By on January 27, 2013

Today, I was in Odaiba, the man-made island in Tokyo Bay. The island is known for its futuristic buildings. Today, it was home of the Japan Classic Car Association’s New Year Meeting. It celebrates the imported car. During the next days, I will show you the nicer ones. We start with the Americans, and a Dodge.

The tonier places in America, like Pebble Beach and Hilton Head, are known for their Concours d’Elegance, something the organizers wanted to bring to Tokyo. It looks like it was damaged in transit.

Some of the first cars in Japan were American, just like this early Dodge Brothers model.  The first car made in Japan, in 1902, was powered by a gasoline  engine, hand-imported from the U.S. by Komanosuke Uchiyama. Five years later, he produced the first entirely Japanese-made car.

Detroit pretty much owned the Japanese car market before the war. Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors all had production plants in the island nation.  Between 1925 and 1936, the Big Three produced 208,967 cars in Japan. Japanese automakers, and there were many, made only 12,127.

Cars imported to Japan, mostly from America and England, did set the style for Japanese cars.

After the war, American makers liked to use their British subsidiaries to export cars to Japan. This is the egg crate grille of a Nash Metropolitan Roadster, built between 1953 and 1961 at Austin’s Longbridge plant.

Except that this Nash has the steering wheel on the left. Must have been the export model.

This is a Ford Prefect, built in the UK.

It looks like the 100E (1953 to 1959). Its steering wheel is at the right left, I mean, it was left at the right side. Next to the Prefect sits a BMW 2002, the predecessor of the 3-series. I had one of those, also in Bavarian Blue.

Wedged between a Porsche and a Triumph, a Shelby GT350. When this car came to Japan, the glory of American imports in Japan began to fade, and the Europeans took over. We will look at them tomorrow.

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21 Comments on “Reporting From The Concoures D’eregance In Tokyo: The Americans In Japan...”

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    The prefect is in Indeed a 100E model ( later ones were 107E with the OHV engine) .Japans Nissan motor company was started by an American as the DAT motor company building Austin 7 sevens under license .As result Austins DNA was prevelent right through to the 1970’s. The Datsun 1200 engine was an improved BMC A series which found homes here in Australia in morris Minors as a performance upgrade.

  • avatar

    ‘Concoures D’eregance’?? When I first saw the headline, I thought you were joking….and then you included the photo of the program. I would never have believed it if I had not seen it.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve seen some pretty horrible mis-translations over the years, but I’m guessing that the mistake on the brochure was on purpose. The sad thing is that half of the attendees didn’t get the joke.

      I love the R/L pronunciation problem, especially when people want to talk to me about the American erection. “I think Obama-san’s erection is good for America!” I giggle like an idiot for months and months when there is an erection coming on.

    • 0 avatar

      At least the japanese take others’ languages and make it their own. Good on them.

      • 0 avatar

        The problem is how they do it. There was a tiny movement years ago when I was teaching English in Kyoto that was trying to get the Japanese Ministry of Education to do away with katakana (a special script the Japanese use when they write foreign words) and just write foreign words in Romaji (Roman characters).

        The idea is that Katakana forces changes in what might otherwise be decent English/French/German etc pronunciation by inflicting a specialized set of writing that makes you say it with a terrible Japanese accent. Generally, Japanese read roman script pretty well, that’s why a written error like the one above is so uncommon. To make that happen someone would have had to write it in katakana and then do an exact translation across to roman.

        When I think about the time and effort I have expended in that country teaching English and later promoting English education, this kind of thing makes me sick to my stomach.

      • 0 avatar

        All your language are belong to us!

    • 0 avatar

      go to for some seriously funny language mutilations…

  • avatar

    I would be curious to know if, as you imply, the coming of the American muscle car era wasn’t just coincident with the decline of American cars in Japan. Modern Japanese gasoline as of ~10 years ago was inferior in almost every way to American gasoline except for the crap Americans mix into the gas (MTBE and ethanol). Even still, it’s lower-octane and has a much higher vapor pressure (it evaporates more easily) which makes proper tuning in a hot/humid environment quite difficult. I know carbureted golf carts in Japan had vapor lock issues that arose due to differences in gasoline used for testing, and those engines rarely if ever come up to full operating temperature due to frequent shutoffs and inordinately long playing times in Japanese Golf.

    Muscle cars, even in America, ran hot. In the pre-EFI low-compression/smog/malaise era vapor lock wasn’t entirely uncommon. If the inferiority of Japanese gas went way back into the 60s the increase of power and compression levels in American cars in the late-60s could have been the *cause* of the decline of American imports due to the operational issues those would have caused with poor gasoline.

    • 0 avatar

      I think there’s a simpler reason for the limited appeal of American cars in Japan – they’re generally too fuel thirsty in a country where gasoline costs probably US$6-7 per US gallon.

  • avatar

    Surely the logo on the lower part of Dodge’s grille is not factory? I’ve never seen the Imperial eagle on a Dodge, and even on the Imp it didn’t appear in that circular configuration until ’64.

  • avatar

    I’ve always wondered why JDM cars are RHD. Given the historical precedence of American cars in the early JDM, I would have thought they would drive on the right like we do. Do any of the B&B know why?

    • 0 avatar

      The Japanese were pretty hooked up with the British in the very early 20th century, when cars were getting going (the Anglo-Japanese Alliance). I’d suspect they picked it up from the Brits.

    • 0 avatar

      Early American cars didn’t even have a standard for placing the wheel. It was Henry Ford’s standardized LHD Model T that induced other manufacturers to use LHD as a standard. There weren’t exactly lanes in the early days either. Passing wagons observed the nautical habit of ships moving right so their left (port) sides faced each other. Without oncoming traffic, those Model T’s just drove right down the middle of America’s narrow roads, and people roadhog whenever possible to this day!

  • avatar

    And yet, there are a few LHD cars in Japan – some folks like them because they’re different – a fair amount of BMWs and Mercs in Japan are LHD. Never mind that they have to use a long pole with a basket to pay highway and bridge tolls.

    • 0 avatar

      You have to look for the signs that tell you which toll booth or ticket station can be accessed from the left side. I owned a left hand drive car for six years in Japan. It’s a pain in the ass.

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