Whether you agree that the ’60s through to the ’90s was the golden age of rallying or not, it’s hard to deny that this era produced some stupendously awesome machinery.
From a time when top-level motorsport wasn’t quite so stage-managed, underdogs like the Renault 8 Gordini could take on, and sometime beat, the then all-conquering Porsche 911s on now-classic rallies like the Tour De Corse and San Remo.
Of course, this was in the years leading up to Ford introducing the mighty Escort, which in Mk1 RS1600 and Mk2 RS1800 form started wiping the floor with its rivals and winning pretty much everything — until four-wheel drive and the Audi Quattro came along.
One person who would undoubtedly agree with all of the above is Yasuhiro Iwase of famed Tokyo-based shop, Autosport Iwase. Founded in 1985 by Iwase-san, the workshop is a tightly-packed tribute to the awesome cars that the world rally stage gave us.
But Iwase-san isn’t just a rallying enthusiast who turned his passion into a living though. The man is a veteran of stage rallying, having competed in the brutal Safari Rally some 13 times in the 1980s and 1990s – and latterly as part of Toyota Team Europe (TTE).
Iwase-san enjoyed a good degree of success, with a particular highlight being fourth overall on the 1993 Safari behind the wheel of a TTE Group A Celica GT4. He also still holds the honour of being the highest-placed Japanese driver at a World Rally Championship event.
With Iwase-san’s experience, it’s not surprising that although Autosport Iwase can cater for all performance vehicles, the workshop is always crowded with classic and modern classic rally-bred homologation specials.
European specials like the Ford Escort Cosworth were never officially sold in Japan, but that didn’t stop Autosport Iwase from importing the model. Today, that car has a small but strong following in Japan with the shop right at the centre.
Perhaps Autosport Iwase are best known for championing of the Lancia Delta Integrale line though, and over the years the company has probably worked on the majority of the examples that reside in Japan.
Maintaining and improving these cars can be a challenge thanks to the scarcity of available parts, but Autosport Iwase have actively been reproducing a large number of parts for some years now, to help keep surviving examples in top shape.
The Delta went through numerous guises, but perhaps the ultimate incarnation was the S4 — a car which took full advantage of world rallying’s Group B regulations, featuring a mid-mounted, twin-charged (turbo and supercharged) engine, carbon fibre and Kevlar panels, and a full space-frame chassis.
Surviving road-going examples (just 200 needed to be built to satisfy homologation regulations) are few and far between, but naturally Autosport Iwase had one in their workshop for a check-over on the day of Mark’s visit.
That’s not to say that Autosport Iwase ignore their homegrown metal though. On top of producing a whole series of works-reproduction parts for the Celica GT4, owners of Japanese classics are also well catered for — even the TE27 Corolla.
Iwase-san refers to Autosport’s Iwase’s ethos as ‘cultivating knowledge and technology’, and we can’t think of a better approach to looking after these rallying icons.