Kanpachi Dori Is The Street To Visit If You’re Seeking A Special Car In Tokyo
Photography by Ken Saito
There’s a street in a posh suburb of Tokyo where some of the most interesting cars in the country can be found for sale. It’s a place most petrolheads in Japan are familiar with, and first-timers tend to spend the whole day walking between the shops and dealers regardless of whether or not they have the yen to spend on the goods inside—prime window shopping territory. The diversity of cars behind the gates and glass is as remarkable as you’d expect from this country, and for those interested in buying into the classic car lifestyle in Japan—whether we’re talking ‘60s Italian coupes or ‘90s German sport sedans—you’ll find what you’re looking for here.
Called Kanpachi Dori, it’s a stretch of road that goes from Haneda Airport right around the western side of Tokyo towards Nerima Ward. For this article I chose to just look at the shops concentrated around the Setagaya area, otherwise it would go on forever. I an Alpine A110 loaner to drive around the various shops during my visit, and though it’s far from home, it fit right in here, surrounded as it was by a truly international automotive presence.
Logistically, the location of Kanpachi Dori in southwest Tokyo is important for many of the dealers here. Not only are they able to serve customers from the greater Tokyo area, and the quirky tastes of the people in Setagaya, but also customers in Kanagawa in the south and Shizuoka and beyond westward. That’s thank to their close proximity to the Tomei Expressway, which connects Tokyo to other large cities like Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka. Talking to the proprietors, it seems that the majority of the cars on this road sell within Japan, but some are exported abroad, especially the ‘80s and ‘90s models that have been enjoying renewed interest lately.
I started my journey through Kanpachi Dori from Den-en Chofu Station, and headed northward. My first stop was Flex Auto Review. These guys specialize in ‘70s and ‘80s cars, primarily Japanese-made, but also have some European and American cars passing through the shop from time to time. Their main showroom is in Yokohama, but this satellite location had some enthusiast vehicles on display, including a 1990 Mitsubishi Starion GSR-VR, and a 1987 Mitsubishi Lancer EX 1800GSR Turbo. For more nostalgia, a Nissan Skyline R30 and Toyota Mark-II sat outside the shop.
Going up to the Tomei Highway ramp and U-turning to go south, I made a quick stop at SunBeam. For the past 30 years, they’ve been focused on selling and servicing BMWs. Inside the shop sat three E46 M3s, including a rare CSL example. Outside, an E92 M3 and a late-model M4 were parked on either side of the workshop. If you’re into tastefully-modified M cars, BBS wheels, and paint colors between white and black, mark this on your travel map.
Continuing on the BMW theme, Energy Motorsports was the next shop on my route. Whereas SunBeam was more about staying true to the BMW philosophy, Energy Motorsports is all about dressing them up to be as wild as possible. They started out modifying an E46 3-Series, and today sell bodykits, suspension setups, and exhausts for pretty much any modern BMW you can bring in. Their second-generation i8 kit was set to debut soon when I visited, but the first generation of their i8 bodywork was on display for the time being. Not the cleanest or subtlest, but there would be plenty of that to come.
From BMW to Mercedes, and from stacks of vents to pristine examples of smooth black paintwork. J Auto is the go-to place for all things ‘80s and ‘90s Mercedes-Benz. Specializing in the fast’n’boxy sedans and coupes from that era, such as the 500E, 190E Evolution, and various AMG’d W124s, W140s, and R129s, this is a little bit of Stuttgart living in Tokyo. This was hands down my favorite showroom of the tour as well, such were the people and cars waiting inside. There was one car that stood out among a showroom featuring an E60 AMG, three 500Es, and an E500 6.0: it was the E60 AMG Limited. With only a handful ever made (Merc says 12), this is the ultimate W124, and for $170,000, it better be!
Next up on the route was Shinoda Automobile, arguably one of the most interesting shops here by way of variety. In the recent past, highlights include an XJR-15, Lexus LFA, Toyota 2000GT, Aston Martin Vantage V600 Le Mans, and a Peugeot 205 T16 to name a few odd bedfellows. These guys deal in the rare and odd, categories that appeal most to the petrolheads of Setagaya. As I mentioned, the Alpine fit right in.
While my visit there didn’t have any of those aforementioned cars in the showroom, there were still some cars worth snapping, like a 25th Anniversary Countach, a dark green Fairlady Z432, a Porsche 911 Turbo Slatnose, a Renault 5 Turbo, an Aston Martin DB2/4, an Alfa Romeo 2600 Sport Zagato, and a mint-condition Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R with only 251kms registered. Their inventory is always changing, always offering up a smorgasbord of time and place.
