GALLERY: Hunting American Muscle Cars And More On A Sunday Morning In Tokyo
Photography by Ken Saito
If you think car meets in Japan are all about blinking neon lights, wild fiberglass body kits, or else tight, compact, domestic market efficiency, then you just haven’t been looking very hard. While most car meets in Japan are often of the impromptu variety with little in the way of a centralized theme, the weekend morning Cars & Coffee-style meet at the Daikanyama T-Site on the second Sunday of the month aims to change that.
Having been held for a few years now, the Daikanyama “Morning Cruise” has become a staple in the Tokyo automotive scene. It’s something local enthusiasts look forward to each month, the kind of reliably good show that coaxes otherwise dormant machines from their cozy garage bays and into the world proper. The organizers of the event, a group of enthusiasts who are also in charge of the automotive section of the nearby bookshop, usually announce the theme of the Morning Cruise a week or two beforehand. It’s always changing, which in turn keeps the Cruises fresh and worth attending multiple times in a row. While some of the themes have been predictable (Porsche 356s, British cars, G-Wagons, etc) there have been some quirkier ones as of late.
With more than 76 dedicated-theme meets under its belt, the Daikanyama Morning Cruise has had to think further outside the box to avoid repetition. More recently there’s been an EV/Hybrid meet (I assumed nobody here would be interested in reading about that!), a Mercedes W124 event, and a pre-1975 American car get together. Readers from the States might see Challengers and Camaros and such on a regular basis, but all the way out here these things stick out more than American tourists. While I’m far from an expert in Detroit iron, especially the examples from before my time, curiosity dragged me out to the quiet suburb of Daikanyama at 7AM on a recent Sunday morning to get a proper dose of V8.
From patina’d and pristine pick-ups, to a rather lovely green Z28, a peachy Plum Purple Challenger, a couple of Mustangs, a handful of ‘Cudas, and of course a posse of Corvettes, it was one of the most “on theme” Morning Cruises I’ve attended.
It was obvious that these cars were owned by meticulous people, as are many of the vintage automobiles in this country—quite simply, it costs a lot to own them here, and it shows in the care their owners give these cars. There’s no shortage of Americana fans in Japan, and most of the cars at the meet were in fact registered in areas of Chiba and Yokohama where American culture is particularly popular on the count of the surfing culture and presence of U.S. military bases.
Judging by their owners, these muscle cars would’ve been the poster cars of their youths, and while the Japanese number plates may look odd under the grilles of these big muscle and pony cars, just think how much stranger the cars would have seemed to the average car-obsessed Japanese in the 1960s, reading about the foreign works from GM and Ford and Dodge.
As with every Morning Cruise I’ve attended thus far, there was also nice mix of non-theme cars in attendance. These were parked separately from the main attractions, in case one wasn’t aware that a Honda S800 or a TVR Sagaris are not Made in America. Some of the more interesting from this lot also included a Weismann GT. Remember these? Using a BMW-sourced V8 powertrain wrapped up in a classic British roadster shape, a couple of these oddballs seem to have found equally eclectic owners in this country.
Speaking of oddball sports cars, smaller British manufacturers such as Sunbeam, Ginetta, and TVR all have small but strong followings in Japan. The silver Sagaris pictured above is a regular at car meets across Tokyo for instance. Lotuses (Loti just sounds pretentious, sorry) are also popular choices for those drawn to the compact sports car market (which is small in more ways than one), and there are always a couple of Elises or an Exige at the Daikanyama Morning Cruise.
Slightly rarer were the white W126 S-Class and the C43 AMG parked nearby. Domestic cars were represented in the form of a clean FC-generation Mazda RX-7 convertible, a Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R, and a Honda S660. Yes, even in a meet where the theme is celebrating big-ass American engines and brash muscle car styling, you still get to see a 660cc Honda sports car! Cars & Coffee may have more volume Stateside, but in my mind Japan will always be the king of the parking lot car show.