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Classic Drives Japan

For many, cars are not merely a way of getting from A to B

In particular where classic cars are concerned they are part of a dream, an experience, or a way of life. So we’re going to look at creating those dreams – you’ve got your classic car, where’s the best place to drive it?

Even if you’re not yet the owner of a classic there’s an experience to be had, with bespoke rentals a great way of getting behind the wheel of something super-cool.

Having been to the UK in the last article, in this penultimate edition we’re heading to the Land of the Rising Sun. And if we inspire you to start looking for one of your own, check out our for sale section.


Where to go

Although driving in Japan’s capital city is demanding, it’s hard not to recommend starting your journey among its bright lights. From there the country is your oyster, but as a neat circular trip we recommend the Izu peninsula via the great Mount Fuji.

Head west from Tokyo out to this iconic peak before going south into the peninsula, enjoying mountain ranges and stunning coastlines as you navigate around it and then back north to the capital.


What to take

Japan has produced a plethora of tasty cars over the years that you could take on this journey – including more 1990s legends than we care to mention. But we’ve narrowed it down somewhat to a selection from the past 50 years or so.

The Toyota 2000 GT is a real beauty. Built between 1967 and 1970, it was actually a collaboration between Toyota and Yamaha and it was an incredibly important car because it changed how the world viewed Japan’s models.

Until then it was putting out boring, practical, vehicles, but the arrival of this sleek fastback changed all that. Less than 20 years later a proper little sports car followed – the Toyota MR2. Launched in 1984, it was a two-seater fitted, initially, with a 1.5-litre engine.

As all good sports cars should be, it was light (just 950kg) and Toyota had help from Lotus engineer Roger Becker when it was working on the suspension and handling, which was a very good thing.

For something a bit meatier, it has to be the Nissan Skyline. Although this car has existed in name since 1957, it only started to get sporty in 1985, at least when it came to the R31 Skyline Coupe 2000 GTS-R.

That’s when performance really started to kick in and, over the next 15 years, the Skyline GT-R in particular was to become a cult car and a favourite among modifier. Much like the MR2, the Mazda MX5 was to become an even bigger legend as a brilliant sports car.

Launched in 1989, it too was a light and nimble roadsters and is now considered a modern classic – though at nearly 30 years old the ‘modern’ tag is soon to disappear.

And then there’s arguably the daddy of them all, the Honda NSX, which was launched in 1990. Designed with the help of Formula One legend Ayrton Senna when he was a member of the hugely-successful McLaren-Honda team, with whom he won three world championships, this was a supercar and nothing less.

With a 3.0-litre V6 producing 270bhp and, later, a 3.2-litre V6 putting out 290bhp, it was more than a match for the Ferraris and Porsches of the time.

What to see

We’ve all seen Tokyo on the TV – bright lights, busy streets and 24-hour life. So make sure you experience that before you set off on your road trip and, when you do, take some advice on driving in the city as it gets very congested.

Once you’re out in the countryside and heading west towards Mount Fuji, you won’t know where to look. Mount Fuji itself is the highest mountain in Japan at 12,389ft and it’s an active volcano, though it hasn’t erupted for more than 300 years.

Snow-capped for several months every year, it’s only 60 miles south west of Tokyo and can be seen from the city on a clear day. Its symmetrical cone is a symbol of the country – you’ll certainly know when you’re there.

Fuji is one of Japan’s Three Holy Mountains, along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku and is a World Heritage site. The Izu peninsula itself is made up of breccia rock, known for its angular fragments, and the central and northern areas consist of many highly eroded volcanos.

There’s stunning scenery wherever you look and the Amagi Mountain Range dominates the middle of the peninsula, with Mount Amagi, Mount Atami and Mount Daruma providing good backdrops for a picture of your classic car.

Make time to visit the coastal aspects as well, notably Sagami Bay and Suruga Bay. Thanks to its volcanic geology the peninsula is known for its onsen hot springs, many of which – including Atami, Shuzenji and Ito – have been turned into resorts.

There’s also the chance to enjoy sea bathing, surfing and golf along your way. As your tootle along watch out for agricultural and fishing activity, which are the mainstays of the area’s economy.

Indeed, Izu is one of the biggest producers of wasabi, which is a favourite ingredient in local cuisine.


How to get there

This is another one for the rental crowd – unless you want to ship your classic to the other side of the world. The good news is there are places to borrow a classic in Tokyo, so catch a flight from the UK and hit the road.

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