As you’ve hopefully gathered, the inaugural Golden Week Kyusha Festival featured a beautiful display of old Japanese cars. Going a bit deeper, it was an awesome mash-up of styles old and new, of cars in stock trim sitting next to those that have been modified inside and out.
As I did one last lap of the show with my film camera, loading one last roll – some Kodak Ektachrome 100 thanks to my friend John Jack Cirone — my mind couldn’t help but wander. What makes these cars so special? What makes us like them so much today? Is it the analog feel, the nostalgic experience, the vintage aesthetic?
I certainly don’t have a definitive answer, but, ultimately, it begs a larger question: What will car culture look like in the future?
As the market sits at the moment, you have so many avenues to travel if you own a classic Japanese car. Take this pair of Supras and their owners from the show — I’m confident you can place who owns which. At one time these cars would have been practically identical, yet today they could hardly be more different. Simply put, an awesome diversity is available today to enthusiasts, builders, and car show connoisseurs when it comes to older Japanese cars.
This extends to other areas, too. Last year, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion featured a Japanese marque (Nissan) for the first time. On the other side of Monterey Car Week at Pebble Beach, Infiniti dedicated a significant amount of real estate to the Japanese Auto Invitational, a nicely curated collection of Japanese hero cars which spanned multiple decades and covered a variety of brands. Plenty of similar examples exist.
It could easily be argued that now is the golden age of the Japanese classic car, but who is to say what the future will bring.
While the Japanese econoboxes of yesteryear have come back in style, looking at the top sellers on the market today isn’t exactly an activity which instills a confidence in what’s to come. In 2018, the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rouge, and Honda CR-V topped the charts. Close behind were the Toyota Camry, Honda Civic, and Toyota Corolla.
Although these brands are making a somewhat serious effort to offer performance-leaning versions of their cars, I just can’t quite see these models appealing to enthusiasts in a couple decades’ time. I have no doubt that these cars could potentially last longer than cars from the ‘70s and ‘80s, but they’ll have to avoid the wrecking yards, and when something mechanical or electrical does go wrong they’ll be infinitely more complex to make right as time goes on.
Still, I’m not sure that during the 1990s anyone thought that a base model Civic from the ’80s would ever begin to appreciate in value. How could a sort-of-ugly, dated car with few amenities ever rise up to collector and enthusiast status?
The same goes for the Japanese heavy-hitters of the ’90s. Did anyone two decades ago really expect low-mile examples of the NSX or the Supra to be fetching six figures today?
Meanwhile, considering the modern equivalent of the Skyline, Supra, Celica, Z-car and so on, our options are a little disappointing. Just from an aesthetic standpoint, albeit subject to personal preference, it’s safe to say we were better off a few decades back. I know I should be thankful that some versions of cars similar to these exist at all today, but for better and worse the driving experience has also changed dramatically.
Again, think 20 or 30 years into the future. What will these cars sold today look like then? What will we think of them? How will they make us feel in a world which seems to be heading towards an automated automotive experience?
Will we just be so desperate for a backroad blast behind the wheel that any car from the 2010s will be sufficient? Will we genuinely like how a 2020 Camry looks in 2040, or will we still pine for an unrefined brick from the 1980s?
As time goes on, decent examples from decades past will dwindle and much of the existing stock will be built for whatever is popular at the moment. Tastes change, cars come and go, and modern design language is less and less palatable to automotive enthusiasts.
We do our best to hold on to the past, to preserve the styles, to update a piece of history, but progress marches on regardless.
But for now, shows like the Golden Week Kyusha Festival allow us a temporary respite from the cookie-cutter cars of today, an event which is one of a growing handful of bastions celebrating the nostalgic experience.
Let’s hope they continue to grow.