Tokyo Underground: Germany vs. Japan

Germany vs. Japan: If you watched the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 recently, you’ll know who came out on top of that particular battle. But when it comes to building sports cars, who does it best – Nippon or Deutschland?

At the Tokyo Underground Meet last weekend, I set myself the task to find out.


The usual battle is European vs. Japanese, but that seems a bit unfair to me. Because comparing a Ferrari to a Mitsubishi is like comparing a lion with a  – they both have fabulous hair, but one will eventually eat the other for breakfast. So, fixing Japanese cars against German cars – which are arguably more comfortable in the tuner world than say, a McLaren – seems more of a fair fight.


In the black, red and yellow corner we have Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Porsche. All four marques have some incredible machines in their back catalogue, but Mercedes was the best represented German manufacturer at the meet, with BMW a very close second.


Speaking of which, the great thing about bringing a wagon to an international car-off is that there’s plenty of space in the boot for cleaning supplies, spare wheels and boxes of Little Trees air fresheners. Ron featured this E34 BMW 540i in 2016, but since then it’s evolved even further, so I’ll be taking another look at it very soon.


But back to Mercedes-Benz, which was named after Karl Benz and Mercedes Jellinek. Benz was, of course, one of the creators of the very first internal combustion engine; Mercedes was the daughter of the bloke with the bank roll.

If you want to start keeping score, I think we can give points to the Germans for ingenuity and passion, because if it wasn’t for the inventions of Karl Benz and his team, we would not be hanging around in carparks lusting over beautiful lumps of iron and choking on exhaust fumes.


So the Germans have the heft of history behind them, and with that weight comes a sense of power.

There’s an air of old money around German cars. The plush leather interiors, the somber colour pallets and the power-hungry, gas-guzzling engines all stink of opulence, prestige and luxury.

The ultimate goal for the German car is to get from A to B as luxuriously and with as much speed as possible. Even if it means being stranded on the hard shoulder of an Autobahn every once in a while.


You see, the problem with high power, high speed and the high cheekbones of the automotive monarchy is that they tend to be high maintenance, when compared to the bulletproof nature of their Eastern counterparts. They might be precision engineered, but these tanks are a little on the needy side.


What the Germans excel at however is – despite the frequent pit stops – going fast for long distances for long periods of time. The Porsche 911 GT1 is proof that German cars have the guts to take on the cream of European engineering. Then of course there’s circuit racing, where BMW and Mercedes-Benz became poster cars of touring car competitions. Points.


The cool factor of seeing these cars in Japan deserves a few points, too. After three years of living here, spotting a Nissan Skyline GT-R in the wild has definitely lost its wow factor. I still get excited for the JDM halo cars, but when I see an 190 E 2.5-16 Evo I out on the streets, it’s more of a running across double lanes of traffic to snap a picture level of excitement.

RWB – Neutral Territory

I’ve now lost track of how many points team Germany have gained, but it doesn’t really matter anyway because I’m about to award all available points to the RWB Porsches. They’re the perfect blend of German engineering and refinement, embellished with Japanese madness and fun.


RWB cars sit comfortably between the two cultures, not quite one or the other. Nakai-san has made such an impact on the tuning world with his creations that the line is blurred between East and West, and that is a very good thing.

Many loved to hate the new Supra for having a German heart, but soon realised that the A90 as a whole was more important than who designed what.


I think we can all agree that the child-like joy and sense of humour that the Japanese have riveted onto the side of these brutal German cars is something well deserving of the celebration RWB cars receive. The world just wouldn’t be the same without Rough, and we have both nations to thank for that.


In the white and red corner we have Japan, the gracious host of this particular gathering. The Japanese may have arrived relatively late to the car manufacturing game, but their impact on the industry has been monumental. The beginning of the Japanese automotive industry was a little less inspired than that of the Germans. Nonetheless, the Japanese have cars like the Supra, NSX and Skyline GT-R in their corner, which is tough competition, even for the almighty Porsche.


They began by manufacturing American and European cars for domestic use, but soon enough developed their own versions based on what they had learnt. This seems to be a trait of the Japanese; they’ve never really invented the wheel, but when they reinterpret the wheel, they often outshine the original.


Aside from the car, there are numerous other examples where the Japanese development of a foreign idea changed the world we live in. Here are three but there are many more: The quartz watch. High speed rail (shinkansen). The Sony Walkman.

The Nissan Skyline GT-R is arguably Japan’s greatest reinvention of the wheel. It’s a car that can easily adapt to just about any circuit and look good while doing it. Its AWD system, all-wheel steering, insane performance and sharp looks catapulted it to alien god status immediately.


While the Audi Quattro may have been the first proper AWD performance car, it was cars like the Subaru Impreza WRX, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and aforementioned GT-R which took the platform into the stratosphere.

Let’s not overlook the rotary either, another gem invented by the Germans, presumably as some kind of very dry joke, that was developed into a mass-produced, completely serious engine by the Japanese. On the rotary note, stay tuned for a feature on the RX-7 above…

As well as the other-worldly performance of Japanese sports cars, Japanese design probably deserves a nod too. ‘Futuristic’, ‘out there’ and ‘fun’ are all terms I would use to describe some of the JDM icons we know and love.


