How do you capture the essence of a city or town? What makes a particular place hum, sing and buzz? Is it the people? The culture? The architecture? Food? It is, of course, all of these things. And more. For us at CarAdvice, it is, unsurprisingly, also the cars.
We are privileged to travel around the world for our job, visiting cities, countries and far-flung corners we might otherwise never see in our lives. And apart from experiencing so many different cultures, one of the things that stands out for us is the sheer diversity of automotive culture around the world. In essence, the cars people own.
As anyone who has an interest in cars knows, Japan has its own distinct and diverse car culture. Trying to distil that diversity into a just a few words is nigh on impossible, but the nation that gave us Drifting, Bosozoku, classic cars like the Nissan GT-R, Toyota AE86, Subaru WRX and the wildly improbable yet strangely compelling styling of Liberty Walk, has enthralled enthusiasts around the world.
It's a vibrant culture, too, and it doesn't take much wandering around the city, towns and streets of Japan to happen across an impromptu gathering of car enthusiasts. Carparks, especially, become bustling hives of activity as cars of all makes, models and levels of modification jostle for attention.
That was the definitely the case on a recent trip to Fuji Speedway in Japan. CarAdvice founder Anthony Crawford was lucky enough to take in a Super GT race weekend at the famed raceway in the foothills of the mountain that lends it its name. And, in true Japanese fashion, the carpark and paddock were brimming with interesting and oddball machinery. Here then, is a selection of The Cars of Fuji Speedway.
1990 Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC AMG 6.0 'Wide Body'
It's brash, it's big, it's fat, it's rare. Before AMG was a wholly owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, the aftermarket tuning house turned out low volume, skunkworked performance Mercs. Like this one, the 560 SEC AMG 'Wide Body'.
Starting life as a regular Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC, Affalterbach increased the displacement of the incumbent 5.6-litre V8 to 6.0-litres, fitted an AMG quad-cam with four valves per cylinder and squeezed an extra 67kW out of it, bumping power from the 5.6's 220kW to 287kW. Torque was rated at 556Nm over the donor car's 389Nm.
An AMG suspension tune, some uprated brakes, an interior facelift and the addition of that oh-so-glorious 'wide body' kit allowed for fat wheels and rubber under those sexy, flared guards. Costing around US$200,000 new in 1990, the SEC AMG wasn't cheap. Perhaps that's why only around 50 were ever made, six of which reportedly went to Japan. Rare!
Honda Civic (Mugen)
Honda's hi-po tuning house Mugen hasn't fully got its mitts on the Honda Civic Type R, other than showing off an outrageous concept at Tokyo Auto Salon earlier this year.
That hasn't stopped Mugen performing some cosmetic surgery on the standard Civic hatch to give it some musculature, adding some hot hatch styling. Although there is no performance bump, Mugen has added a carbon-fibre grille, a new front splitter, restyled side sills and a new rear diffuser housing a sports exhaust. A couple of choices of 19-inch alloys set off the Civic nicely.
Arguably better looking than the Type R... says Anthony.
Ford F150 Raptor
That's not a Raptor... THIS is a Raptor.
Americans just don't do small. But the gods of downsizing have struck Ford's popular F150 pick-up, too. Gone is the 6.2-litre V8 that once hauled ass under the bonnet. In its place, a twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 EcoBoost engine with outputs of 336kW and around 690Nm of torque. Not too shabby.
What makes this Raptor so rare in this particular environment is that pick-up trucks are virtually extinct in Japan. That's right, the country that gave the world the mega-selling Toyota HiLux doesn't have a market for pick-up trucks. Ever tighter and stricter emissions laws and tax penalties killed the segment in Japan in the 1990s. Even the HiLux, that stalwart of Aussie roads, was put out to pasture in Japan in 2004 (it finally went back on sale this year, ending a 14-year hiatus).
Yeah, because you always see a Lexus LFA just hanging around. This one's a bit special though, if rumours are to be believed, belonging to Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corporation. Allegedly. Sweet ride.
It might only have a 660cc engine buried its in middle, with meagre (on paper at least) outputs of 47kW and 104Nm, but weighing in at a svelte 830kg, the Honda S660 can still provide plenty of fun. It's a pity we don't get the S660 in Australia, built to conform to Japan's Kei car regulations which stipulate an engine no bigger than 660cc (tick) with no more power than 47Kw (tick) and sitting within a defined footprint of 3400mm long and 1480mm wide (tick, tick).
Sadly for Australia, a lack of safety tech sees it missing out on ADR, meaning it won't be pint-sizing its way Down Under any time soon. But oh, what fun we could have.
Yeah, that's a Toyota C-HR hiding under those cosmetic add-ons, helping it look like a Stormtrooper. Not sure how we feel about it...
Yeah, those green accents don't really work. They're inside too.
And inside the wheels...
Toyota Alphard Executive Lounge
We don't know why either... powered by a petrol 3.5-litre V6, the 2375kg Alphard has looks only a mother could love. There's a sportier version, the deliciously named Toyota Vellfire.
Toyota TRD Prius
Mercedes-Maybach S650 Cabriolet