A Classic Car Pastiche from Japan
By Andy Bannister
One of the strangest and most obscure companies selling vehicles today is Mitsuoka of Japan, an outfit which specialises in modifying and dressing up modern cars from the Land of the Rising Sun and making them look like British vehicles of the 1950s and 60s.
Mitusoka has been around for quite a few years now, and it’s most celebrated and successful product is the Viewt, which enjoys quiet cult car status. Unlikely as it sounds this is a retro conversion of a Nissan Micra small hatchback, with looks inspired by nothing less than the classic Jaguar Mk II.
As well as Jaguar – whose 1960s S-type also inspired another Mitsuoka, the Ryoga – styling cues from British marques like Rover, Bentley, Wolseley and Alvis have also shown up in Mitusoka’s other recent models. This look is achieved by grafting on very bold chrome grilles in a classic style, with matching headlight treatments and old-fashioned style chrome bumpers. Similar attention is paid to producing a distinctive rear end.
One problem with this approach is that, whilst they can look dramatic and actually quite convincing seen head-on and from certain other angles, it just doesn’t work as a whole. The unmodified doors and passenger cabin stick out like a sore thumb giving the impression of a “cut-and-shut” job where scrap yards weld together two unrelated wrecks to make a whole car
Inside they are equally a bizarre mix of the modern and traditional, with a hint of the wood and leather of the cars that inspired them grafted on to the standard Japanese interiors.
Nissan has up to now been the favourite “host provider” for Mitsuoka vehicles, with models like the Primera, Cube and Crew also being modified. Mazda’s Carol and the Daihatsu Mira have also been used for successive generations of Mitsuoka’s small car, the Ray, now out of production.
Mitsuoka has just launched its latest product, the Galue 204, which uses as its base a 1500cc or 1900cc Toyota, in the shape of the latest Corolla Axio saloon. This has been transformed in the company’s inimitable way with a startlingly prominent radiator grille and old-fashioned headlamps catching the eye immediately.
One advantage of these pastiches is that the engineering is all state-of-the-art and as reliable as a Japanese car can be, so the Mitsuoka owner certainly shouldn’t have any of the frustrations owners of the classic originals they are inspired by used to endure.
While other small Japanese outfits also exist making these models, Mitsuoka is undoubtedly the leading contender. The company’s production is absolutely tiny compared to Japan’s automotive giants, and they are rarely exported, but these cars are certainly worth a look for their quirkiness alone.
Over the last ten years or so Mitusoka has also made microcars and today has one particularly intriguing offering besides these strange saloons, the Orochi sports car. This vehicle, launched last year, has modern supercar styling though is powered by a relatively humble 3.3 litre Toyota V6.
The company is unlikely ever to be very famous beyond its home market, but its continued success proves the Japanese have a sense of humour.
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