Welcome to Tokyo, Japan, the land of the Megaweb, drift¹, bōsōzoku², and Kei cars. These latest Kei cars (or keijidōsha, « light automobile ») are the result of the government’s desire to revive the national automobile market after World War II. At that time, the people could only afford a motorbike. To this end, they introduced strict rules in 1949 (which have changed many times over the years) to stimulate innovation. So that carmakers could produce small, highly fuel-efficient vehicles at an affordable price for the domestic market. These tiny automobiles usually featured very small engines. Usually under 360cc, but were sometimes fitted with engines of up to 600cc for export. This way they kept taxes much lower than larger cars. Today, they are over 3.3m and the engine has a maximum displacement of 660cc.
It is in this context that we went to the Megaweb. Located on the artificial island of Odaiba in Tokyo, came to see a reconstruction of the Japanese capital of the 1960s.
Megaweb is a complex managed by Toyota and includes 3 buildings: Toyota City Showcase (showroom of the group’s new products and their technologies, with the possibility to test the vehicles on a circuit) + Ride Studio (centre dedicated to youth and education around mobility) and the History Garage which interests us more particularly here. On display are a series of vehicles in situation, for an immersion in the heart of the golden age of the automobile.
We start with a Datsun 1000 Model Truck from 1960, a small truck based on the Datsun 210 that has a few lines in the pantheon of speed and endurance rallies, which was a very good promotional campaign for its release. It is the ancestor of the Nissan Navara/Frontier today.
Also on display is a 1963 Toyota Toyopet Crown RS41, sitting outside its garage. It appeared in 1955, in a country where there was still little motorisation. Commercialized under the Toyopet label (affiliated to Toyota, then integrated as a distribution network), in response to the population’s demand to market a taxi. The second generation, which appeared in 1962, was one of the first cars on the continent to break away from the style inspired by American cars of the time. It also moved upmarket in both style and performance. Becoming one of the fastest cars of its time with a top speed of 140km/h. This Crown became the first Toyota to be exported to Europe. Even today the Crown is the most popular car for taxis and police, and is also very popular with the general public.
You can even see a Honda Super Cub at the end of the aisle, which is quite simply the most produced motor vehicle in history. With a continuous production since 1958 of over 100 million units.
In the middle of this scene sits a Cadillac Series 62 and a Chevrolet Impala, both from 1959. In fact, even though the country was in the midst of « miniaturisation », the import of vehicles from the USA was not negligible. But also from Europe, with this little Fiat 500D. Fun fact, it was called in Italy « the Nuova Cinquecento » (new 500) to distinguish it from other 500cc cars.
Two legends are worth noting in this exhibition. One of only 351 Toyota 2000GT Model MF12Ls produced. It became famous with its appearance in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Often compared to the Jaguar E-Type in terms of lines and proportions, it matches it in performance, with a top speed of 220 km/h.
Finally, the Nissan Skyline 2000GT-R KPGC10. Its nickname ‘Hakosuka’ comes from the contraction of the word Hako for a box in Japanese, and Suka the diminutive of Skyline, the saloon model from which it is derived, here in coupe form. It goes without saying that the nickname comes from its aerodynamic profile, which was considered unflattering at the time. It was a lightened, miniaturised version of the basic saloon. This car reached the podiums of many races in Japan and the USA, and at the top of the wishlists of young boys wanting to grow up quickly.
I invite you to go there, because other wonders are exposed there, such as old glories of the rally (CELICA GT-Four ST165 or Corolla WRC of 1997)
1: Drifting appeared in the 1980s in the Empire of the Rising Sun. Kunimitsu Takahashi was the inspiration. This renowned motorbike driver was the first Japanese Grand Prix winner, injured himself in the 1962 Isle of Man TT. He decided to start racing cars in 1965 where he was known for his driving style: brave massive oversteer as a racing method to maintain speed. Another gentleman called Keiichi Tsuchiya aka Drift King started drifting in his races to intertain the audience. But it didn’t take him long to see how drifting could become a sport of it’s own. He began to train on the winding roads of the mountainsides. The illegal street races called Touge were born. First circuit races started in 1988. The phenomenon grew to become popular outside the borders of Japan and a cultural phenomenon that continues to grow.
2: bōsōzoku (boso: « crazy race » or « reckless driving » and zoku: clan) refers to a motorcycle gang. It was initially inspired by American culture and the Hells Angels. They caused trouble on the streets with rival gangs and the police from the 1950s onwards. While they have always been known for their over-the-top (often illegal) modification of their vehicles, in terms of bodywork, handlebars, engine and exhaust. They symbolise a rebellious group, but are now moving away from their former reputation for gun violence.
Bōsō zoku: motorbike gang
Dorifuto zoku: Drifting tribe
Kaminari zoku: (雷族 « Thunder Tribe ») early name for Bōsō zoku
Rolling zoku: Off-road variety of Bōsō zoku