“If You Have a Passion for Old Cars, We Are All the Same!”
Story and photography by Tim Brown
Tokyo is a city in which you shouldn’t really be surprised by anything. There can be hidden gems nestled behind every gate, door, or shutter, so for a photographer or inquisitive car guy it’s the kind of place that it really pays to keep your eyes open at all times. One example is my discovery of ‘Automobile Hiroshima Ltd.’, which despite the name is located in an unremarkable suburb of Tokyo. It’s pretty much off the beaten track, but I happened to pass it in a taxi on the way to a restaurant. Idly gazing out of the window, I was jolted awake when I glimpsed the distinctive noses of an E-type and XK120 protruding. Since I was running late for dinner I couldn’t stop the driver for a closer look, instead resolving to retrace the journey later that evening. After a long virtual wander via Google Streetview, I eventually found it.
I decided to drop by the garage the following morning; unknown, unannounced, and slightly unnerved at the prospect of walking into a stranger’s place of work and asking if we could invade their privacy–especially so in Japan where proper manners and procedures are hugely important. Admittedly it helps to have a native speaker with you (luckily I’m married to one), but anyway I needn’t have worried; instead of a dismissive wave of the hand or the suspicious questioning I was steeling myself for, my request to shoot the workshop was met with a cheery; “sure, you can go anywhere you like!” from the owner of this one-man operation, Mr. Hisao Sakoda.
If I was excited by the fleeting glance from a speeding taxi, I was grinning like a kid in a toy shop as my eyes adjusted to the dimly lit Aladdin’s cave. Filled to bursting with steering wheels, hoods, headlamps, grilles (predominantly but not exclusively Jaguar), tools, posters, old race roundels (many from Japanese tours like ‘La Festa Mille Miglia’) and of course cars, this was clearly a lifetime’s worth of collection, passion, and expertise. Apart from the silver Series III E-type and the mint-condition pale-sage XK120 visible from the road, there were two more E-types (a red Series I and a baby blue Series II on a lift) plus a navy-blue Mark II jammed in the middle. It was hard to know where to look as every direction revealed something interesting scattered about the place–a pile of tools here, various components there. It was certainly a strong antidote to the trend of surgical-grade cleanliness that seems to be becoming standard for high-end garages.
Sakoda-san took a break from fixing the window winder mechanism on the Series III E-type and invited us into the fully stocked bar he’s constructed in the workshop, complete with more memorabilia including framed pictures of himself with racers Stirling Moss and Jean Alesi. As we talked over coffee (served in delicate English tea-cups), Sakoda-san became very animated and retrieved old photo albums, books, and models from behind the counter to show us. One album contained pictures of his previous project car, a Mk II for which he’d fabricated an entire new body in aluminium. Including a stripped out interior, the diet saved hundreds of kilograms from the stock car, which along with some mild engine tuning made for fourteen second ¼ mile runs–more than enough to keep up with Skyline GT-Rs at that time. Sakoda-san raced it in amateur events at Tsukuba Circuit on occasion, but knew it would never be certifiable for more serious FIA series as the modifications were too extensive.
Another album contained pictures from a classic event Sakoda-san had attended at Donington Park circuit in England around fifteen years ago, many of a low-drag coupe. When I noted that the low-drag was a particular favourite of mine, he suggested we take a look around the side of the garage, where he was keeping his next project; a fixed-head E-type he would be converting into a low-drag coupe. He’d made a start on the front end, preparing the bonnet to take the extra driving lights, and also had the running gear sorted out. Like the Mk II project before it, this wouldn’t be one for the purists as Sakoda-san has fitted a Chevy V8 for the easy power it gives up over the straight six Jaguar blocks. Keeping the project Jaguar company in the yard was a brace of Mk IIs and an XJ6, in varying conditions, as well as the odd engine block and gearbox!
Before we left, we confided in Sakoda-san that we were worried our initial approach wouldn’t be appreciated–not many people would be so welcoming to an unannounced gaijin wielding a camera. His response was simply; “it doesn’t matter where you are from or who you are, if you have a passion for old cars, we are all the same!” When you have someone so willing to share that passion, you realise it’s not just the cars that keep it alive.