This year will be the fifteenth anniversary of my secondment to Japan. I was there for 2 years altogether, and most of my time was spent in an office much like any other. However, the weekends were spent exploring, sometimes close to home and sometimes further afield. I lived near the edge of the Kanto plain upon which Tokyo sits, along with approximately 25 million people. It was not a bad place to be, as I had the choice of heading into the centre of the megalopolis or turning the other way and climbing into the mountains.
I had purchased a car within 3 months of arriving, even though I certainly didn’t need one. I’ll write about that experience some other time. Today it’s all about one particular adventure which took a very interesting turn. I had offered to drive a work friend around to visit the local Nissan GT-R specialists, as he had decided to purchase an R33 with an RB26DETT (as you do). There were two such emporiums close to where we were living, so the plan was to see what they had in stock, and then turn North West and head into the twisting roads around the more local mountains. The car dealer trips were as interesting as we expected, but it was after we started to wind our way out of town that things took a unique turn.
It’s not unusual to see cool or interesting cars in Japan. There are many enthusiasts, all of whom are deeply invested in their area of interest. Whether it is the Dekatora truck that they drive for a living, or the battered drift car held together with cable ties, there is always something that catches the eye as you pass through the cities. On this occasion, as we drove along a very ordinary street, past many modern and traditional houses, something red and old sitting just inside an open double garage door flashed through my peripheral vision. It was slightly too unusual to pass off as another momentary curiosity in a country full of them, so I had to explain to my passenger that I was going back for a closer look. This is easier said than done, as Japanese suburban streets are not known for their abundant parking spaces. However, a nearby convenience store car park was just big enough, so we left the car there and walked a few steps to the house that had caught my eye.
As we walked up the surprisingly-wide-for-Japan driveway, my eyes were fixed on what lay inside the garage. It was bigger than it first appeared, and there was certainly more than one car in there. An older lady appeared at the door of the house, so I naturally apologised for being there, and asked if it was OK for us to look briefly into the garage. She was more than a little apprehensive, but said it was OK, as her husband and sons were on their way back any time. I thanked her and bowed, and then stepped into the most extraordinary garage I’ve ever seen. The fancy car I’d spotted from the street was a 1951 Stanguellini Sport 1100, a very rare hand-built Italian sports car. I doubt I’ve ever seen one before. I remarked to my friend how rare these cars are, and then turned around to find another Stanguellini right behind me. The stickers on the side indicated that it belonged to a Mr Sato, and had recently taken part in the Mille Miglia retrospective event. Behind that one was an OSCA sports racer. In the other direction was an Abarth 2000 prototype. There were pieces of bodywork and mechanical parts all around. It was like a post-war Italian sports car Aladdin’s cave, to pick a tenuous cliché from my collection. I could have been standing in a Modenese race preparation shop in the 60’s, and yet this was a modern Japanese street much like any other. My gast has rarely been so flabbered. I pulled out my very low-res (hey, it was 2003) pocket-sized digital camera and took a few shaky shots. I was very careful not to go in too far or touch anything, and my brain was struggling to take in what I was seeing.
As promised, the husband and sons soon appeared to unload a fabulous restored Porsche 356 from a flatbed truck. I complimented the gentleman on his amazing collection, bowed a couple more times, and then got out of there before they called the police. We enjoyed the rest of our journey, sweeping around the mountain roads and talking nonsense about cars, but I’ve forgotten most of the details. However, I don’t think I’ll ever forget Mr Sato’s garage.