far larger engines.

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RETRO JAPAN E S E


Cutaway showing the three cam followers and locking mechanism.

1 and 2 show slow-speed cam lobes. 3 shows VTEC lobe.

specific output of 104bhp per litre in European form, or 187bhp from just 1.8 litres. To put that into perspective, the only Ferrari of the late 1980s that could top that was the race-bred F40. A Testarossa had a mere 79bhp per litre. Not that Honda used the technology just for making small cars go quickly. VTEC was also employed on the NSX supercar, helping it rival many supercars with an engine of just three litres. Even so, it still had a lower specific output than the Integra and the CRX 1.6i-VT! The Prelude now became a worthy recipient of VTEC power in fourth and fifth generation form, and so did the Civic EK9 Type R (not officially sold here) and fifth generation Accord. Given the reputation, we wonder if many Accords have actually experienced their VTEC systems in operation. If you want a bit of an undercover quick saloon, one of these could be a great buy. The Civic EP3 from 2001 finally did bring VTEC power to the mix in the UK, and the car quickly developed a very strong reputation.

Integra Type R, here in JDM form, had close to 200bhp from 1.8-litres

UK Integra had a stillimpressive 187bhp.

VTEC PROBLEMS To be honest, having sought the advice of Torque GT (torque-gt.co.uk), we have to admit that there really aren't that many VTEC pifalls. That said, given the high revs these engines will run to, you want to be wary of anything that hasn't been well looked after. Bear in mind also that a lot of cars have been modified â&#x20AC;&#x201C; you can often chop and change parts between engines of the same series. Make sure you know what you're getting! If the VTEC system fails to engage, RETRO JAPAN E S E

then it's very obvious, because you won't get that power kick at around 5000rpm. Before you start exploring though, it'll pay to either get a diagnostic tool yourself, or visit a garage that has one. Wiring faults can prevent a dose of VTEC and such a failure should result in a failure code. It could be a very simple fix. Other failures can also prevent

the VTEC from engaging such as knock sensors, oxygen sensors and clogged or holed exhausts. The VTEC system itself is very robust, but failures can be caused by infrequent oil changes. Once the ECU has sent its signal to the solenoid, it is engine oil pressure that activates the third camshaft lobe. There's a Âť

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PROFILE VTEC

filter beneath the solenoid itself, so it's worth pulling this off to check that the filter isn't gunked up. It's easy enough to sort out though – a good dose of brake cleaner should soon have things looking clean again. Even more simple is a low oil level, so it pays to keep a close eye on it, especially as these engines can burn a little oil. If you're regularly driving the car hard, it's probably worth dropping to 3000-mile oil change intervals to keep everything fine and dandy. Otherwise, 6000 miles or annually should be fine. Timing belt condition is also critical on those Hondas using the B-Series engine. With varying loads depending on VTEC operation, the belt has quite a hard time of it. Honda originally recommended replacement intervals of 60,000 for most engines, but few Hondas of this period are covering vast mileage these days. Therefore, a limit of five years

“You won't get much in the way of useful gain with simple bolt-on mods like air filters and exhausts” duration is probably wise, as belt failure will result in considerable damage. The K-Series engine, used from 2001, benefits from a timing chain rather than a belt. That should remove any worries of failure, though regular servicing is again important or chain/tensioner wear can occur.

VTEC MODIFYING

Not all VTECs shout about the power. Accord sixth-gen is very subtle.

92

Forced induction is the way to unlock major power upgrades, and supercharging kits are available, such as the Civic Type R kits from TTS Performance for just under £3000. That sounds a lot, but it's a considerable kit that contains all the mounting and conversion parts. It should give you an extra 100bhp (on a Civic FN2) at the wheels and get you to 60mph in under six seconds when accompanied by a Hondata Flashpro ECU map. You won't get much in the way of useful gain with simple bolt-on mods like air filters and exhausts, though you may well get a lot more noise! Remaps are one option, and could net you up to an extra 25bhp. Be wary though, as some remaps are not very healthy for the engine – ie mixture settings can be richened up too much. n RETRO JAPAN E S E


Mini Test Toyota Celica Supra

MINI TEST

Toyota Celica Supra

Paul Wager fills us in on a chance he got to sample a fine slab of 1980s, rear-wheel drive fun. W o r d s a n d P i cs : P a u l W a g e r

