About half-way through a collector car auction held in Portland, Oregon on the last Saturday in September by Silver Auctions, a car that was a veritable time capsule, appeared on the docket. It was a 1976 Datsun B210 two-door fastback coupe, painted yellow and fitted with a black vinyl interior. Right behind it, was a late model Chevrolet Corvette; more along the lines of what one might expect at such an event.
Nestled in the Datsun's engine bay was the original 1.4 liter, four-cylinder engine; backed by an automatic transmission. Mileage was just 33,043 actual. All records and owner's manual went with the car. The body was straight and interior evidenced only slight wear. It sold at a bid of $4,300.
Silver Auctions, the company that sold the Datsun, also stages an auction in Reno, during the Hot August Nights event. It was there, earlier this year, that a 1966 Datsun Bluebird series 477 sedan, in similar condition, sold for a bid of $4,300. Call it a coincidence. But it might also be the continuation of a trend.
A 1978 Toyota Levin Corolla GT, with manual steering and sans air-conditioning, at the Greenwood Car Show in Seattle, on June 26, 2010. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst)
There's steadily growing interest in vintage Japanese autos; helped by the fact that many were retired to the salvage yard, when repairs got too onerous for owners.
While collectors who generally gravitate towards big-bore American iron or sophisticated European sports cars, might wonder why, those who grew up with Japanese cars – several generations since 1970 – understand that even something as plebeian as a Datsun B210 has a heritage.
Back in 1974, a B210, entered by the Nissan USA employee's race team, won H-Production during the American Road Race of Champions and set a track record of 121.9 mph. While one with an automatic transmission might not be a racer, 27 mpg fuel economy and good parts availability add up to a vintage automobile one can enjoy with little effort.
The efforts of Bob Sharp, based in Connecticut, and Peter Brock, based in California, established what was then known in the States as Datsun, in the Seventies; and contributed to interest in Datsun/Nissan sports cars and early 510 sedans.
Honda and Toyota, the two best known Japanese manufacturers, are just beginning to become established at collector auctions. During the auction that Silver Auctions staged during Hot August Nights, earlier this year, a 1972 Honda N600 two door hatchback was offered – one of over 35,000 sold in the United States.
Sporting just 21,929 original miles, it was mostly original, save for a new coat of paint in what appeared to be a correct shade of red. Additionally, it was shod with new radial tires. It drew a lot of interest, in part, because many in the audience had likely never seen one. Someone bought it for $9,288 (that price includes 8 percent buyer's fee).
There's also interest developing in early examples of Toyota Corona and Corolla sedans. In January of 2007, Jack Safro, a Milwaukee-area Toyota dealer who'd been among the first to sell Japanese cars in the Midwest, bought a 1966 Toyota Corona sedan, at a Silver auction in Fort McDowell, Arizona, for $16,000 – in part, because the car had just 8,700 original miles on it.
Shortly after Mr. Safro passed away in early 2009, that same Corona was offered at a Mecum auction in Indianapolis, Indiana – with just one more mile accumulated since 2007 – as part of a sale of his estate's Toyota collection. It sold for a stunning $36,000.
While that sale might have been an anomaly, it seemingly helped the value of other solid examples of that car. Consider a light blue 1969 Toyota Corona, two-door hardtop, sporting just 57,162 miles, that was offered at another Mecum auction, in St. Charles, Illinois, held September 16-19.
It had original paint with some chips and nicks in it and bit of wear and tear on the driver's seat; but it also included the original tools and some touch-up paint. Because it was original and clean, it sold for $9,900 (price included 10 percent buyer's fee).
As those who grew up coveting mid-1950s Chevrolet cars or the “muscle cars” of the 1960s, quit buying cars at auction, it seems inevitable that other sorts of cars will replace those.
“It seems that the 'model T rules' are going to take effect,” says Mark Pringle, a machinist in Seattle who owns a 1972 Honda N600, when asked about the changing market. Pringle is alluding to the fact that Ford model T cars or trucks are hard to sell; since those who grew up wanting them as collectibles have either passed on, or aren't buying anymore.
Five years ago, one could sense the change beginning, when the first Japanese Classic Car Show was held in Long Beach, California. It was a celebration of Japanese cars, 20 years or older, staged by Koji and Terry Yamaguchi, Japanese expatriates who'd been living in California for eight years. Though initially small, compared with gatherings of American or European car enthusiasts, the Japanese Classic Car Show has developed a loyal following and increased in size, each subsequent year. It has had an ancillary effect, as Japanese cars are now showing up at cars shows across America; sometimes mixing in with similar cars, from other countries, such as the Nash Metropolitan or the air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle.
A 1976 Honda Civic station wagon, leads a row of other small vintage cars, at the Greenwood Car Show in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst)
It's hard to say what the final result will be, but one thing seems certain: the interest in vintage Japanese automobiles, even trucks, will likely continue to grow. - Terry Parkhurst
Suggested sites: www.JapaneseClassicCarShow.com