Now in its second year, Rally Nippon is quickly building its status as the year-end event on the Japanese historic rally scene. Running from Tokyo (the Eastern capital) to Kyoto (Japan's original capital), the rally takes in ancient castles, shrines and other places of interest and importance along its 1,200km route. The cars on the event are the creme de la creme of historic automobiles, such as this 1954 AC Ace.
Eighty two years old it may be, but this 1928 Bentley W.O. 6 1/2 litre (named after the great man himself, Walter Owen Bentley) just came off a successful campaign at last month's 1,600km La Festa Mille Miglia. Those small fenders meant only one thing back in the day: this is a racing car.
The rally set off from Akasaka, located right in the centre of the city. Being the middle of a weekday morning I didn't expect to see many people milling around, but there was a considerable crowd and lots of media attention (this is Tokyo's TV hub).
The Saltaire (Scottish flag) and the words Ecurie Ecosse on this Jaguar XK120 caught my eye as the crew passed under the starting gate.
The event jacket worn by all competitors was refreshingly simple and uncluttered. Showing a vintage racing car rendering was perfect.
There were a number of (Japan-based) foreign entrants on the event, this gentleman driving a 1965 Ford Cobra 427. Those headers let out a rumble that echoed off the surrounding buildings. Beautiful.
Like an air ace from days of yore, this fellow looked the part better than anyone else on the event in my opinion.
…and this was the perfect mount for him.
Another machine I was eager to introduce at La Festa, a 1930 Aston Martin International, made for racing at Le Mans, still Earth's single most important race.
The event featured a good crop of Aston Martin entries. This 1951 DB2 Vantage was one of three such models competing.
A look over the cockpit of the 1936 Jaguar SS100 and towads the Aston Martin and Bentley ahead. There was an amazing amount of iconic British Engineering on display.
Here's another DB2, this one a DHC (drophead coupe) from 1952.
The owner was kind enough to step out and let me take a photo of the interior, which is not only beautiful with its cream coloured calfskin leather and maroon carpeting, it's also highly practical!
Here's another view of the Jaguar XK120 shown earlier. Those lines are just unbelievable!
Here's a side view of Jaguar's first car, the SS100 from 1936. Just think, they were a sidecar manufacturer until they built this!
At the head of the starting lineup it was no surprise to see a pair of France's greatest-ever marque, Bugatti. In the foreground a 1925 T35B and a 1928 T43GS (which has just come back from the U.S. after a two and a half year restoration. It was absolutely breathtaking!)
This 1924 Bentley W.O. is being driven by well-known SUPER GT team owner and all-round car enthusiast Ricky Chiba.
Ahhhh yes, Gullwings. I say Gullwings because like at La Festa there were a pair of examples (neither of which contested last month's marathon event). This one is a 1956 300SL.
While this is another masterpiece from Mercedes-Benz, it is a particularly rare example of the firm's 190 model, the 190SLR (1957).
From the same year as the black Gullwing, this 300SL was mesmerising – and practically silent as it rolled past.
This pair has come all the way from Kita Kyushu, that's a good 1,800kms west of Tokyo by road.
Time to look at a few Italian marques now, starting off with one of Ferrari's signature models from the mid-sixties, the 275 GTB/4, the predecessor to the incomparable Daytona.
The most valuable machine contesting the rally? Quite possibly. This work of art is a 1957 Maserati 450GS, the final in a line of incredible cars (the 150 and 300 coming before it) from the make.
Looking at it from the rear, I'm pretty much lost for words. Nothing compares to the sheer purpose and aggressiveness of the car. Oh and stance? Now that is perfect stance in my opinion.
Another Italian beauty, this is a 1958 Lancia Aurelia B24 convertible. Just as the '20s were the golden years for the likes of Bentley and Bugatti, the fifties and sixties surely were the Renaissance for Italian car makers.
Rear view shows perfectly thought-out lines, there's not a bad angle on the car.
Another iconic Italian design, the Alfa Romeo TZ (this is a TZ2) is instantly recognisable, particularly from the rear.
The front of the car is so clean and perfect – no wonder they're worth a fortune!
Lancia's executive model in 1962 was this Fulaminia 3C Sport with coachwork by Zagato.
Back to the '40s and this 1949 Bentley Royston Special (listed as a Roiston Special in the entrants' list), a giant of a machine.
Even more desirable (in my humble opinion) than the famous DB5, Aston Martin DB4s have a beauty all their own…
…never moreso than in GT guise. This is the best Aston of the sixties, bar none.
Maybe I should have used this as the opening shot… It's the unbelievably rare open top version of the Toyota 2000GT, built from 1967 to 1970. Some people refer to the car as the 'Japanese E-Type' though I'm not sure I agree. Of this particular example there are, at most, two in the world; one was used in the James Bond film 'You Only Live Twice', and the other existing example (which couldn't be completed in time for the film) was constructed in 1984. Or so the story goes….
Not as rare but still appealing in its own way (though if I ever got my hands on a Mercedes-Benz 190SL, I'd quickly give it the 'treatment', making it as close to the 190SLR seen earlier in this post).
Porsche 356 variants are always popular on events like this, and seeing the 356A Coupe (#49) pulling out of the turn around area as a 356B Carrera 2 pulled in, I just had to take a picture. Both cars are from the same year, 1959.
Here's one of a pair of 'regular' Toyota 2000GT MF10 entries on the event, this one a 1968 model…
And here's the sole example on this rally of the car that apparently inspired the design of Toyota's masterpiece above. But surely the Jaguar E-Type is the sexiest car ever. I mean, come on!
Ferrari 246 GTS. Strictly speaking, not actually a Ferrari but a Dino (but of course, it is a Ferrari), this example is one of only 72 ever made, the GTS. Check out the lips on the fenders, dead giveaway.
Here's the other 'regular' Toyota 2000GT MF10. Fewer than 300 were made in the four-year model run from '67 to '70.
Now this really blew me away, a 1971 Nissan Bluebird U. This is exactly as the car came from the factory – amazingly cool. Can you imagine seeing this, on the streets of Tokyo (or Osaka as this one's registration suggests) in 1971? Intense.
One of the prettiest designs of the '60s for sure, and another iconic model from Mercedes-Benz. The 280SL (this is a 1970 example) captivated an entire generation of drivers – those that could afford one, that is.
Another timeless German penning, the most iconic design of all time? It could well be. For just about 50 years the basic shape hasn't changed significantly, and the design it came from (the 356) lasted a good long while before the 911 came on the scene. This pristine example is a 1969 911S.
Here's a regular Dino, a 1968 246 GTB. One of a handful of cars with an all-female crew. Cool.
Bringing up the rear on this most prestigious event was the latest from M-B, the recently-released SLS. Wholly appropriate.
This was the first time I'd attended Rally Nippon, and it was a joy to behold all the cars. Next year I'm planning on following the rally over its entire route all the way to Kyoto over the four days. It's something I'm already looking forward to.
– Len Clarke