Japan has a flourishing classic car sector, but not as you might imagine. Sure, there are a good few classic Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Bugattis, and so forth, but the real deal is classic cars from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
In Japan we use both the Western calendar and a calendar based on the name of the emperor’s reign. This year, 2016, is Heisei 28, or twenty-eight years since the coronation of the Heisei Emperor. The Showa Emperor – known more commonly outside Japan as Emperor Hirohito – reigned from 1926 to January, 1989. This period is thus known as the Showa Period. It included the post-war decades when Japan put all its energy into recovering from the disaster of the Pacific War, and the cars of this post-war era – Toyopets, Datsuns, and early Subarus and Nissans – are objects of great affection.
Restoring Showa Period cars is the business of Mr Iwao Fujitsubo, who owns and operates a workshop for this purpose in Kasuya, a suburb of Fukuoka down in the south-west of Japan. Fujitsubo-san is a trim man in his late sixties and is known as “The Family Doctor for Old Cars” according to the local newspaper in Fukuoka. In the showroom attached to the workshop he showed me three of his most valued possessions: a 1928 Citroen, a 1954 Rolls-Royce Bentley, and the car that James Bond used in the movie You Only Live Twice – a Toyota 2000 GT. These cars are extremely rare, and Fujitsubo-san loves them dearly.
The author and Fujitsubo-san
“ The Citroen and the Bentley are often used in period movies,” he says. “ The Toyota 2000 I don’t rent out. It’s too valuable, worth around a million dollars.”
1954 Rolls-Royce Bentley
The Toyota 2000 GT
“ A million dollars?” I exclaim.
“ Sure. There are very few of them. “
Fujitsubo-san uses SOD-1 Plus in all his classic cars. “ You need the extra protection it gives,” he explained. “ The better the lubrication, the longer these cars will last.”
The Toyota 2000 GT from the rear
Upstairs on the second floor of the showroom we even found an ancient Messerschmitt KR200 cabin scooter – also known as the Mighty Midget or Bubble Car, a three-wheeled vehicle with seats inside for a driver and a passenger. These fascinating vehicles were manufactured from 1955 until 1964 in the German aircraft maker’s factory.
Messerschmitt KR200 Bubble Car
Like all classic car enthusiasts, for Fujitsubo-san getting hold of spare parts is the key to success in restorations. “ Even if you want to repair something in an old car, usually the makers don’t have the parts,” he says. So he makes his own in many cases. One of his key staff, Taniguchi-san, spent three days making a rare part for a drum brake.
The business was started by Fujitsubo-san’s father 85 years ago. He himself began working for his father at the age of 17 and has continued the business ever since. With a staff of six mechanics he strives to continue the Showa tradition of good car-making and excellence in maintenance skills.
The first Mazda car - the R-360. What a beauty!
For anyone interested in seeing Fujitsubo-san’s collection of classic cars click here for a link to his English web page. The showroom’s address is 996-5 Otoinu, Sasaguri-machi, Kasuya-gun, Fukuoka Prefecture. It’s about 20 minutes by taxi from Hakata Station. (Tel: 092-947-4411).