Driving a bit further down the road, there’s a small shop tucked in a corner called Prestige. They only deal in 930, 964, and 993-generation Porsche 911s. They’re only a small shop, but don’t let the footprint fool you, as they’re one of the most highly regarded 911 specialist shops in all of Tokyo. The 1991 Guards Red 964 Turbo for sale was enough to get the drool glands going, but inside lay the real prize: a Rubystone Red 964 Carrera 2 Cup car with RSR-look bodywork. This was used by the owner of Prestige to race in the Porsche Carrera Cup Japan and other cup races for eight years of dutiful service.
The next stop was Axle. Unfortunately this was only a short visit, as their showroom was being renovated and they only had a few cars out at a temporary lot nearby. But it was worth stopping by just to see their Mitsuoka Orochi.
This weird Japanese mid-engine sports car is quite a rare sight, even here, as there are only 140 in the world. Their example was finished in a pearl white paint with a blue hue in the right lights. Price? Somewhere around the $90,000 mark. These are powered by Toyota V6s, are based on the first-gen NSX platform, and are about as attention-grabbing as it gets on four wheels. Ugly? Perhaps. Fast? No. Something that will draw you in for a closer look? Absolutely.
Flex was the next destination on my list. You won’t find any exotic fare or interesting French rally cars here, though. Instead you’ll enter a shop full of lifted 4x4s—because that’s just what you need in a leafy suburb in Tokyo, right? As in the rest of the world these days, the whole nostalgic Land Cruiser and 4×4 trend is becoming quite a popular movement in Japan, but even more so in the hip areas of Setagaya.
People looking for beige-colored Land Cruisers and Jeeps covered have just one stop to make. Flex does all their modifications in-house, so if there isn’t anything in their inventory that tickles your fancy, fret not. You can simply give them your ideas and specifications (and payment details) and they’ll be able to customize another one for you however you like.
One block over from Flex is a completely different sort of “flex”: supercars. Aria Garage is well-versed in exotic automobiles. Ever since I moved to Japan three years ago, Aria Garage has been one of my favorite places to pop in. Not only is the staff friendly (and they speak a little bit of English!), but they always have something interesting and different to talk about each time I visit. This time they had a F40 on display, as well as a recently-restored Ferrari 365BB with Ferrari Classiche certification. That car was being stored for a customer, but the rest of their showroom was for sale, including a low-mileage Ferrari F355 Berlinetta with a six-speed manual. With only 9,100km on the odo, the asking price was a hefty $175,000. This, or the E60 AMG Limited?
The penultimate shop in my visit to Kanpachi Dori was Collezione. Purveyors of French and Italian cars, this shop always has very cool and odd bits of metal in stock. The cars just ooze here; style, grace, pure presence. For example, how often do you go into a showroom with a Lancia Fulvia Sport Zagato for sale, coincidentally right next to a regular Fulvia? Or an Abarth Simca 2000GT just casually out on the forecourt? Even their service area is a place of wonder, with not one but two Lancia Delta Integrales, a Maserati Ghibli Cup, and a stunning wine red Alfa Romeo Giulia Super lined up during my visit. It was all very impressive, even if the Ghibli never really was!
Finally, there’s Planex Cars. These guys were the definition of humble. I told them I was here to document some interesting cars they had for a story, and they said other dealers in Kanpachi Dori would have more unique things. Yet inside they had a Maserati Sebring, a Porsche 964 Speedster, a 997 Speedster, and a genuine Group A R32 Skyline GT-R. The showroom was also decorated with a bunch of cool automotive paraphernalia, such as a miniature Ferrari 250LM, a spread of racing helmets, and of course a smattering of trophies. If you look at the full inventory on their website, you’ll see they also have a Mercedes-Benz 190E Evo I, a rare blue NA1 Acura NSX, and even a Porsche 962C to round it out.
Setagaya, and Kanpachi Dori, are, in a word, unique. I can’t think of anywhere else where one street is so influenced by its customer base and in turn so influential to its customer base. The internet has certainly opened up the channels of demand, but it still feels very local here, and many of the unique vehicle you’ll spot in the residential parking garages will have been sold from a local dealer. In that sense, Kanpachi Dori represents the insular and international forces at play in great Japan. Good thing we’re just here to geek out over cars and not get into geopolitics.