In my current top five list of my favourite cars in the world, only one is from Japan (the LFA if you’re wondering). The rest are European cars. For a large chunk of my life my favourite cars have always been European cars. I can’t explain why. I have nothing against Japanese cars, I respect cars from the Land of the Rising Sun and I like the way the Japanese make their cars. But that was about as far as my admiration for them went. Apart from a handful of sports and supercars, I’ve never really lusted after a Japanese car. I suppose one of the key reasons would be my lack of knowledge on the illustrious history of some of Japan’s car companies.
So, given that I’ll be spending the next 12 months or so in Japan, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to go around and learn more about these Japanese car companies. Hopefully a better understanding of them will help me appreciate them more. Well, this was my justification to go around scouring the land for car galleries and showrooms. Tokyo has many tourist spots such as the Tokyo Tower, Tsukuji Fish Market, and Tokyo Disneyland to name a few but what those travel guides don’t tell you about are the number of car-related things to do in this vast metropolis.
First on the list was Subaru Technica International’s headquarters and showroom in Mitaka City, just on the outskirts of Tokyo. I decided to go to STI’s showroom first because it was the furthest away from me. It took a little bit over an hour on the train from Waseda Station to the nearest station (Musahisakai Station). On top of that was a 30+ minute walk. It wasn’t too bad though because Mitaka City was the sort of place you could be with your thoughts. It sure was far from the hustle and bustle of central Tokyo, you could almost call it tranquil. From the train station to the STI gallery I could already notice a greater proportion of STI cars on the road. Everything from Imprezas to Foresters were out, and this wasn’t even peak traffic time.
The STI gallery is part of a Subaru Car Do dealership. I thought this was a great idea because while you’re buying your new Subaru or getting it serviced, you could go up to see the history of the car you’ve got or about to get. I had never seen so many Subarus in my life, and this coming from someone who grew up in Canterbury. Lined up outside the main building were the cars available for a test drive; how I wish I had a valid license with me. The white BRZ and silver Impreza S4 immediately caught my eye. Inside, with very basic Japanese, I asked where the STI gallery was. The lady at the information desk pointed me upstairs.
As you walk up the stairs from the Subaru dealership to the STI Gallery you hear the unmistakable sound of a Subaru boxer engine. I like to think this how rally drivers enter heaven. The noise is something you hear all the time at the Gallery as videos of Subaru’s great racing victories are played on repeat. This is far from a complaint. The first car you see is Subaru’s Nurburgring 24H Impreza racer.
Displayed on the walls are everything from STI-branded wristwatches, STI driving clothes, STI tower bars, suspension, and alloys, to a timeline of STI’s history with model cars instead of mere photographs. I liked that. The timeline took up an entire wall and while the 2015 space was still empty, I did notice a worryingly small amount of room left after that. I couldn’t help bunt wonder how they’ll solve this come 2016.
As for the content, the timeline had everything from the founding of STI in 1988 to their first ever car: the Legacy STI which was available on a made-to-order basis. Their first WRC win was at the Rally of New Zealand in 1993 with a Legacy driven by Colin McRae. 1993 also saw the debut of the Impreza in WRC. A year later the first Impreza WRX became available, again on a made-to-order basis. Since then Subaru have have 43 WRC wins, the last being in 2005. They’ve also competed in the Nuburgring 24 Hour Endurance race as well as the Japanese Super GT Series, which they won with the Legacy B4 and more recently with the BRZ. Move along the Gallery and you find three generations of the Impreza WRC cars. A 1993 car driven by Colin McRae and a 2007 and 2009 car driven by Petter Solberg.
Back in the Subaru showroom and all their latest models were on display. I took this chance to have a poke around the new Legacy and Outback. I’ve always liked the Outback but the previous generation’s design and interior put me off. This new one is a welcome improvement both in looks and quality. I also had a look around the Levorg, basically a wagon version of the Impreza. I don’t know why Subaru don’t export it to other markets, I’m sure there’d be demand for it.
The STI gallery is a bit out of the way from most tourist spots but for anyone with the faintest drop of petrol in their veins it’s a must-see. I learned some things about STI and Subaru that I hadn’t known before and got to see a 22B in the legendary WRC Blue with gold wheels combo. And that was more than enough to make the trip worthwhile. Entrance is free and the opening hours are long, so there’s lots of time to drool over it.
With the sun still up I decided to make a quick detour after the STI Gallery and visit the Type One showroom a couple of stations after Mitaka. Again, it was quite a walk from the station to the showroom but made better by the yellow Gallardo Superleggera thundering down the main road. I took this as a sign things could only get better from here. On first impressions the Type One showroom appeared more like a workshop than an actual showroom. I walked in and asked where the showroom was and got pointed in the direction of the stairs.
Once upstairs my mouth immediately dropped back to the ground floor. As I opened the door I was greeted by five S2000s. There probably aren’t even that many S2000s listed on TradeMe at the moment. Three were customer road cars and two were full blown racers. Type One for those of who don’t know is the workshop for that most wonderful of Honda tuners, Spoon. And as you could probably guess, their specialty is the S2000.
The showroom itself can’t really be called that, more a storage room. The whole feel of the place felt more like a workshop than a glitzy gallery like the STI gallery. I like to think this what AMG’s or Alpina’s workshops started out like. Apart from the sea of S2000s on display, there was a lonely NSX, a couple of Civic Type Rs, a fantastic Honda Cub motorcycle, and an odd Honda truck I never knew existed. The great thing about visiting the Type One showroom is because they deal with actual customer cars, there’s always going to be something different there each time you visit. I was surprised they let people have a look around to be honest.
Type One is more than just a place to drool over the cars on display though. They’re most famous for selling Spoon parts as well as providing top-class servicing. When I went in there was a gorgeous yellow AP1 getting the full Type One treatment. I’d never been in a workshop so clean and serene in my life. The Japanese really do put cleanliness next to godliness. Back downstairs the main workshop was getting ready to close up, it was around 5:30pm when I arrived. Two more S2000s were parked here but what struck me the most was how spotless everything was. Everything was organised appropriately, everything had a place and was in it. James May would’ve loved it there.
It was quite a treat to have been able to see all this. I’ll admit I don’t know all that much about the car tuning culture but even I could appreciate the great things Spoon does. Their famous bodykit for the S2000 looks absolutely mental. But what I took away from all of this was the professionalism of the Type One workshop. If I had a S2000 I’d happily take it to them for a regular service or tune up knowing it’ll be in safe and clean hands. I hope to see and hear more from Spoon in the future. Especially now that Honda are back to making exciting cars again.
So that’s the first of what will hopefully be many car-related sightseeing trips I’ll be doing while I’m in Japan. As of now I’ve got the Toyota Mega Web showroom, Nissan’s Yokohama gallery, and the HQs of Honda and Mitsubishi to visit. Watch this space.