Inside the world of the concours: Are Japanese classics finally gaining street cred?

A 1967 Toyota 2000GT

When the Beaulieu (the British National Motor Museum) opened its gates for a Simply Japanese rally on the last weekend of July, it attracted 1248 cars, 35 different owners clubs and 2500 visitors.

Yet when it comes to events like the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California, a pristine Japanese car will be a rare sight indeed on the impeccably manicured lawns among the Bugattis and Mercedes.

“There are no pre-war Japanese classics, as such,” explains Peter Haynes from the RM Sotheby’s auction house. The oldest concours events still adhere to the rule that only cars built before WWII are genuine classics.

However, even with the rise of the ‘modern classic’ — think 1950s and 60s Ferraris — Japanese cars have been unfairly overlooked, until now.

“There was a kind of snobbishness but there definitely is a change. Japanese cars of a sexy, sporty nature began to emerge in the 60s and certainly really came into prominence in the 70s and 80s,” says Haynes.

It started with the Toyota 2000GT, launched in 1967. “That car has been making $1 million or close to it for a number of years at US auctions,” Haynes points out. And now other cars are starting to find themselves in the same auction catalogues.

This is partly due to people finally accepting that a cool car is a cool car, but part of it is a new generation of collectors.

The lure of nostalgia

Pre-war cars are considered classics because when the classic market first started booming that’s what collectors were buying — the exotic cars of their childhood.

“Those people are no longer with us,” says Haynes. “If you look at buyers at an auction now they are in their 40s and 50s and 60s and they are people of a different era and so are the cars they covet.”

The 2000GT will remain the gold standard because of its rarity — 350 built — but a quick look through the Bonham’s, RM Sotheby’s, Gooding & Co and Mecum catalogues (the four auction houses hosting Monterey auctions during Pebble Beach) will show a growing choice of 60s, 70s and even 80s modern Japanese classics in amongst the 60s Ferraris and 70s Porsches.

“Early [Nissan] Skylines are becoming desirable and even some of the sort of more utilitarian stuff like the [Toyota] Land Cruiser. They’re highly regarded and go for pretty big money,” says Haynes. “Whatever snobbishness may have existed, I think that it’s going — look at the Datsun 240Z. People are finally looking at it as a car and saying that it is a really great looking car…They are finally being perceived as desirable and the values will continue to grow.”