The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘paradise’ as “a place or condition of great happiness where everything is exactly as you would like it to be.” For some, paradise might be a tropical island. For me, it’s a visit to Flex Auto Review in Yokohama.
I’d been meaning to visit this specialist dealership for a while, and when I finally had a free afternoon recently I made a point to stop by and see what interesting cars were in stock.
Flex is a chain of Japanese dealerships of which some specialise in particular vehicles. There’s a Flex group that exclusively sells Toyota Hiace vans, a few that only stock Toyota Land Cruisers, and a couple which deal only in Jeeps. Then there’s Flex Auto Review, who are merchants of fine Japanese kyusha, many of which are sports models.
Flex Auto Review has just celebrated it’s 25th anniversary, so they must be doing something right. Let’s take a walk around, and I’ll let you pick out your favourite toy…
Walking straight past the Kenmeri Nissan Skyline GT-R replica sitting on SSR Longchamp XR4 wheels, I was drawn to this Subaru 360 Young SS. Rear-engine, manual gearbox, racing stripes – how could I not be pulled in for a closer look?! It looks like a Beetle made love to a Fiat 500 and then joined the local track and field team.
Even rarer than the little 360 was this Isuzu Bellet GT, drawing attention from a potential new owner. This was the first time I’d ever seen one in person, and must say I was impressed by the model’s sleek body lines, twin headlights, shrouded rear arches. The twin carb 1,600cc four-pot up front looked pretty sweet too.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Corolla Levin name, and while the AE86 has certainly made its mark in drifting’s history books, in my opinion it has never won any points for being the most beautifully styled car. But back in 1972, when Toyota first built the TE27 Levin, they designed something which was visually very pleasing indeed. Just look at that staunch little coupe with its muscle car-esque front end and those tall rear quarters and sweeping boot.
In my view, Toyota also got the styling right the first time with the Celica. This GTV was just oozing ’70s Japanese muscle.
As you can see, Flex Auto Review aren’t just selling any old Japanese classic, these are the crème de la crème of nostalgic cars, and not just from Japan either. There were a couple of Mustangs, a pair of Volkswagen Karmann Ghias, a Ford Ranchero ute, and even a 1939 Fiat 500 known colloquially as ‘Topolino’ or ‘little mouse’.
And no Japanese classic car dealership would be complete without at least one Z car. This one had two.
While the Z cars and GT-Rs are undoubtably the heroes of this story, let’s not forget that Japan has produced some superb little roadsters and, unsurprisingly, Flex Auto Review had two of my favourites. While not technically a roadster, the Toyota Sports 800 is quite possibly the coolest mini sports car out there. Front engine, rear-wheel drive and aluminium targa top – it’s a sure recipe for success.
Although it is tiny, with a 790cc boxer engine, it’s not a kei car. In fact, at the time it was considered mid-sized, which makes sense considering kei cars of that era had a maximum capacity of 360cc.
And while it may look dinky and the kind of thing you might visit Noddy in on a sunny Sunday, it actually did quite well as a proper race car, winning the 1965 All-Japan Clubman Championship Race and the 1966 Suzuka 500km Endurance Race, and coming third overall in the 1966 Fuji 24 Hours, beaten only by two 2000GTs. The reason it’s so capable comes down to its power-to-weight ratio. With much of the body work made of aluminium and the rest using super-thin steel, the Super 800 weighs in at featherlight 579kg. With those headlights it also looks just as fast as a 2000GT, but costs only a fraction of one. Pretty tempting, right?
Anyone who knows me knows I love a good bonnet scoop, who doesn’t? Perhaps that’s what draws me toward my second favourite roadster, the Datsun 2000. I love the strong chiselled front end, long, elegant front arches, and the way the rear quarters muscle out into perfect fins on the rear end. It’s the car I imagine a Japanese James Bond driving.
Admittedly my paradise is a garage full of ’90s modern classics, but there are definitely a few of these old timers that I would gladly park up in my fantasy garage. Anyway, it’s getting dark. Did you pick one out yet?