I think it could be fairly argued that we’ve passed the peak of human civilisation. Temperatures and ocean levels are rising while happiness and fertility rates are falling. Ordering a steak is offensive to half the population and owners of fast cars are seen as a menace to society, rather than heroes of speed.
Perhaps a super-intelligent AI will eventually pinpoint the exact moment when the human race tipped over from potential leaders of the free universe to cute but ultimately hopeless primate species. I’ll hazard a guess and say sometime after that glorious decade – the 1980s.
In Japan, people are very frank about the country’s specific decline. The term ‘stagnation’ is used to describe the period from 1992 to present, an economic slump robbing the country of its place at the forefront of technological and cultural advancement. If you’re in the market for a car or camera, buying Japanese is still a wise choice, but it’s no longer the bold and exciting option it was 30-odd years ago.
But it’s a misnomer to believe that the technology of this period is now irrelevant or unusable. I’ve found the contrary to be true – the tech that Japan Inc. pumped out during the ’80s was not only technologically impressive for the era, but robust enough to be enjoyed in 2018.
The Geibunsha publishing company knows this – their Nostalgic Hero and Hachimaru Hero magazines have a strong readership, and once a year they throw a little celebration for their ’80s-loving fans at Fuji Speedway. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to get geeky with some of the great cars of the period.
Although Project NSX rolled out of the Tochigi factory in 1992, its development was absolutely a reflection of the ’80s and in my opinion represents some of the best things about that period wrapped up in an aluminium skin.
I’d be turning the NSX’s keys over to fellow Tokyoite and writer at Japanese Nostalgic Car Brandon Kelley so I could get his thoughts on the car and otherwise just focus on taking photos.
It seemed fitting to bring out a few period-correct cameras for the day, so I left the DSLR on the shelf and instead reached for something a little more retro.
The Canon AE-1 Program was scored off eBay with the attached 50mm 1.8 lens a few years back for a pittance, and had been sitting unused and unloved for some time. In preparation for a day at the track, a new 4LR44 battery and a quick clean was in order.
Seeing as I’d be using either a wide-angle or zoom lens on the AE-1, I also tucked this recently acquired Canon G-III QL17 into my jacket pocket. Its 40mm focal length would split the difference nicely and prevent me being caught out with the wrong lens (or in between rolls) on the SLR.
Canon sold 1.2 million of these in the decade from March 1972, so they are not exactly rare. But for camera nerds, it’s still easy to see why it was so popular: a 40mm lens that goes to f1.7, shutter-priority auto exposure, full manual function, parallax correction, and even a film ‘quick load’ function.
It was really all the new tech that Canon could possibly throw into a camera at that time. Most impressively, even 45 years after introduction most of them still work fine, and produce photos as good as any modern Canon camera.
As with Japanese cars of the era, this is a product of engineer-led design, when maximum performance and longevity took preference over the efficiencies of platform-sharing and planned obsolescence.
Of course, there’s a convenience sacrifice being made if you choose an old camera or car over a new version. But for what you lose in convenience, you gain double in character.
That’s what draws us back to these classics even decades after they were declared ‘old’ by society at large. An analogue experience is a must-try for those who grew up connected to WiFi. Yes, your self-shifted, small-capacity turbo is quicker than literally everything in this story, but cover the badge and it will be almost indistinguishable from every other hot hatch on the market.
So here’s a toast to personality. To cars, cameras and design that made us think, even if they didn’t always make sense.
The unique designs from manufacturers served as the perfect base for customisation. It’s interesting that this style of modification really never went out of fashion in Japan, although it could be argued that the more recent global appreciation for the styles of yesteryear could be driving this recent resurgence.
You’d be pretty ambitious to argue that a set of deep-dish rims and bolt-on flares were ever anything less than the peak of cool.
Making our way up from the carpark to the show itself, the first section we stumbled into was dedicated to movie cars, these two probably being the most iconic to our international readership. There were a virtual fleet of ’80s detective cars from a number of TV dramas that I couldn’t name, although they seemed popular with the locals.
In front of the Fujitsubo exhaust stand (where their recently redesigned L28 manifold was receiving lots of attention) was one of my favourite cars of the event – this silky-smooth yet hyper-angular GX71 Chaser.
Lucky I packed my wide-angle lens to fit these wide rear ends in.
One of my favourite things to check out at the event were these super-cool luxury vans.
In many ways, these are the forerunners of the super high-spec (and super-expensive!) Alphards and Elgrands that cruise along Japan’s expressways today. But infinitely cooler, and in the case of this Delica, significantly more capable in challenging terrain.
For those of you on mobile devices, it reads:
“The luxurious way to go…
The big, comfortable people carrier…
The new multipurpose performer…
The big, practical workhorse…
The “Mitsubishi DELICA” is exciting vehicle!”
Some other whacky branding from Mitsubishi featured on this early Lancer sedan. Many of the cars in the main display area were in stock condition, or close to it, perhaps just with a suspension drop and some factory options, thus falling into the lightly modified kyusha category.
But perhaps the coolest example of 1980s excess is found in some of these more extreme examples of custom shakotan builds.
At the wildest end of the spectrum you arrive at absolutely anti-social zokusha rides. These can often be of very questionable build quality, but this little crew that rolled in and took over a prime section of the general admission parking were actually finished to a really high level. Check out that front lip or deppa – slang for bucktooth and a rather appropriate term.
Although arguably race-inspired, since the Toyota Soarer never raced in any real series this kind of build wouldn’t qualify as grachan (a Japanese/English portmanteau of Grand Champion).
While the flavour of the day was retro cruisers rather than something appropriate for attacking the touge in, there were a few neat performance-oriented builds that I thought were worth a closer look.
I’ve had a major crush on the simple styling of the EF Civic for a few years now, and seeing an EF9 Si-R in track-attack mode is enough to send me into an online classifieds frenzy. Bring back full-width rear light and garnish treatments!
This previous-generation Si featured a host of rather rare, and therefore extremely valuable Mugen parts.
We’re big fans of the work done at R31 House, and it’s always a treat seeing a few of their customer cars at events.
The stance of this Primera was giving off some great British Touring Car Championship vibes, with large-diameter, high-offset wheels kissing the guards.
The exhaust tucked up into a notched rear bumper was an interesting touch that I’ve also seen on some of the early Primeras raced in the BTCC.
I believe this 2.0e GT version came with a transverse SR20VE, but unfortunately as the bonnet was down I couldn’t confirm that on the day. Regardless, it’s a very cool build that was hugely different to most of the other cars present.
This lovely R33 coupe was grabbing my attention for two reasons – the lovely green hue isn’t dissimilar to what Project NSX wears, and the rare full Nismo optional aero kit. Note: not a GT-R!
By the time the day was done, I’d burned through five rolls of film. There was enough ’80s goodness to probably fill 10 rolls or more, but alas, I’d only brought five. I guess a modern 64GB SD card does have its place. Either way, enjoy the exposures in the Cutting Room Floor below!