Dozens of automotive masterpieces are about to go on show in a bid to make Japan Asia’s social hub for classic-car buffs.
Classic cars grab our imagination, taking us back to a time when the car was less about the practicality of how to get from A to B and more about getting there in style.
Today, good mileage, low emissions and high safety levels are probably more important factors in choosing a car than sexy looks and a wood-grain dash.
Many car owners will find their next purchase sitting in a stand at the Tokyo Motor Show, the biannual showcase of the Japanese motor industry’s latest innovations, which opens to the public at Makuhari Messe Convention Center, Chiba Prefecture next Saturday, Oct. 27.
While that show is an expo of present and future cars, the inaugural Tokyo Concours d’Elegance (“competition of elegance”) being held from Oct. 26-27 in the gardens of Roppongi’s Tokyo Midtown complex to coincide with the motor show is a celebration of the history of the automobile.
Inspired by Italy’s famed Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance and California’s world-class Pebble Beach Concours, the show brings together 33 classic cars built between 1910 and the early 1970s. All privately owned and belonging both to Japanese and to overseas owners, the assembled vehicles are a who’s who of motoring magic from the last century. From a 1910 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost and 1926 Bugatti Type 35A, to America’s most exclusive car at the time, the 1930 Duesenberg J Convertible, the event is in effect an open-air museum spotlighting many of the most beautiful classic cars ever to grace the road.
But it is also a competition. Pre- and postwar collector cars are judged for authenticity, function, history and style. Classes are arranged by time period — Vintage, Classic, Postwar Classic and Modern Classic — and judges select first-, second-, and third-place finishers for each class. Judges also confer the “Best of Show” award on one car from the group of first-place winners.
One model that will no doubt give the judges a headache is a 1936 MG PR Midget Airline Coupe owned by Japanese collector Hiro Nishio. On a tour through Scotland in 1994, he came across this rare find in a barn. One of only 14 ever made, it took six years to restore, is one of only four still in running order and has already won a British Concours event.
If you wish to see some later model cars as well, two dozen other iconic vehicles of the past and present will be spread between three other locations in the Midtown complex.
Starring in the courtyard will be the world’s fastest road car, the 407-kph Bugatti Veyron. It will be flanked by a Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR 722 and a new Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupe.
Specially flown in from the Mercedes-Benz museum in Germany to adorn the atrium, a 1911 Blitzen Benz will be joined by an extremely rare Ferrari 575 GT Zagato, a 1936 Auto Union Type-C, an Audi Rosemeyer and a one-off concept car, the Nissan R390GT1.
Fans of Mercedes-Benz will be especially impressed upon entering Hall A. On the same direct flight from Mercedes in Germany was another vintage model, a 1932 Maybach DS8 Zeppelin, which will dominate a display featuring a 1967 Mercedes 250SL, a 1954 Bentley R-type Continental, a 2007 Bentley Continental GTC, a 1958 Porsche 356 Speedster, and the just-revealed 2008-model Nissan GT-R.
To kick off the event, 17 of the Concours cars will parade through central Tokyo on Thursday, Oct. 25, beginning at 4 p.m. outside the Triton building in Harumi, before making their way through Ginza, Aoyama, Omotesando and Shibuya and ending up at an invitation-only function at Roppongi Hills.
Visitors who want to watch the judging should arrive at the Midtown site by around lunchtime Friday. Entry is free. The judges are individuals who have made significant contributions to the automotive industry, motor sports or travel. Leading the judging panel is Shotaro Kobayashi, one of Japan’s leading motoring commentators and historians. He is joined by Aritsune Tokudaiji, Japan’s foremost motor journalist and best-selling author, Nissan design director Shiro Nakamura, and well-known travel writer Kaoru Kanetaka. Adding foreign perspective to the panel will be Patrick le Quement, Renault’s senior vice president of quality and corporate design, and Peter Pfeiffer, senior vice president of design at Daimler AG.
The Concours is the brainchild of self-confessed car lover Paul Goldsmith of events and corporate incentives company Elite Corporation. Goldsmith spent a year convincing local carmakers and importers to back the project.
“Getting the word out to local collectors was the biggest challenge, but once they heard what we were doing, they gladly offered their gems for show,” says the Tokyo-based British entrepreneur. “Several European importers actually flew cars over for us, and others pulled cars out of museums.”
By basing the event’s format and judging on the Villa d’Este, which has been held in Italy since 1929, and the Pebble Beach Concours, which started in 1950, Goldsmith dreams of one day joining those ranks.
He also hopes the event will help Japan become Asia’s social hub for classic-car owners and fans and will encourage people who may have masterpieces tucked away in old garages to bring them out and onto the world stage.
The Japan Times is giving away two pairs of special-access tickets for the Concours d’Elegance open day on Saturday, Oct. 27, that come with lunch at the Union Square restaurant and afternoon tea at the Terence Conran restaurant Botanica. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the answer to the following question: “Where will the Tokyo Concours d’Elegance be held?” For more information about the event, visit www.concours.jp/home_En.html Peter Lyon is a 20-year veteran motor journalist who covers the Japanese automotive industry for more than a dozen publications overseas and domestically.