A

few months ago, I was arranging a classic twin test for our sister title Classics Monthly loosely based around the Ford Capri 2.8. Likely opposition is harder to find than you might think: most likely candidates are either front-wheel drive or four-cylinder powered, reflecting changing fashions in automotive design during the 1980s. There was still a market for a 'proper' rear-driven coupe though and Britain was one of the largest: indeed, the Cologne factory carried

94

on building Capris in right-hooker form specifically for British buyers. To find a direct competitor to the Capri, you needed to look further than Europe and it was Toyota which set the template for the Japanese Capri in the shape of the Celica. Or rather, Celica Supra which despite sharing the Celica name was in fact very different, with a reshaped body and straightsix engine in place of the regular Celica's four-cylinder twin-cam. The Supra's fuel-injected engine was conveniently sized at 2.8 litres to

compete head-on with the Capri 2.8 Injection. It also came with an entirely different look to the regular Celica, courtesy of beefy arch extensions, a sleeker snout and wider alloy wheels which you'll also find on Lotuses of similar vintage. Which brings us to an unlikely English connection: during the development of the second-generation Celica Supra, which appeared in 1981, Lotus was beginning its engineering consultancy business and one of its earliest clients was Toyota. Lotus provided development input on suspension design and set-up for the Celica Supra. At the same time, while engineering input went from Lotus to Toyota, parts went the other way and many Toyota components are found on Lotus's own products â&#x20AC;&#x201C; including the Corolla GT's rear lights, which ended up on the facelifted Esprit. The Supra may have shared its basic rear-drive architecture and engine size with the Capri but in all other respects it was in a different league: the engine boasted twin overhead camshafts and the rear suspension was by independent coil springs. The Capri was still running a leaf-sprung live rear axle and the pushrod Cologne V6. The Supra also came with an abdundance of gadgetry which you wouldn't have found even in the rangetopping 2.8 Injection: cruise control, electric windows and even optional air conditioning. It came with pop-up headlights and a wedgy shape which was pure 1980s, making it look thoroughly modern against its European rival. Despite this, the Supra never sold as strongly as the Capri here, an illustration of the fact that the British car buying public was still coming to terms with Japanese cars. As a result, the so-called 'MA61' Celica Supra is far rarer than the Capri, with DVLA recording only tiny numbers still in use. Just as we thought we would

RETRO JAPAN E S E


Digital dashboard very 1980s.

Distinctive alloy wheels and chunky wheelarch extensions. Interior condition is rather wonderful for 66,000 miles.

struggle to find an example to photograph at short notice, up popped this one. For sale at Border Classic and Sportscar in Shropshire, it was taken in part exchange against a competition car, proprietor Steve admitting to a fondness for anything interesting especially from the 1980s. A 1984 car, it seemed to be all original and looked simply superb with all the details present and correct. The digital dash was showing just 66,000 miles, backed up by a massive history file going right back to day one. Incredibly, the car boasts a Toyota main dealer service history until very recently including a cam belt swap at 65,000 miles.

ON THE ROAD The Nippon Denso injection ensures the Celica fires up immediately and the fruity exhaust note leaves you in no doubt that there's a straight-six under the shallow bonnet. Shut the door and there's a precision to its action. All the controls may be that typically 1980s shiny black plastic, but each still works with precision and still does exactly what its label says. The Supra has a meaty driving feel to it, with a firm clutch and decisive shift action, while the steering offers a surprising amount of feel for a car which was probably designed primarily for the lucrative US market. We didn't get the chance to sample this example at the limit but previous experience has shown that the Supra's handling feels a world away from the RETRO JAPAN E S E

rather wobbly Capri, the difference being even more obvious in the wet. Whether it's just this car's low mileage and fastidious ownership or a reflection on Japanese production standards, the Supra also displays a complete absence of squeaks and rattles which for a 32-year-old car is impressive.

