There should be a flash banner here. There are 2 main reasons why you may not be able to see it:
  • You do not have the required version of Flash MX installed (v8.0+) in your browser
  • JavaScript is disabled in your browser

The DSC Year - October


After Brazil and Bahrain the rapid fire WEC circus pitched its tents (or rather its ISO containers!) in Japan, at Fuji Raceway.

Japan has been a lifelong entry on the DSC Editor’s travel bucket list and despite the rising fatigue it was an exciting moment as the Virgin A340 touched down at Narita airport.

Rather sadly our party was a man down after David ‘Doris’ Downes suffered a major health scare, now fully recovered he’ll be back in full babe magnetic but miserable form for 2013! Dave Lord and Mark Howson though were up for this one, and they'd be mightily glad they were too.

Waiting for us at the (very retro-feel) airport was Andrew ‘Skippy’ Hall, replete with the branded merchandise that now accompanies the ‘Four Musketeers’ on their overseas missions – see if you can recognise any of your favourites (I can’t see any of mine!)

First challenge was getting the hire car (there are very few of the internationally familiar hire car companies in Japan) and, having taken quite some trouble arranging a car with an English speaking sat-nav system there was even then the rather thorny issue that whilst our Mazda MPV would talk to us in English, it would still need to be programmed in Japanese to get uis from Narita to Fuji Speedway!

No problem!  We persuaded a helpful hire car firm employee to sort it for us, or so we thought – After the first 30 minutes on the road, and with the term ‘road’ translating to seemingly ever more tight and twisty rural byways, it seemed clear that the helpful fellow had failed to select the ‘fastest’ route option!

After a 12 hour flight the Ed was having a growing sense of humour failure, that was until we finally hit a faster road, but moments after we finally got the car into third gear there was a major surprise, as we passed a (very) rural smallholding the five occupants of the car chorused “What was THAT!!”

‘That’, as we found out after a rapid U Turn, was a selection of rather bent previously roadgoing sportscars atop a barn, including a Ferrari 308 and a Lotus Europa.

What had really caught our eyes though was what I had thought was a rather incomplete Lola T70 Spider.

It turned out to be something even more exotic and, as we turned into the paddock of the smallholding we met its owner who explained very rapidly that the car, or by now (and with the benefit of a closer look) more obviously the styling buck, was actually a Toyota 7, the 1968 Group 7 behemoth.

And that wasn’t all, there was a line-up of interesting road cars under a car porch, including a very original, and complete, baby blue Peugeot 205 T16.

On the other side of the yard was another styling buck, this time in polystyrene, and this time a late mid-1960s Ferrari Dino racer “A car built for a film” explained our host.

On the wall of the barn was a painting of anther piece of top quality Japanese racing exotica, A Prince Nissan R380.  And it is this car, rather more than the Toyota, that is a part of the story behind the treasure trove we’d stumbled upon.

Nautilus are a top quality body shop and had succeeded in 2001 in getting the necessary approvals to begin very limited production of R380 replicas, indeed there were some early body bucks for the replicas nestling in the weeds!

The R380 was designed and built by the Prince Motor Company to take on the then dominant Porsche 906s at the Japanese Grand Prix in both 1966 and 1967, the 380s emerging victorious at their first outing but losing out the following year as Prince was merged into the Nissan company, the cars were redesigned under Nissan and started a line of ‘R’ cars that lasted well into the 1970s before the moniker was revived in the late 1990s with the TWR designed R390 and the open LMP R391 of 1999.

With a handshake and a reassurance that we were on the correct (if long and winding) road we were off once again, with Tokyo looming large it was still a slow passage but there was plenty to see, not least the opportunity to soak up more and more of what must be the strongest indigenously unique car culture left on the planet.

With a large number of strong automotive manufacturers there’s still plenty of room for local buyers to express their individuality, In Japan the tuning scene is massive, and there’s no shortage of seemingly ‘stock’ cars featuring the chromed badges of a tuning (or styling) house, the seemingly standard lines hiding some performance or trim upgrades.

Then there are the wackier end of the market – I’ve seen the odd example (with the emphasis on the word odd) of the Mitsuoka brand, the company specialising in presenting their take, or homage, to some classic British metal with comprehensively restyled examples of standard Japanese machinery – MkII Jaguar on a Nissan Micra? That’ll be a Mitsuoka Viewt, and we saw a number of them! Rolls Royce Silver Cloud on a Nissan Cedric – That’ll be the Galue!!  They are beautifully finished, and kind of culturally flattering but, when push comes to shove, weird!!!

The other uniquely Japanese car trend, the ‘Kei’ or ‘K’ Car, has been around for a while, and from time to time examples find their way to these shores too.

The basic principle is a smaller size and weight of car with tiny, often turbocharged engines to comply with major restrictions on tax and insurance costs, and, particularly in the major urban areas, on the availability of parking too.

Earlier examples of the genre included some highly styled sporty cars including the front engined Suzuki Cappucino and the mid engined Honda Beat from 1991, both pretty little cars that pre-dated the conceptually similar Smart Roadster by more than a decade.

More recent examples seem to have one styling aspect in common – As time goes on they use the regulated dimensions as a challenge – These things literally do look more and more like boxes on wheel, at times to a near comedic degree!

One major lesson we had already learned though was to bring a map!  A trip that could have taken as little as a couple of hours was stretching beyond double that and a closed motorway as we got within reach of Gotenba, the town closest to the circuit, wasn’t helping – There was though a moment of levity when we realised we were sitting in a queue of traffic just by the charmingly named town of Takenoshita!!

From there on in it was simply an excellent weekend of racing, a real event as we’ve written elsewhere, with friendly locals, excellent food and a big and evidently very knowledgeably crowd at the circuit – If only every international sportscar race was like this!

Post race we had an opportunity for a night in Tokyo to celebrate Dave Lord’s 50th birthday earlier in the year and a fine time was had by all, taking in some of the sights and, in particular, not acting our ages at all on the world famous Shibuya X crossing.

The WEC will be back in Japan in 2013 and there is likely to be a stampede of DSCers eager to join in the fun on that trip – They’re all going to be in the queue behind yours truly!

Next - and last - in this short series will be the WEC's season finale in relatively nearby Shanghai - but, as you'll read later, it was, in reality, a world away.