What exactly is Yakushi? The name derives from a Japanese temple that is one of old Nara’s eight historic landmarks, according to Nigel Ruggles, the founder of the Japanese automobile and cultural event. He started the event in 2019, after 10 years of involvement in organising JDM car events. Motivated to encourage a sense of community, Nigel wanted to create a unique, inclusive and friendly event to give owners a platform to meet other like-minded JDM fans. Held at the picturesque and easy to access former cricket field at Tower Field near Wellingborough, the organisation who manage the site are used to holding car events at the venue, but nothing quite like this one before.
The first of two Yakushi events for 2021 presented by Petrolheadonism has a genuine grassroots feel with a relaxed nature, mutual respect, carefully chosen food and trade stands that offer a small festival vibe to it. Only with more dried flower gear knobs and dump valves, obviously. As the sound of dance classic’s echo around the intimate but well-spaced 5 acres of the park, the scene is set off with a lush summer breeze, near-perfect temperatures and the occasional waft of pizza and bratwurst. Summers here at last.
With interest in older Japanese cars increasing with every passing year, guided by a culture ranging from anime to video games, certain cars have been elevated to near-legendary status. With cars like the Datsun 240Z, Toyota AE86 and various incarnations of the Nissan Skyline attracting serious money, the interest in JDM cars shows no signs of slowing down and values of the very best examples are reflected by their demand.
Acting as a signature car for the event, Nigel’s B1600 Mazda Proceed is believed to be just one of two in the UK. The car itself is closely related to the Ford Courier, with the tie-up between the two companies being established in the early ’70s. The Mazda was one of the first Japanese pick-ups vehicles to be imported into the UK, but given the nature of their use and the ample opportunities for the damp climate to attack the metal, finding an original UK spec in decent condition is close to impossible. As a result, Nigel’s car has been specifically imported via Thailand and while he continues to fettle it for regular use, it will act as a signature car for the Yakushi brand.
Continuing the Mazda theme, we fast forward to a more recent era of cars that first graced the UK shores during the early ‘90s. The first of the trilogy comes from Neils’ Mazda MX6. It was one of three JDM cars in attendance coming from the same family, while his sons Honda’s were wowing the crowds, Car and Classic’s curious reporter was rather intrigued by the svelte and handsome V6 coupe parked up at the back of the field. The car formed the basis for the Ford Probe, but while the Ford has a small and increasing number of followers, the Mazda has remained something of an unknown quantity in the UK. Neil took the car on board, to complement his stable of modern JDM classics, joining a MK2 MR2 and a late MK1 MX5 – obviously a man with a keen eye for up and coming cars. He enthuses about the MX6’s comfort, handling and practicality. He cheerfully admitted that cars roomy space lends it to act as a dog carrier, strongly suggesting that his dog has impeccable taste in underrated V6’s…
The compact MX3 is a nicely understated design, that along with several other Mazdas of the era, has matured rather well. It is also a perfect example of how a little lowering and some choice alloys can transform the look of a car. Sold with the Twin-Cam 1.8-litre 24V V6, it was loaded up with goodies such as ABS, all-round disc brakes, unique manifold and rear suspension designs. While not quite as unknown as its bigger sister, the MX6, the smaller car was a practical 2+2 coupe that offered an extra dimension to the ever-decreasing small coupe market.
Andy is a long time advocate of the 323F, and not without reason. A remarkable car for many reasons, the car was penned by a former Porsche designer and in the process broke the styling mould of conventional 5 door hatchbacks. The car was also sold with the same high-revving V6 engine, which also went on to be developed for the Ford Mondeo Super Touring Racecar. As a long time fan of these cars, having collected several examples over the last 20 years, Andy has stuck with his car thanks to its smooth power delivery, usable torque and that addictive engine sound. The aesthetics of the design is unlike any other car too, he tells us that the novelty has yet to wear off!
