What does Toyotafest say about the state of the Japanese Collector Car?

Gallery Toyotafest 2016 Photo 1

Oh what a feeling! Despite the rain, owners and fans came to Long Beach to celebrate Toyota

One problem with Japanese collector cars is that everyone who has ever had an interest in them has also wanted to swap out the original engine and drop in a 2JZGTE from a Supra. Or swap in an aftermarket exhaust, intake (AEM!) or interior. Thus finding an original, unmolested Japanese car from the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s that has not been slammed, supercharged or driven into the ground is getting increasingly hard to do.

And that’s just fine. The Japanese collector scene is not really formed yet, at least not like other collectibles. It’s not like Duesenbergs or Cobras, where every piece of the car is argued over and lawsuits are filed as to whether Fred and Auggie, or the coachbuilder, or Carroll Shelby ever really used that particular hood widget or muffler bearing. Japanese cars developed and evolved throughout their lives, even if those lives have been relatively short compared to other “classic” cars.

“A whole generation grew up on souped-up Hondas, so keeping something stock is not really in their mindset,” said Ben Hsu, founder of Japanese Nostalgic Car, a website specializing in these evolving classics.

All of which explains the hundreds of Toyota, Lexus and Scion cars that packed the fenced-off patch of lawn next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, for the 21st annual Toyotafest, put on by the Toyota Owners and Restorers Club (T.O.R.C.). The number of all-original, totally stock cars there could be counted on one hand. Or maybe two hands, but you wouldn’t need to take off any socks.

That makes the 1986 Corolla GT-S of Russ Capulong all the more amazing. It is, as near as we could tell and in the words of everyone we spoke to, totally stock. This model is known to the drifting youth and in the Japanese domestic market (the JDM) as an AE86. It is prized as a drift car — rear-wheel drive and, at least at one time, inexpensive.

“I think there are fewer bone-stock AE86s left in the U.S. than there are Ferrari Enzos,” said Hsu. “No one gave a (hoot) about them for 20 years; you could buy one for $1,000, drift the (heck) out of it then junk them. Ten years ago, a car like that would have been worth $3,500; now it’s $20,000 because there just aren’t any left.”

Toyota invited Capulong to show his car in New York for the 50th anniversary of the Corolla.

“They paid for everything,” Capulong said. “That was really something.”

At the other end of the Japanese collector car spectrum was the 1965 Toyota Publica convertible of Sam Carbaugh. Sam and brother Barry’s dad bought the car in Tokyo when the family was stationed there in the 1960s. Sam has since restored the car, down to its 800cc air-cooled flat two-cylinder engine. The powerplant makes 45 hp thanks to a pair of SU carbs.

“I drove it all over Ohio as a kid,” Sam said.

There was a 2000GT on hand, one of which recently sold for over a million dollars. But that’s still the exception among Japanese collector cars. The vast majority of Toyotas parked on the grass had been customized by their owners, to the delight of the fans who drove through the rain to get to the LBC to see the JDM. Yes, there will be a Japanese collector car market soon — examples of it are popping up here and there like Cupalong’s Corolla — but right now it’s all still forming, like life in a petri dish. A lowered petri dish with neon lighting and big bass.

Gallery Toyotafest 2

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