Then there’s car culture in Japan. Recognised the world over as being eclectic, somehow relaxed and crazy at the same time, polite, considerate and just plain cool. The proud yet humble Japanese enthusiasts feed off each other to create a car culture unlike anywhere else in the world. That must be worth a few points.


It’s a car culture which, despite English being a relatively alien language here, accepts and embraces all brands, marques and people with genuine hospitality.


So at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter which country builds the best cars, because there really isn’t anything better than car culture itself. That’s the real winner.

I’ll leave you here, with a final gallery chapter below, because it’s about enjoying all the different flavours for their own unique quirks. Car culture is a dog park on Sunday; each beast is as amazing as the rest so let’s embrace their brilliance without bias or judgment.

Toby Thyer
Instagram _tobinsta_



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Just comes down to preference like your favorite pair of sneakers.

They reward in different ways but ultimately puts the same smile on the driver behind the wheel. There's the outright track prowess of GT3 RS's then there's the fleet-footedness of any Hondas on any twisty backroads. Do you prefer the burble of a STi's flat 4 or the bass tone of an AMG V8?

And Toby - were 190E's always this popular at these sort of shows or is it a new trend since E30 M3's wow factor is gone like a Nissan GT-R's? Seems like they started to blow up last year with a couple of auctions featuring the EVO 1's and 2's, and most recently with A$AP Rocky's promotion on his


nah, Japan know their cars. i bet the 190E has had a dedicated following over there for a while.


I'd take the Cobra


Great photos and thanks for sharing, Toby.
Both German and Japanese makes are simply alluring, unique and can't (and never) be compared in all fairness.
Surely, both makes have great followers and they are unquestionably and absolutely dedicated to their cars.

Just to share with all, the asking prices of used Mercedes 190 in my country has been steadily increasing in the past few years. Used to be daily grind for elderly and retirees. Now, the younger generation are now buying these Merc and modding them like no other.

What a world we are living in today.


Going to an underground meet in Tokyo is on my bucket list.



Germany wins "hands down! It's not even close! Those 190's are freaking ridiculous! And Porsche is the greatest marque in history. And MB invented the 1st car. Sick of hearing about JDM! GDM German Domestic Market rules. Forever.


For me it comes down to era. 70's JDM, 80's/90's GDM, 00's probably a tie, and more recently, I'm barely interested in either.


Consider the cost of the car before making that statement. Porsche costs multiple times or at least significantly more expensive than others. If it looks better then it is natural as they likely spend more money developing the car. Remember Warren Buffet said "Price is what you pay, value is what you get". Porsche does not necessarily give the best bang for the buck.



That pink RWB is crazy! Check out this wide-body 993.


I love seeing JDM builds but seeing Euro cars in Japan just has a whole different vibe
Great to see the diversity and variety here at this meet


The E36 is one of the most iconic and coolest shapes to ever come out of the 90's and there's a few very nice examples in this story. Though I will say that very first photo is a great argument as to why bags aren't as cool as static. Sure, they'll get your car low when parked, and that of course looks amazing, but they look so janky when at driving height(even if your arches do stay out of the damage zone). The Silvia in the first pic looks so much better than the E36, which pains me to say, but it's true....though the E36 takes the cake when parked.

Christopher McElligott

A German luxury car's like a bank vault. You've gotta put a ton of money into it if you want it to actually be useful.


German cars of 70s-2000s typically break down because of lack of maintenance or poor standards of work. People who have an original cooling system after 300,000km and 25 years will find that it will eventually overheat. On average I would consider the German performance car the same reliability as an average Japanese performance car when treated with the same maintenance schedule, or lack thereof.
People just think they're unreliable because they neglect them

Christopher McElligott

To expand on this, German cars have a reputation for unreliability (in America, at least) for three reasons: They're designed & built to a standard of precision that can't handle deferred maintenance, they have an emphasis on performance & cutting-edge technological features that goes hand-in-hand with a seeming contempt for the CONCEPT of repair and the people who buy them used, for reasons of prestige, can't really afford to own them, so they don't maintain them.


Old Mercs are the definition of overengineering and actually the second worst cars when the road ain't straight after all the JDM icons (every rally replica excluded). So talking about frequent pit stops is actually funny, unless you are referring just to the VW Beetle cousins or modern(ish) BMWs that can't even weld a chassis properly. Moreover, when it comes to touring car competitions, all the Germans united have actually won less than Alfa Romeo alone. Last but not least, comparing any 911 to any JDM icon is like comparing a super model to a pornstar. There's no coincidence in their price tags.


There is an in-depth feature with the silver R32 GTR, on "JP Street" Youtube channel if anyone is interested.


[renee zellweger]You had me at "your_subaru+porsche.jpg"[/renee zellweger]


I once heard an NSX owner say,"I'm not driving this car, I say I'm wearing it..." With that said, I'd wear any of these fine examples. German or Japanese