by Aly Hayashi
Think of a classic car show, and maybe rows of muscular Mustangs or curvaceous Jaguars gleaming in the sun come to mind. Where previously the term “classic car” may have referred to those made in countries that use the Latin alphabet, recently a different trend has emerged: Japanese classics have started to gain a loyal group of followers.
This was evident at Toyotafest 2013 at Home Hub Castle Hill, a celebration of the Japanese marque that has often been equated with household appliances by motoring loudmouth Jeremy Clarkson, of BBC Top Gear fame.
On show were 178 Toyotas from throughout history, from an early 1960s Toyota Tiara to the latest Toyota 86, all displayed with pride and joy by their owners.
Anthony Grant, 40, president of the Toymods Car Club that organised the show, has seen the shift in Australian motoring culture. He says that a couple of decades ago, the only cars people were proud of owning were Holdens or Fords.
“If you had a Japanese car, you were a weirdo in the car scene,” he says.
He exhibited a pair of beautifully restored 1970s Toyota Celicas, the model he had driven when he was young.
“If you had a Celica 25 years ago, it was laughed off as it wasn’t really a man’s car; it was a hairdresser’s car,” he says.
“These were the cars that my generation had as P platers. Now we’re getting into our middle years and we’re going back to the cars that we loved so much when we were younger.”
Nostalgia is a major driving force behind this appreciation for Japanese classics: although the youth of his generation may have dreamed of V8 Holdens and Fords, they usually ended up being driven in their parents’ Toyotas and Nissans and in turn bought cheap Japanese cars when they got their licences.
Anthony says Japanese classic cars attract a younger crowd with a more hands-on approach, facilitated by the advent of the Internet and easy information sharing.
Raymond Forghani, 27, who exhibited his recently-bought classic Toyota Crown, says the trend has only taken off recently.
“Prior to this there was generally a negative impression of the Japanese car hence the term ‘Jap crap’,” he says.
According to Raymond, the appeal of Japanese classics is due to their accessibility; they are considerably less expensive than comparable Western classics, and represent a less-explored avenue in the world of classic motoring.
“To find a vehicle that’s different, that’s not well-known, that’s something that appeals to a lot of people.”
His 1989 Toyota Crown, a V8 Royal Saloon model privately imported from Japan, fits the bill. Not only does it have plush velour upholstery, it has a dashboard monitor for navigation, TV and vehicle diagnostics and computer-controlled air suspension that automatically adjusts the car’s height.
“To me, it symbolises the pinnacle of design and engineering of the Japanese automobile industry at the time,” he says. “The engineering is above and beyond anything that was produced locally, and that appeals a lot to me.”
Taro Moriya, 46, a Japanese journalist who attended Toyotafest 2013, explains how these old cars, while thought of poorly by the Australian public of the time, were a significant milestone in his country’s development.
“In 1960s Japan, people who worked hard could for the first time achieve the dream of owning a car, maybe a Toyota Publica, or Corolla. They were tiny, toy-like cars to foreign eyes, but they were very important to Japanese people of that day and age,” he says. “I was very surprised and impressed that Australians would take care, and be proud, of these old Japanese cars.”
Yet even Australian enthusiasts never expected these old Japanese cars to come into the limelight several decades later. The idea amuses Anthony Grant.
“In the 70s, when the muscle car boom was on and Japan was coming out with four-cylinders? I would have laughed at ya.”