Above: Twin-cam, six-cylinder engine out powered Ford's Capri.

this condition is rarer than any Capri and the driving experience simply doesn't compare. The Supra is a supremely usable classic and this one is absolutely on the button and ready to go. We're sure it's new owner will love it. â&#x2013;

SUMMARY If you're a fan of all things 1980s like me, then the Supra is a perfect embodiment of the era and to my mind its chunky, aggressive stance still looks great today. If you check the prices of top-end Capris selling at classic auctions you might be surprised at the money a low-mileage 280 Brooklands can make, yet a Supra in

1984 Toyota Celica Supra Engine

2759cc/6-cyl/DOHC

Power

168bhp@5600rpm

Top speed

126mph

0-60mph

8.1secs

Fuel consumption Gearbox

25mpg Five-speed manual

95


The Guest Fleet Sunny in Norfolk

THE GUEST FLEET Some folk just can't stop at one or two Japanese classics. This time, it's a driveway-busting fleet from Norfolk, including a track-tested Lexus. Wo r d s a n d Pi c s: N i g e l G at e s

I

started driving Japanese cars back in 1987, first using my mumâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Datsun Cherry for driving lessons. I then bought it off her on the day I passed my test in it. I had an early experience of dealing with rust when I had to have its arches and door bottoms repaired at just seven years old, but it stood out amongst the Mk1 Fiestas most of my friends were driving back then. Interspersed with several nonJapanese cars, I then had a couple of examples of the 1980s Datsun Sunny, but these were still just everyday cars. The turning point came when I joined the Datsun Owners Club shortly after its inception in 1993. High mileage was taking its toll on the Sunny I had and I bought a rather smart 1980 160J SSS. This was the

hatchback version distinguished by a dogleg shift 5-speed gearbox (with buzzer on reverse) and twin carbs. That car became something of a personal favourite. As well as being my 20k-a-year daily driver, I took it to shows as far afield as Holland and even then it created some interest. It also introduced me to the world of buying scrap cars and stripping them for spares, some of which I still appear to have over 20 years later. A series of 40-odd Datsuns and Nissans followed this, everything from a little 100A FII estate up to the 300C, an amusingly brisk car with its boxy styling powered by a smooth V6. Some imported models crept in too, like a JDM Laurel Hardtop with RB-series engine and plush velour interior and

a South African Skyline R31, bought from a scrapyard when I was killing time waiting for my wife-to-be to choose her wedding dress. A 1979 Skyline 240K GT served me very well over nine years, including two trips to Norway. As well as these I have enjoyed owning several examples of Honda Accord and Mazda 323, together with a RWD Toyota Starlet and Colt Galant. These were all cheap purchases which had come from the proverbial long-term, elderly owners.

Datsun 160J SSS was a much-loved, but now departed fleet member.

Enormous Camry estate has proved very practical indeed.

Lexus LS400 was rescued from a banger racer who deemed it too nice to trash.

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Camry compulsion Some years ago, I needed a big, cheap estate car and after considering the usual suspects such as Carlton, Scorpio and Mercedes, I ended up with a 1996 Camry 2.2. A relatively unusual model

RETRO JAPAN E S E


Nigel knew of this Sunny for many years before being able to buy it. The rear seat was still covered in protective plastic!

even when new, this turned out to be an excellent choice being roomy, practical and reasonably good on fuel, and with approaching 200k on the clock, it was still as reliable as I could have wished for. Beyond its smooth, wellengineered feel perhaps the greatest feature of this car was its twin rear wipers, something I found endlessly pleasing (you're not alone - Ed). Being something of a collector, I ended up with five of these big Toyotas at one point, including a be-spoilered Sport version of the following generation model which I used on several trackdays. I still have two of them, both accidentdamaged and awaiting repair (one day). Alongside the pair of modern Toyotas my wife and I now run as everyday/ family transport, I also have a 1996 Lexus LS400 and a pair of Datsuns. The former was cheaply purchased from a banger racer who felt it was too good to end up on the track, and despite its less-than-full history it has turned out to be an excellent buy. In addition to being notable as my first V8, I’ve now taken it on two trackdays. Most of the time, I use it for ferrying my children around to their various clubs, when it makes a welcome change to a sensible

diesel Avensis. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to think I’m driving something with such impressive abilities that cost approaching £50,000 when new but I bought for a three-figure sum. My current pair of Datsuns are something of a contrast to each other. Back in 2008, I bought the Laurel, a 2.4-litre model from 1980. In excellent, largely original condition, it had obviously been well cared-for by the original owner who’d had it for 28 years. It’s very much a car of the 1970s, with a fairly basic mechanical specification and chintzy styling at odds with big European cars of the time. Nowadays, these features make it an ideal ‘classic’ car for my needs. The lazy straightsix engine (a much detuned version of that seen in the Z/ZX models) and 5-speed gearbox give it enough pace to at least keep up with modern traffic. The little Sunny 1200 is a car I’d known of for some years as it belonged to an elderly lady in a village where I used to live. Through another banger racer, I discovered she was finally thinking of selling it and in 2015, I finally bought it from her. She bought it new back in 1973 and it had been her only car since that time. As a daily-driver Datsun

