For those underwhelmed by the recent Detroit Auto Show (and rightfully so), the 2019 Tokyo Auto Salon certainly did not disappoint. Considered one of the top global auto shows, it focuses largely on outrageous customs. (Think Japan’s version of SEMA, but without the aftermarket-specific focus.) Not to be confused with the Tokyo Motor Show, which is held every two years, this year’s TAS saw record-breaking attendance from both consumers and automakers, as well as some truly jaw-dropping vehicles.
Here are some our favorites.
Honda’s Whole New Concept Lineup
Traditionally, we expect to see exotic high-performance cars emerge from the Tokyo Auto Salon. However, the semi-traditional concept cars showcased by Honda this year were a breath of fresh air. Focusing on real world applications such as family vehicles and commuter vans was a nice touch, as was the automaker’s attempt to break the worldwide habit of designing shapeless blobs and calling them cars. (Really, this era of car design needs to come to a close. Hopefully, Honda is inspiring just that.)
Despite the manufacturer’s attractive passenger efforts, it was the S660 Modulo Neo Classic race car concept that took the cake. Based on a concept design that won Honda top prize at TAS 2016, this iteration recreates the throwback sports car as a race car—a style choice that got big love from viewers. The popularity of the Neo Classic concept spawned a body kit for S660 owners back in ’16 and Honda has plans to debut this Modulo version as well. Sadly, MotorTrend confirms that there is “a zero-percent chance” we’ll be seeing it on American soil. But a boy can dream, right?
I’m a simple guy. I like rear wheel drive cars, big engines, and the ability to perform well in any scenario. I’m all about American muscle, but there’s one name that will always cause me to pause and tip my hat: Nissan Skyline.
To me at least, the Skyline has always been the reigning king of Japanese performance cars. And apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way. The 2019 Tokyo Auto Salon was literally jammed with custom Skylines.
One particular build that stood above the rest was Garage Active’s carbon fiber-bodied R32. The widened body kit was tinted an electric blue, blending perfectly with any remaining metal and effectively hiding any trace of the lightweight construction. While no Skyline is exactly going to be a sleeper, in this case, we’re willing to bet onlookers would be plenty surprised to find out this monster is packing a whole lotta power, pushing out an astounding 9.9-second quarter-mile time.
To see how much these cars are appreciated genuinely makes me happy. But the way they are appreciated is more important. I’d say the closest American comparison, in terms of a following, is the Mustang. However, at a Mustang meet, you’ll often see slanderous remarks against Dodge or Chevy, even imports, everywhere. Here, there’s nothing of the sort. Just pure love for one amazing car.
Suzuki Jimny’s Star Power
The Suzuki Jimny is something that’s caught our attention before. Actually, when we discussed the baddest Japanese builds, the 6×6 Threefer made our list. You remember, this adorable Jimny masquerading as a mini-Mercedes AMG J-Class?
The Jimny (recognizable to many Americans as the Suzuki Samurai of the 1980s) has been a long-running beloved car for modifying. And many of the builds at the 2019 Tokyo Auto Salon did not disappoint. Shibita R31 built an all-out monster truck version that manages to be both bold and adorable. Suzuki itself brought a GMC Sierra-inspired pickup version that looks damn near production-ready. And who can look at DAMD’s Little G and Little D without smiling? Showcasing full conversion kits that recreate the Jimny into a mini-replica Mercedes-Benz G-Class or Land Rover Defender, it thorougly indulges our love for capable off-roaders in small packages.
To see how big of a presence the Jimny still has out there in the real world is jaw dropping. The auto community in Japan really seems to celebrate this model with a unique, out-of-the-box approach—one that has us sorely missing this capable little 4×4 on western shores.
An Adventure-Ready Juke
If the goal of the 2019 Tokyo Auto Salon, or really any version of TAS, is to shock and delight, this absurd adventure-concept Juke surely hit its mark. While this isn’t the first time Nissan put tracks on a car, or a Juke for that matter, this new design surely kicks things up a notch.
Complete with overexaggerated fender flares, utility tow hooks, additional LEDs, and a roof rack that doubles as a drone-landing helipad, this ridiculous little Monster Jam Crossover is natural-disaster ready.
A Sea of Restomods and Restorations
Hail to the classics! The styling of these cars is beyond anything on the road today. But while the looks impress, it’s the performance that really dazzles. And modern Japanese performance is truly the bar to meet in so many ways. So when you take the unique styling of classic Japanese cars and the performance standard of today, and then cram it into one fine being, well, I don’t know about you, but the hairs on my arms stand up.
Now, I do enjoy my American cars and that undoubtedly means that I have some differences in opinion when it comes to Japanese trends. But the way this community celebrates car culture is a truly romantic blend of performance and appearance. Every car (even if the personal styling interpretation makes me gag a little) is seriously a work of art and deserves to be appreciated.
Hoonigan “Hoonitruck” 1977 Ford F-150
The Hoonitruck by now is nothing new, but to see any American car being celebrated overseas is awesome. What makes this one extra cool is that Ken Block is huge in the world of drifting and his rides of choice are always American icons.
To see a 914-hp 1977 F150 is amazing. To see it built for drifting is jaw-dropping. And to see Japanese auto enthusiasts think highly enough of it to be featured as one of their most significant auto shows? Well, that’s an honor.
Liberty Walk Ferrari 308 GTB
You never EVER see this is in the states. In fact, I don’t think you could go anywhere and talk to anyone who would ever dare deface a Ferrari. As the pinnacle of auto perfection, even thinking about putting different kicks on one is enough to draw murderous stares from enthusiasts. Unless you go to Japan, that is.
Japanese car shop, Liberty Walk’s rehash on a Ferrari 308 GTB literally made my heart hurt in two different ways. The first ache was because they hacked up a Ferrari. The second was because I absolutely love it. The design is literally the best take on a 1980s super car I’ve ever seen. And they add insult to injury for purists, as they are selling this as a kit.
I. LOVE. IT.
NATS Urus 86
Alright, I’ll admit it. Even though it was a great show, after a while I started to glaze over while reviewing the builds from the 2019 Tokyo Auto Salon. (You know as well as I do, it’s a common side effect of auto shows. At first, you’re so excited to see everything that’s new and different, but after so long you start to zone out because you begin anticipating the types of builds you’re going to see.) So there I was, just looking at high-end supercars and heavily-modified classics as if they’re nothing special—like some smug, rich jerk—when this beautiful creature grabbed me by the face screaming, “Look at me!”
A Toyota 86, similar to a Subaru BRZ or Scion FRS, built to look like an off-road Lamborghini Urus. Whhaatt??
It took a while for me to even find this thing online because, really, who even knows what to call it? Countless hours went into pulling this design off. Our compliments of the Nihon Automobile College—honestly, the results are worth it. But that’s when it hit me—this represents the entire foundation of this show. Dream it, build it, and they will come.