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Vintage Japan Glam Machines

Scott DukesphotographerBob Merliswriter

Although a mere 350 miles of California coastline and a few weeks separate mist-shrouded Pebble Beach from sunbaked Long Beach, the concours d'elegance that takes its name from the former would seem, to even the most casual observer, to be a universe removed from the Japanese Classic Car Show. This year's JCCS was held in a parking lot aside the Queen Mary. The port of Long Beach has long been one of the main entry points for cars shipped from Japan, so it's quite plausible that, for a fair number of vehicles at the show, this was something of a homecoming. Since it was established eight years ago, the JCCS has more than doubled in size; this year 400 cars and trucks plus thirty motorcycles were on display. The thermometer hit a toasty 103 degrees (the high at the Pebble show was 40 degrees lower), but that didn't deter the 5900 sweaty souls who came to ogle old Zs and have fits of nostalgia while viewing the other vintage imports from the land of the rising sun. Datsun has long dominated the show, but there was official presence from Toyota, which displayed some treasures from its nearby corporate museum. While some of the vehicles were as pristine as any Hispano-Suiza you might find at Pebble Beach, there were certainly quite a few that showed some "patina," as you might expect of vehicles that were considered somewhat disposable when purchased new.

Straight from the Toyota USA Automobile Museum: an in-the-flesh 2000GT, the company's first and, arguably, most beautiful supercar -- and that certainly includes the Lexus LFA. This is one of 84 left-hand-drive examples, out of a total of some 337, that Yamaha built under contract for Toyota from 1967 to 1970. This is perhaps the one car that could also have been featured at Pebble Beach, as a 2000GT sold for $627,000 at the Gooding & Company auction there this year.

Surprisingly, this 360 was the sole Subaru in the entire show. It was among the first cars that the ever-scheming Malcolm Bricklin imported to the States, without the participation of manufacturer Fuji Heavy Industries. Air-cooled, with two cylinders and weighing less than 1000 pounds, it was the (not very) Smart car of its era.

This is where it all began (and almost ended). Toyota's first foray into the U.S. market in the late 1950s was the stodgy and very slow Toyopet Crown, which was underpowered and overpriced. Understandably, it found few buyers. The suicide doors, however, are a neat touch. This one is a '59 that was traded in for a '70 Toyota. By 1975, the company was the top-selling import carmaker.

Datsun's MGB wannabe was the 1600 -- previously the 1500, later the 2000 -- over here, but hard-core "Datsunistas" can't resist affixing home-market badging that identifies theirs as the oh-so-macho Fairlady. At JCCS, this one was the fairest Fairlady of them all, and the luggage rack with travel-sticker-festooned suitcase was a nice touch.

...and if superannuated Japanese cars weren't pleasant enough to contemplate, there were other distractions.

American Honda Motor Company sold its very first four-wheeler, the N600 (sedan) two-cylinder microcar, in 1969. The related Z600 (coupe, pictured in foreground) arrived in 1971. If you ever see one on the road in California, it's probably because Tim Mings, who runs a repair/restoration facility called Merciless Mings, put it in working order. That's been his entire business for decades.

The 49-cc Honda Motocompo was conceived as a "trunk bike" for the Honda City back in the early 1980s. The idea was to fold it up, stick it in the trunk, drive to someplace not too far from your destination, park the car, and drive into town on the scooter -- but not faster than 19 mph. It's the un-Ducati!

Say "ah." A line of Datsun 240Zs and Mazda RXs tip their hoods to admiring spectators.

When was the last time you saw a Toyota Land Cruiser FJ45 long-bed pickup in this condition? In any condition? Thought so.