A legendary 1974 Lamborghini Countach faces off to the latest McLaren Artura hybrid supercar, as a 1967 Toyota 2000GT gazes across the hall at a brand new Nissan Z and electric Hyundai Ioniq 5. This is a car show where classic meets modern in the rawest sense of the word. Now in its seventh year, the Automobile Council event (which took place from April 15-17) is a smorgasbord of automotive delights spanning nearly 100 years. Held at the massive Makuhari Messe complex around 30 minutes east of Tokyo, this rare event brings the past, present and future automobile genre together.
It is the only event in Japan, and one of only a handful in the world that boast a combination of carmakers debuting new models, while dealers and owners exhibit some of the most legendary supercars of all time.
To find out how this event came about, I asked co-organizer and classic car aficionado Masafumi Seki for a brief explanation. “Simply put, we started this event to create a new style of car culture in Japan. To achieve that goal, we thought it was necessary to understand the origins of where modern cars came from. Having this knowledge and interest when you drive new or classic cars enables you to enjoy them more,” he says.
“Europe and the U.S. have each created their own unique car cultures over the last century, but here in Japan, a country that focused heavily on making new cars since the late 1960s, I feel that kind of car culture is somewhat backward or should we say underdeveloped by international standards.” I know what he means. Italy has its prestigious Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, the U.K. has its Goodwood Festival of Speed and the U.S. holds the exotic Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance event each year among many others. Japan does have its own peculiar style of car culture that includes “drifting,” fast turbocharged sports cars, and “itasha” cars that are heavily decorated with manga or anime characters. It was this type of culture that influenced the creators of the Fast and Furious movie franchise, and yes, this culture did resonate amongst a large international audience of younger fans who yearned for reasonably priced fast cars. But what Seki and his team are trying to do is to strengthen the passion for and understanding of where modern cars came from through concentrated flashbacks to the legendary super cars and classic cars of yesteryear.
To arrive at a menu of classics for each event, Seki told me that he conducts a questionnaire every year that asks potential event-goers what kind of cars they would like to see. “The vast majority of those 50 and over say they’d really like to revisit their childhood dreams and see classic supercars in the flesh,” stresses Seki.
So the organizers put a great deal of effort each year in to collecting cars that generate high interest amongst the largest cross-section of attendees. But to also generate interest in those enthusiasts looking to buy a car, organizers invite carmakers to display their latest and greatest cars. This aspect of the event can often lead to one or two carmakers debuting brand new models in what they call a ‘world premier.’ For example, two years ago, Mazda unveiled its all-new MX-30 SUV mild hybrid making the Automobile Council part motor show, part concourse and part museum.
As I entered the hall, the first stand that greeted me was a rare one indeed. The Alvis Car Company of England had a substantial presence on the floor with some 6 cars, all of them classics in their own right. Based in Coventry, Alvis started building cars from 1919 and closed its doors in 1967. In 2017, the firm announced it would offer limited edition models like the 4.3-liter model, 72 years after the last model was produced. Two of the stand’s highlights were the Bertelli Sports Saloon from 1936 and the elegant 3.0-liter Graber Super Coupe, which the maker still builds in small numbers for prices clearing $500,000.
Revealing the depth of the Automobile Council, Honda chose this show to celebrate the Civic’s 50th anniversary since the model was first sold in the U.S. Having sold some 27 million units over five decades globally, making it one of the world’s most popular entry-level runabouts, Honda celebrated by displaying a first-generation Civic as well as a ‘Yamato Civic’ that raced back in the 1970s.
The theme at the Mazda stand featured a tribute to the brand’s long history and successes in motor sport, focusing on achievements like the 1991 Le Mans 14-hour victory in the 4-rotor powered 787B race car. Displayed at the stand were legendary vehicles like the Cosmo Sport Marathon de la Route which placed fourth in the 1968 “84-hours of Nurburgring Endurance Race” as well as the Familia Rotary Coupe which won the All-Japan Suzuka Automobile Grand Cup race in 1969. Connecting the past to the present and future, Mazda also displayed a world premier version of a bespoke MX-5 called the Mazda Spirit Racing Roadster boasting a unique 4-toned livery and a huge rear wing.
Next door at the Porsche stand, the German company displayed historically significant models like the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 and 911SC as well as the latest fully electric Taycan Turbo S. At a nearby stand, another exhibitor enhanced Porsche’s presence with his rather special dark-green 356.
Adjacent to Porsche was a tribute to the Nissan Z, with a 1970 Datsun 240Z, a 1982 Datsun 280Z, a 1989 300ZX and, once again, connecting these historical cars to the present, a brand new 400-hp Nissan Z pointed towards the future of the Japanese brand’s sporty heritage. Z fans must thank Nissan USA’s first president, Yutaka Katayama, who, in the late 1960s, saw the potential of a beautifully designed, fast, reasonably-priced sports car and forced his Nissan bosses back in Japan to give the green light for production.
In front of the Nissan stand stood a tribute to Germany’s famed DTM racing series. Seki and other event organizers commented that this influential race series is not known well in Japan so they wanted to try to change that perception and lift its presence by displaying cars that are based on production vehicles such as the BMW M3, Mercedes Benz 190E EVO II and a race winner in the Alfa Romeo 155 V6 TI.
But without doubt, the star attraction at this year’s show for me were the three Italian classics sitting in the middle of the hall, and all penned by legendary Italian designer Marcello Gandini. Breathtakingly gorgeous and looking more like works of art than sports cars, a bright orange Lamborghini Countach sat next to a dark red Lamborghini Miura, one of the world’s most desirable super cars and a classic that featured in the opening scene of the 1969 movie “The Italian Job.” Then on the opposite side of the Italian stand sat a shocking green colored De Tomaso Pantera penned by Gandini in 1971.
Facing the Italian pedigrees were a collection of supercars that followed the theme of ‘classic meets modern,’ namely a 1975 Maserati Bora from 1971 and a brand new mid-engined Maserati MC20 packing a 621-hp twin-turbo V6 and priced at around $216,000. Apart from being drop-dead gorgeous, the Bora is a car whose claim to fame is that it was penned by another legendary Italian designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro at Italdesign and it was the first Maserati to employ 4-wheel independent suspension.
Rival supercar maker McLaren was also present, displaying its all-new 671-hp twin-turbo V6 Altura supercar boasting the maker’s first-ever plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Other classics that graced the event this year were a Lancia Delta Integrale, BMW 2002, Ferrari Dino, an Aston Martin DB5 valued at 83 million yen ($640,000), a Toyota 2000GT valued at 100 million yen ($770,000).
To be honest, it’s great to see manufacturers launching their new electrified cars like the McLaren Artura and Porsche Taycan, vehicles that inspire a new generation and reply to the planet’s need for CO2 reduction. But visitors to this show have really come to take a trip down memory lane, and see their favorite legendary cars, in the flesh, cars that graced their walls in poster form when they were teenagers. And what memories they are.