PH Service History: The Alternative Tokyo show

I love the Tokyo motor show. Which true petrolhead wouldn't? The wonderful eccentricity of the Japanese approach to motoring, on display at its purest and for all to see, side-by-side with the astonishing ingenuity of the country's greatest engineering minds. And then, of course, there's always one or another of our fine corps of motoring journalists who's unable to work out how to use the robo-loo in their hotel room. Classic.

All GS Fs are rare, this one especially so
All GS Fs are rare, this one especially so
Anyway, the thing is, you don't need to go to Japan for all that. In fact, we have quite a good stock of Japanese eccentricity here in the UK, thanks both to the grey import market, and manufacturers' appetites for officially bringing some wonderful, rarely-seen-elsewhere daftness to our shores.

The Daihatsu Copen, for example. It came here officially for several years in the 2000s, and was beloved by all those who wanted a replacement for their Cappuccino - which was around three people. Still, today a Copen is strangely compelling, with its mad little 659cc turbo engine. Don't expect MX-5 levels of involvement, but do expect to laugh every time you drive it - probably as you catch sight of yourself in a shop window. This one has heated leather seats, comes in a cracking colour combo, and it's only two grand.

Problem is, the chances are you don't want a Copen. I do, but only every now and again, and usually I recover shortly afterwards. So how's about something a little more meaty? The Lexus GS F is barely a used car, but this one stood out as one we should talk about. Bet you can't guess why. Nevertheless, I rather fancy the idea of tonking around in a vast, noisy GS in a colour that's about as unsubtle as they come - it's sort of the opposite of how you imagine a Lexus should be. Besides, the GS F is a cracking thing; snortier than an M5, and with added 'what's that?' value. Especially in that colour.

Very nice; very expensive too...
Very nice; very expensive too...
Right, enough ridiculousness. Let's look at something a little more sublime - this Datsun 240Z will do the trick. Lovers of originality, look away now, but the rally conversion that's been carried out on this example looks like it's been beautifully done, and the chances are this Z's an absolute hoot to drive. Whether you use it on your local stages as was intended, or simply as a wonderfully well-sorted weekend toy, it's bound to be a glorious old thing. Mind you, the money's rather strong, so I'd make sure the work really has been done to the best possible standard before parting with your cash.

Of course, you don't have to part with £41K to get yourself a slice of some special JDM metal. Controversial opinion: I reckon a four-door Integra Type R is even more appealing than the two-door version. Sure, the coupe's prettier, but I love the conceit of a little, slightly boxy, four-door family saloon that carries the gubbins of one of the most exciting front-wheel-drive cars of its era. This one doesn't come cheap, especially once you've paid to ship it over here, but it's a sight less than that Datsun was, and it's both more original and lower mileage. Keep it somewhere dry and warm, use it for high days and holidays only, and watch its value soar.

Bet you didn't expect to see this
Bet you didn't expect to see this
Another grey import I'm a sucker for is this Mazda Familia GTX Turbo. If it looks Familia (sorry), that's because it is, of course, a 323 by another name, and these 4x4 Turbos are something of a forgotten footnote in the history of homologation specials. Don't get me wrong; a Delta Integrale Evo it most certainly is not, but they handle brilliantly with tonnes of grip and can apparently be coaxed into a lurid bit of four-wheel drift. With just 62,000 miles on the clock, this one isn't priced unreasonably, and, as pretty much every advert for something of this age seems to say nowadays, can only go up in value.

It certainly looks like better value than this Toyota Starlet Turbo S. But the Starlet, too, has exerted a pull on me despite my better judgement. I've no idea whether these were any good, but it is a forerunner to all those Glanzas you used to see tooling around in McDonalds' car parks a few years ago, which everyone seemed to be mad about for a time. Plus you get active suspension (yes, really) and a dual-mode turbo, which all bodes well (and even if it doesn't, it sounds delightfully quirky). Eight large is steep, as I say, but perhaps you could justify it if you really wanted the most unusual Japanese hot hatch on the block.

Well it is only £2K...
Well it is only £2K...
That price is, mind you, a drop in the ocean compared with that of my final entrant into this 'alternative' Tokyo show. But as preposterous a figure as the £99,995 being asked for this Mazda Cosmo is, I'd contend that it's not unreasonable for the most beautiful car ever to emanate from Japan (though, I'll grant you, it's a toss-up with the sublime Toyota 2000GT). You already know everything you need to about the Cosmo, so rather than insult your intelligence by telling you all over again, I'm just going to take a moment to luxuriate in the neatly faired headlamps, the pert little glasshouse, the long, tapering tail, and the way the simple rear lights are cleft in twain by that slim, razor-sharp bumper. And consider this: when £100,000 is about the going rate for a Sierra RS500 Cosworth in similar nick, does it really seem that much for the Cosmo?

That's all from me for this week, but I'm sure there are plenty more cracking bits of J-tin oddness lurking in the classifieds which I've doubtless missed. If you spot any, please do share them in the comments; it'll give me something with which to procrastinate when I'm supposed to be painting the shed this weekend.



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Comments (6) Join the discussion on the forum

  • theholygrail 29 Oct 2017

    How on earth have I never heard of the Cosmo?! Lovely little thing. Everything else very familiar and I remember properly lusting after those Mazda 323 4x4s when they were current. Seemed so much cooler and more grown-up than other hot hatches of the time.

  • sideways man 29 Oct 2017

    Don't really get the style of that cosmo, but the interior shot is beautiful. Nardil wheel and all those dials. Lovely!

  • threespires 30 Oct 2017

    Some interesting cars mentioned.
    I ran a 323 4x4 turbo for a couple of years. The car was let down by the gearchange. They used cables instead of rods & was not very precise. So whilst changing gear often one would lose the engine revs & the turbo liked to be revved as lag was poor at lower revs.
    The car was the first Japanese car to win a round of the World Rally Championship winning the Swedish Rally. The car's strong 1600 engine became the Mk1 MX-5 engine which is able to take huge power hikes.

  • texaxile 31 Oct 2017

    That Cosmo has been up for sale for a god while now. Although they are a rare beast indeed, I can't help but think 100K is slightly optimistic.

  • jtopps 02 Nov 2017

    I found this Japanese oddity in the PH classifieds a year ago and I ended up buying it. I know they were once fairly commonplace but they’re flipping rare now! The twin turbo V6 is lovely, really smooth and torquey. The cockpit style cabin has great ergonomics and the seats are super comfy especially in the velour mine has. That and targa roofs are just cool. It’s a royal pain to work on the engine though as everything is really crammed in there, something which has probably contributed to their rarity now. Shame, as it may not be a razor sharp sports bar but it’s a very good comfortable GT car.

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