When I first visited the Tokyo Motor Show, Dino gave me some advice that was essential to my coverage of Speedhunters: “Go to the last room first.” We Japanese people feel that we have to fill them in the correct order as planned by the show. The last room will be empty in the first hour.”
It’s the perfect example of why Japanese culture can be both fun and frustrating depending on which side of the fence you sit on. And it’s not just dino banter; indeed, it remains the most effective way to cover TAS on any given day.
In England, we believe that rules are merely guidelines, not to be lived by as a code. And look where we got to; Brexit, three afternoons in as many months and a nation’s belief that summer tires can be used even when it’s snowing. ‘Siri, show me cars stuck on the M25.
I don’t think there’s a single story on Speedhunters where I haven’t ventured to Japan, and that’s simply because I love the place. Japan has been the driving force behind my obsession with car culture for decades, and each visit only adds to that obsession.
There is a strange phenomenon when something that has been followed for so long gains massive popularity among the masses. It’s like when your favorite unknown artist starts playing on the radio. You should be happy for them, but there’s a part of you that resents the success. Not to them as individuals, but to new fans acting like they just discovered literal fire.
And it would be very easy to feel that way about the Tokyo Auto Salon. 2023 promises to be one of the show’s busiest years, especially with many western media and social media personalities. So if your interest in Japanese car culture is minimal at best, you’re in for a very long January.
But this way of thinking above is also complete nonsense. No one, no matter how many followers, discovers Japanese car culture for the first time. TAS existed long before Speedhunters and long before most of us were born. Whoever acts as a gatekeeper here needs to quit anime and go for a walk.
In fact, what we are all witnessing is a genuine, almost unbridled excitement for car culture. And this is the very a good thing for anyone entering this industry. There are few places in the world where it is presented at such an authentic level as in Japan. And if you’ve been lucky enough to visit this country, you’ll know exactly what it feels like, no matter what year it was.
The Tokyo Auto Salon, like other areas of Japan, has the odd feeling of being an environment that has reached the year 2005 and decided toyes, this is our optimal year. Let’s not go any further. In 2023, the only gifts we’re giving now are some cars on display.
Journalists continue to receive press information on CD. Hand-held cameras are decorated with 720p resolution metallic stickers. And the promo girls accept the The less is more the deeper you go into the Tokyo Auto Salon. It seems that the #Me too not very translated kanji yet.
TAS is one of the few places where you’ll see a major car manufacturer rocking a batsh*t LED-wrapped demo car from a tuner who decided a giant dinosaur was the perfect mascot to promote their range of cup holders. If you want to be positive, you can say that this is the Tokyo Auto Salon that treats everyone equally. In fact, no one is willing to speak up or suggest otherwise for fear of offending each other.
Now I’ve wasted over 600 words hijacking a memory land that no one actually asked about. Let’s get to the real reason you’re here – the cars. And I’m going to keep this as short as possible, partly because we have TAS-centric stories planned for every day of the next week, and mostly because it’s Friday night in Japan, and this story should have gone half an hour ago.
Let’s start with the new cars. Unsurprisingly, the two big winners here are the Nissan Fairlady Z and the Toyota GR86. And that’s definitely worth celebrating, because in a world where internal combustion engines and manual transmissions are phasing out, these two prove that there’s still life in (new) dogs.
Since the Z is particularly new, most of the tuning on display revolves around bolt-on components and external components. But there are some things that push things much, much further, and like the Toyota Showrooms of the 90s and 2000s, you can always count on VeilSide to deliver the goods.
And then there’s Rocket Bunny. Among the first to build a “full” kit for the new Z, it’s no surprise that the Pandem-kitted cars will take center stage at several booths, including the RAYS, GReddy, and Cusco booths.
Speaking of familiar tuners… they’re back. OK, they never left. But the tuners we grew up on are grainy Video option DVDs will be out in full force at TAS 2023. And even better, they also seem to embrace their past.