of that age used in all weathers it has of course seen some previous bodywork repairs, but despite being off-road for several years, it went straight through its MOT and I’m now accumulating parts for a thorough service. Eventually it will need a full restoration, but I hope that a few years of sympathetic use and rolling repairs will stop anything getting worse. This 2-door version was only sold in the UK for a year or so, with a basic specification and using the willing little OHV engine that powered tens of thousands of smaller Datsuns from their launch here in 1968 to the early 1980s. It’s a popular model in other countries with performance upgrades and transplants being common, but due to the originality of mine I want to keep it as standard as possible. As older Japanese cars have become rarer and prices of the RWD 1970s and 1980s models in particular have risen, I cannot change them as often as I used to, but I enjoy the varied nature of my current selection and hope to keep them in use for many more years. n

Lexus has proved an unlikely, but very capable track machine.

Sunny N13 proves an ideal comparison with the Sunny 1200.

Nigel has owned this lovely Laurel since 2008.

RETRO JAPAN E S E

Have you got a fabulous fleet of Japanese tin? Drop us a line – ian.seabrook@kelseymedia.co.uk

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NOSTALGIA GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

A walk back through memory lane, as the editor wallows in nostalgia and recalls some of his favourite J-tin moments.

Tough, but pretty hopeless. Trooper proved disappointing.

Honda Civic was a highlight, despite questionable graphics.

WORDS AND PICS: IAN SEABROOK

I

bought my first Japanese vehicle in 2000. It was a Subaru Impreza Sport and as a short-haired, wannabetrendy 21-year old, I thought it was the bee's knees. I loved the off-beat flat-four soundtrack, even if the lack of turbo meant it didn't have that model's rorty nature. It certainly had enough power for me. Too much it turned out. After just a few days of ownership, I'd encountered lift-off oversteer and smashed the front end up. I did get it repaired, but ended up trading it in for a Peugeot turbo diesel. A few years later, I returned to Japanese motoring with a 1991 Isuzu Trooper 2.8 Citation. Yes, the boxy, old-shape. Sadly, it was pretty awful – dreadful on-road manners, and it turned out to be pretty hopeless offroad too, thanks to a severe lack of axle articulation. Things got better in 2007, when I spotted a 1990 Honda Civic 1.4GL for sale for just £185. It's hard to refuse that sort of value, so I overlooked the crusty rear arches, got the clacking CV joints changed and enjoyed one of the best cars I've ever owned. I was staggered by the fact that it had twin caburettors, yet felt like a fuel-injected engine to drive (manual choke aside). It went really well but delivered 45mpg. For reasons I don't fully understand, I had some Celtic-style graphics applied to the bonnet. I apologise. It didn't detract from

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the driving experience, and it pained me to sell it when that rear arch rot just got out of control. I followed that up with a 1995 Subaru Legacy – mechanically identical to my old Impreza, though I thankfully managed to avoid binning this one. Again, I loved the sound of the engine at high revs and did many long trips in it – including a visit to France. It was superb in snow, but not very good on fuel – 27mpg was my average, which is why I sold it in the end. I also enjoyed a 1996 Ford Maverick, which was just a Nissan Terrano II in disguise – and not a particularly well-developed disguise. With long-travel coil rear suspension, dual-ratio gearbox and a limited slip differential, it was great for surprising the Land Rover boys off-road. A soft-roader in looks, but definitely not in ability. But, I think the real Retro Japanese highlight was a 1986 Nissan Bluebird that I scored for just £450 in 2012. It had just 36,000 miles on the clock, was in generally superb condition and drove beautifully well. Best of all, it was a very early T12 built in Japan, so it had the pantograph rear wiper that we never got on the UK cars. From the bright orange dials to the plush velour seats, it remains one of the best cars I've ever owned. Stupidly, I sold it for about what I paid for it after only a few months, as I worried that I wouldn't be able to keep it in such good condition. Oh for a barn! ■

A Subaru that Ian managed not to crash.

Nissan with a Ford badge. Wonderfully capable. The best Japanese car Ian has yet owned?

RETRO JAPAN E S E


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