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Weekly Motor Fix: land of the rising classics

29 April, 2016

There are many who believe that Japanese cars are tools. They’re a functional piece of equipment with a job to do. They’re commodities to be bought by large companies to ferry photocopier technicians to their next paper jam. They’re also a marketer’s dream: Are you old? Buy a Toyota Corolla. Do you have too many children? Buy a Honda Odyssey. Have you lost your will to live? Buy a Nissan Qashqai.

So then, a Japanese classic sounds like a bit of a paradox. One of our New Zealand Classic Car feature cars in Issue No. 305 is a 1970 Mitsubishi Galant GTO, and this, indeed, is a beautiful classic. Which made me wonder, where did it start? What are the original Japanese classics?

Following Japanese manufacturers’ successful foray into car building following World War II, they churned out huge numbers of cars that would go and go and go. Suddenly, the customer — especially the American customer — had an alternative to an enormously thirsty and simply enormous road tank. But the Japanese manufacturers were still lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. There was no soul, and we, the car people, need our cars to have soul. So what to do? Well, the Japanese, clever as they are, started building some pretty cool cars. 

To name but a few:

Mazda went the ever-reliable rotary route. The RX-2 was built under contract right here in New Zealand (sunny Otahuhu to be exact). Its sporty little brother, the RX-3, was on the shelves from 1971 through 1978 and proved a great success for Mazda even clocking up a fifth place in Bathurst 1975.

The original Nissan GT-R, released in 1969, is now one of the most sought-after cars in the world.The GT-R was powered by a 2.0-litre DOHC S20 I6 producing 160hp (120kW) at 7000rpm, and 177Nm (131 ft·lbf) of torque at 5600rpm. Not big numbers today, but this from a two-litre engine (only juice and milk come in two litres I hear you say), was quite simply staggering in the late ’60s.

The Galant GTO (as featured in New Zealand Classic Car Issue No. 305) took inspiration from Detroit with a number of similarities in styling and stance. When you get a copy of Issue No. 305, check out the feature on page 58, have a look at the individual parts of the cars and you’ll recognize some sweeps and curves from some of the most famous muscle cars of the ’60s and ’70s.

What are some early Japanese classics you’d have in your garage?

Motorsport Flashback – Kiwi rallying in the 1970s

Rallying arrived in New Zealand in 1973 like a tsunami. It had been only a few years since the sport was introduced here and shortly afterwards Heatway came on board as the sponsor to take rallying to a new level. The 1973 Heatway would be the longest and biggest yet, running in both islands with 120 drivers over eight days and covering some 5400 kilometres. The winner was 31-year-old Hannu Mikkola — a genuine Flying Finn who had been rallying since 1963 before putting any thoughts of a career on hold until he completed an economics degree. The likeable Finn became an instant hero to many attracted to this new motor sport thing. I was one of them.

Think of it as a four-door Cooper

New Zealand Mini Owners Club coordinator Josh Kelly of Dunedin loves his Minis. It’s a family affair. Julie and Mike, Josh’s mum and dad, are just as keen, and they can usually all be found taking part in the club’s annual ‘Goodbye, Pork Pie’ charity run from the North of the country to the South.
But lately Josh’s young head has been turned by some other revolutionary BMC cars. He has picked up a couple of Austin and Morris 1100 and 1300s, which he started to restore — that was until an opportunity arose to buy a rare example stored in a shed.