At the HKS stand, celebrating 50 years of tuning, the brutal Drag 70 Supra – a 7-second beast from the early 90s – fills the rear, alongside the iconic HKS Gr.A R32 Skyline GT. R. Top Secret’s booth is full of screens showing Smoky Nagata’s old speed-based games, and RE Amemiya will also be showing off some of his classic builds.
But when it comes to blending history with modern technology, no one has done it better this year than Toyota. Head over to the Gazoo Racing booth and you’ll see two AE86s on the main stage alongside the latest machines. Weird but cool, right?
But all is not what it seems under the hood. That Levin sprouts bright orange electrical wires across the display and lots of empty space. Yes, it’s electric. And yes, it was inevitable one day, wasn’t it? Before you dismiss it, there are two things that might change your mind…
For starters, it has a gearbox. Not a token shifter or push/pull sequential, but a proper H-pattern manual. And it doesn’t start electrically either; it runs on a normal clutch with real feel and can kick the clutch and run through the gears. Put the shift on and it will kangaroo and shake like an ICE rider.
Then there is the Trueno next to it. Under the hood it looks like a super clean 4A-GE. It doesn’t run on electricity… but it doesn’t run on gasoline either. This is hydrogen. Not only did Toyota build a hydrogen-powered AE86, but it kept its iconic 1.6-liter twin-chamber, 16-valve four-cylinder engine.
Other than the rear tanks, there are no other giveaways. And, Gazoo Racing’s Koji Sato assured us, it sounds and feels just like the original 4A-GE. We take our word for it as an operating officer of the GR and as a suitable petrol operator.
If you’re wondering how to ensure classic motoring is preserved in a fossil fuel-free future, this could be it. The same noise, the same experience, no pollutants. A full feature will be available for both cars soon.
The last car we’re highlighting is the obvious one – Liberty Walk’s Ferrari F40. It’s been teased for months, and the internet is in a hive of admiration and disgust.
For the 2023 Tokyo Auto Salon, Kato-san decided to blur the lines between performance art and car tuning, placing a cutter on the rear arch of the F40 right before the unveiling. You may be crying in pain, but the balls to pull this off are admirable.
In the last decade in particular, Kato-san and his team have proven that no car can – or should – be left untouched. The F40 has always been the one car we thought was sacred, but this also makes it the perfect statement for 2023.
And you know what? It looks incredible. We all expected it to go a more extreme route similar to the 458 and Aventador LBW kits, and while it’s hardly subtle, you can tell that Kato-san was both bold and sympathetic to the styling cues. The arc cut? This is pure theater. But as an executed build? This is exactly what we know and love from Liberty Walk.
Whatever you think of this car – and indeed the Liberty Walk – the impact these boys and girls have had on the tuning world should not be overlooked. This is a brand that pushes boundaries; they are stylish, approachable and know how to make a statement.
And while other brands would have simply exhausted or run out of ideas at this point, Kato-san is just getting started. Lord help us all.
Variety will always be Tokyo Auto Salon’s biggest selling point. Intentionally or not, the show has never forgotten its past and continues to turn iconic JDM cars into heroes every decade, regardless of value or current demand.
Talk to the owners and you’ll find that most of these cars have been owned for years and built on passion. Yes, these newer models are a marketing opportunity for the bigger brands, but for the smaller tuners, TAS is still an annual show where they showcase the ideas they’ve gathered over the past 12 months.
This attitude is why I believe Japanese car culture will never feel spoiled or mainstream, no matter who documents it. It doesn’t try to be something it isn’t; it still moves like 2005, and no amount of exposure seems likely to change that.
Don’t get me wrong, this will not disappoint many. And I say this as someone who dives into it several times a year, not surrounded by it 24/7. But it always comes back to the hug all characteristics, whether it is a manufacturer, a large tuning house or a person who wraps the hood of his car hentai creation.
At the Tokyo Auto Salon, everything is inclusive and free of judgment. Least of all us Speedhunters you can pass this thought on to anyone who is considering their own trip here. Book your tickets, prepare your head and see you next year in the last room.