If you go down to the Petersen Automotive Museum today you’re sure of a big surprise. That’s because the Los Angeles venue has gathered 19 of Japan’s rarest and most iconic performance cars for a collection called ‘Fine Tuning: Japanese/American Customs’. Open now until April 2019, this is a celebration of Japanese and American car tuning and customisation.
Toyota Supra Turbo
Beginning in the famous Vault, visitors will find a 1997 Toyota Supra Turbo. The fourth-generation Supra was unveiled at the 1993 Chicago Motor Show and showcased a look that seemed at odds with Supras of the past and more of a homage to the 2000GT. In twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre guise, the Supra offered supercar levels of performance and was fitted with Toyota’s first six-speed gearbox.
Terry L. Karges, Petersen Automotive Museum executive director, said: “In one day at the Petersen, guests can experience 60 years of Japanese culture and automotive tradition. Our Japanese car collection not only covers the past six decades of Japanese dominance in the domestic market, but truly illustrates the artfulness and shrewd attention-to-detail that is characteristic of the Japanese design philosophy.”
The Supra’s 2JZ engine soon developed its own mythical status in the aftermarket industries, with some tuners able to eke more than 2,000hp from the unit. The Fast and the Furious film franchise and appearances in Gran Turismo also played a part in the Supra’s rise to prominence.
Honda S600 Coupe
Take the elevator to the first floor and you’ll find a selection of post-war classics, such as this Honda S600 Coupe. Although it wasn’t officially exported to the United States, the S600 was the first car that Honda sold in Europe and is considered to be the company’s first mass-marketed vehicle.
The S500 of 1963 was Honda’s second production car, with the S600 following in March 1964. Now available with the option of left-hand-drive and a coupe body, the S600 was more suitable for export and Honda desperately wanted to sell it in the United States. But emissions regulations meant that the S600 was officially off-limits to American buyers.
Not that this stopped some cars entering the US via Canada, with other S600s shipped over by military personnel returning from Japan. “Driving the S600 is highly enjoyable,” said Road & Track in 1965, “provided you like sports cars with buzzy little engines.”
The most beautiful Japanese car ever created? Almost certainly, but we’d go one step closer by declaring it to be one of the most beautiful cars in the world. Put it this way: choosing a winner in a three-way fight with the Lamborghini Miura and Jaguar E-Type would be extremely challenging.
It was destined to wear a different badge, but when Nissan abandoned the project, Yamaha offered it to Toyota. The first prototype was unveiled to the public at the 1965 Tokyo Motor Show and there was no shortage of wealthy buyers, but there was work to be done before its launch in 1967.
Production was outsourced to Yamaha, with the cars assembled entirely by hand and in small batches. By the end of production in 1970, just 351 had been built, 337 of which were sold as road cars.
Toyota 2000GT Roadster
Up on the Petersen’s third floor, the Perspectives Gallery contains a broad look at automotive history. This includes Hollywood cars like the 1967 Toyota 2000GT Roadster from the James Bond film You Only Live Twice.
The 2000GT caught the eye of Bond producer, Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, who selected the svelte coupe as 007’s wheels in the movie. However, Sean Connery was too tall for the car and filming of the interior shots proved tricky.
The answer was simple, if a little severe: create two 2000GT roadsters. These were the only two open-top 2000GTs ever officially produced, with a range of 007 gadgets, including CCTV, a video recorder, cameras behind the number plate, two-way radios and a voice-controlled tape controller.
Mazda Cosmo Sport 100S
Mazda acquired the license to build Wankel rotary engines from NSU in 1961 and began experimenting with the technology before a prototype arrived from Germany. In fact, the Mazda Cosmo Sport beat the NSU Ro80 into production by a few months.
Launched in 1964, the Cosmo had futuristic styling and a name inspired by space travel – it still looks otherworldly in 2018. Mazda carried out 450,000 miles of continuous high-speed endurance tests at the Miyoshi Proving Ground, as engineers strived to improve the quality and durability of this groundbreaking sports car.
The Series 1 Cosmo Sport boasted 110hp and a 7,000rpm redline, while the Series 2 of 1968 introduced a host of upgrades. These included an extra 18hp, a longer wheelbase, servo-assisted brakes, a five-speed gearbox and a top speed of 120mph.
Built from the ground up to compete in the Japanese Grand Prix, the Nissan R382 took first and second places in 1969. It was powered by Nissan’s first V12 engine.
In the 1969 Japanese Grand Prix, the three R382s qualified first, second and third, and there were high hopes that this would result in a podium-dominating race. But while Motoharu Kurosawa drove number 21 to victory and Moto Kitano finished second in car number 20, the car on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum was less fortunate.
With Takahashi Kunimoto at the wheel, car number 23 experienced reliability issues and had to be content with finishing 10th.
DNA Garage, based in Santa Ana, California, built this homage to famed Japanese motorcycle and race car driver, Yoshimi Katayama. His RX-3 Savanna was distinguished by its prominent arches and green and yellow livery.
This 1974 car looks a little different to the Mazda RX-3 Coupe advertised to UK buyers in the same year. The campaign focused on the rotary engine with its three moving parts, 29mpg economy, reclining bucket seats, 108mph top speed and the 7.4 seconds it took to hit 50mph.
For the homage car, DNA Garage stripped the interior of all unnecessary weight, leaving only a single bucket seat, custom roll cage and a Racepak dashboard.
It needs no introduction, does it? As this is America, the car you’re looking at wears an Acura badge and not the more familiar Honda logo. It also has a targa roof, hence the ‘T’ in NSX-T.
The New Sportscar eXperimental (NSX) unveiled at the 1989 Chicago Motor Show was inspired by a fighter jet, built to take on Ferrari and featured a chassis developed with help from a certain Ayrton Senna.
Earlier this year, an Acura NSX-T with 3,629 miles on the clock sold for $128,800 (£100,000) at the RM Sotheby’s Monterey sale. You can bank on spending half that figure if you fancy one in the UK. Not bad for a supercar you could use for the daily commute.
Nissan R390 GT1
In truth, the Petersen’s $16 admission fee is a small price to pay for a chance to get up close and personal with the Nissan R390 GT1. There’s a strong emphasis on ‘the’, as this is only one of its kind and it has just arrived at the museum following the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.
The R390 GT1 was the most expensive road car Nissan ever built and it was built to meet the homologation requirements of its class at Le Mans. Take a close look at those rear lights and you’ll notice that they were ‘borrowed’ from the Fiat Coupe.
Although the updated speedometer tops out at 180mph (it was 170mph on an earlier dashboard), the R390 can reach 220mph, hitting 62mph in just 4.0 seconds.
It was as outrageous as the Countach, but while the Lamborghini still receives its fair share of column inches and digital exposure, the Dome Zero concept has faded into history. Launched in 1978, the Zero sat lower than a Ford GT40 and was powered by a 2.8-litre straight-six engine from a Datsun 280Z.
It was the work of Minoru Hayashi, who held an ambition to complete at the Le Mans 24 Hours race. Sadly, the 920kg, 143hp concept never entered series production. Shame.
Gamers might remember the Dome Zero for its appearance in Gran Turismo 4 on the PlayStation 2, along with Gran Turismo 5 and Gran Turismo 6 for the PlayStation 3.
Infiniti Prototype 9 and 10
For a limited period, two Infiniti prototypes will be on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum. The Prototype 9 and Prototype 10 represent Infiniti’s plans for an electrified future and this is the first time they have been displayed together in a public setting.
The ‘Fine Tuning: Japanese/American Customs’.collection can be found in Los Angeles, California until April 2019.