A $915,000 vintage Toyota 2000GT, a $320,000 Datsun Z and a 30th anniversary celebration of Mazda’s legendary 1991 Le Mans 24-hours victory were the highlights of this year’s Automobile Council 2021 in Japan.
While the vast majority of motor shows around the world are being canceled or postponed due to the ongoing pandemic, organizers of the 3-day Automobile Council (April 9-11) event staged at the Makuhari Messe complex some 30 minutes east of Tokyo managed to convince government departments that their 6th annual car show was worth holding.
New Covid infections across the country may be averaging around 3,500 a day, but the promise that all attendees would wear masks, sanitize hands and socially distance in a large open hall with 30-foot high ceilings was enough to get the nod from the powers that be.
Boasting a catch cry of “A Museum of Dream Cars,” The Automobile Council is a unique car event in that it displays the latest releases from carmakers like McLarens, Jaguar and Land Rover, while celebrating great achievements in motor sport history and shining a light on unforgettable classic cars of yesteryear.
The star attraction of this year’s event was a tribute to Mazda’s decade-long Le Mans 24-hour race challenge that eventually led to the Hiroshima-based firm winning the legendary French event and becoming the first Japanese manufacturer to accomplish this pinnacle in motor sport. While the centerpiece of Mazda’s display was their race-winning, four-rotor powered 787B, they brought two other rare Le Mans machines, namely the RX-7 254 from 1982 and the 1985 737C, that had allowed to company to gain enough experience to mount a serious challenge in 1991. The rest is history.
One other show theme was historical rally cars and there were plenty on offer from Japan and Europe. Heading the local hero cars were two examples of the mighty Subaru Impreza World Rally Championship entries which won three driver’s and three constructor’s championships in the 1990s and early 2000s. Next to those were legendary Nissan rally cars which competed in events like the Safari Rally and Monte Carlo Rally, namely the 240RS, 240Z, Datsun Violet GT and 1970 Bluebird 1600 SSS.
Conspicuously absent from this display however, were examples of Toyota rally cars including the WRC-winning Celica of the early 1990s, the highly successful Corolla from the late 90s and the much lauded Yaris which has captured two WRC titles in the last four years. Mitsubishi’s legendary Paris-Dakar Rally winning Pajeros, SUVs that won 12 times between 1987 to 2007, were missing too.
But it was the selection of immaculately restored Italian classics, namely those wearing badges from Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia with Zagato Design themes that ignited the most debate. Five examples of Zagato Design, a famous century-old carrozzeria from Milan, included a deep red 1957 Fiat Abarth 750GT, an orange 1971 Lancia Fulvia Zagato 1.3S, a silver 1973 Alfa Romeo 1600 Junior Zagato and a bright yellow 1993 Alfa Romeo RZ.
Meanwhile in the middle of the hall, Italian rally cars of yesteryear were hogging the limelight thanks to their classic styling and sensational liveries. Highlights were a 1983 WRC-winning Lancia Rally 037 Evolution 2, a 1972 Monte Carlo Rally winning Lancia Fulvia Coupe 1.6HF, and a Bertone styled Lancia Stratos HF Gr.4 car.
The stand-out classic car for sale this year was a red pristine 1970 Toyota 2000GT priced at ¥100 million or $915,000. Manufactured between 1967 and 1970, the 2000GT was one of Japan’s best looking cars, with a convertible version appearing in James Bond’s “You Only Live Twice.” Powered by a Yamaha-built 150-hp, 2.0-liter straight-6 engine, Toyota only produced 337 examples of this legendary coupe. Also for sale were a 1970 Datsun Z432 for $320,000, a $210,000 Nissan Skyline GT-R R32 from 1995, a 1962 Lotus Elite Sr 2 for $55,000, a 1978 Lotus Esprit for $70,000, a Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 for $275,000 and a 1971 Porsche 991E valued at $150,000.
The vast majority of cars may have been of Japanese or European origin, but there were a few American classics on display as well. The undoubted highlight from the USA was a gorgeous blue and white 7.0-liter V8 powered Chevrolet Camaro Z28 Tribute dating back to 1969. According to the organizers this car was specially customized to pay tribute to the SCCA Trans-Am Series. It was listed at ¥8,580,000 (or $78,000).
With McLaren, Land Rover and Jaguar displaying their latest production cars, the Jaguar Club of Japan celebrating its 50th anniversary with a couple of XK120s and E-Types, classic rally cars from two continents and a bunch of highly desirable classic cars for sale from three continents, this year’s Automobile Council had something for everyone. Let’s just hope that next year, Japan’s No 1 carmaker Toyota can join the party and inject some much needed passion and energy into the local car industry.