A couple of variations on the Kei vehicle theme. Erin’s delightful Daihatsu Copen is a prime example of the ingenuity of the kei-car class, a domestic category that literally means ‘light automobile’ acting as a benefit from parking exemptions, as well as tax and insurance savings. The Copen was an official import to Europe and was imported for 6 years to 2010. She was attracted to the car largely due to its inherent character and back to basics sense of motoring. Very much a tiny car with a big heart, she’s owned it for a year and a half and loves the fact it’s so different to almost everything else on the roads.
As a perfect example of brand loyalty, Mark Cockrell’s Suzuki Carry van has been modified to accommodate a GSX1250F Suzuki motorcycle engine. There’s not much difference between the original engine displacement and the donor motorcycle lump but there is a significant increase in bhp and torque. A ring gear has been installed around the driveshaft which resolves the lack of a reverse gear. Finished with Escort RS Turbo seats, this little masterpiece was a crowd puller, particularly with the minibike and the welcome double presence of puppet terrors Sooty and Sweep in the back of the van.
Darren was looking for a big comfortable car and was straying towards the charms of a Lexus, when he stumbled across this 2004 V12 Toyota Century. The car is another unknown JDM jewel in the UK, but it served as Toyotas flagship model for 50 years. Updated over that period with evolutionary incremental styling updates, but enough to not upset the conservative statesmen who were chauffeured in them. The appeal of the car is focused around the rear passengers, with sumptuous deep wool seats, twin TV and video entertainment, as well as the smoothest engine ever built by the brand. Darren is in the process of adding privacy curtains and pointed out that the front badge is actually made from gold and it is believed that only three Toyota employees have been trusted over the 50 years of production to craft such a unique item. Not surprisingly the car won the best interior at the show.
Several other high spec Toyota saloons were spotted at the event too. Known as the direct predecessor of the Lexus brand, the Crown was last officially imported by Toyota into the UK in 1984, with subsequent models being subject to private imports. With the brand’s reputation for excellence in build quality, lavish materials and high levels of equipment combined with reliability and ease of ownership, it’s hardly surprising that so many have been imported into the UK over the years. The Crown has remained in the line-up since 1955 and remains the worlds longest-running production saloon car. This is due to its multiple roles in Japanese society, acting as the countries default Taxi, Police, Government or VIP car. Add in the ability to customise and modify, the Crown remains in the focal point of JDM large saloon car culture across the world.
The sixth generation of Nissan Skyline was launched in 1981 but the R30 was not for European markets, due to the sluggish sales of the two previous incarnations that made the car uneconomic to import. In stripped out RS Turbo form it had been Japans quickest production vehicle, so a trick was clearly missed by Datsun-Nissan Europe here. Even today in the Skyline hall of fame it can get overlooked, so the opportunity to see one in the flesh, was indeed a genuine treat for many visitors at the event. The DR30, as it was known by its chassis designation, was promoted by movie star Paul Newman, who, in addition to loading the shelves with salad dressing, also raced Nissans at the time. The models sporting credentials were reinforced by success on Australian racetracks.
James, the owner of this retro-styled Nissan Pao, has a rich history of interesting vehicles but had been hankering over one of these charming little cars for a long time and finally lucked out on an eBay win in late 2020. One of four cars created by Nissan in the late ’80s, collectively known as the ‘Pike’ Series, the visuals presentation was deliberately retro to offer the Japanese public something a little more distinctive. As a result, the allocation of around 51,000 cars was snapped up within three months of its announcement. Used as a daily driver for 9 years having been imported in 2011, the 1989 car needed a little cosmetics, and has now been treated to paint as well as some lovely detailing that enhances the utilitarian nature of the design. The mechanics are based on the 1-litre KE10 Nissan Micra, which is handy in the unlikely event that something goes wrong. James and his partner Lizzie walked away with the best Retro award.
Older Hondas have fascinating ownership profile, where they were retained for decades by their affluent first or second owners and largely due to their mechanical durability and decent engineering tend to stay with them for decades. Then something interesting happens, and they become transformed almost overnight as they snapped up by enterprising modifiers who offer the car a second life. Every generation of Civic witnesses some type of change, as evidenced by the two instances presented here, both of which are in different stages of modification.
We’ll leave the last word to Erin, the Copen owner. She summed up the event succinctly, “Yakushi had all the vibes, plenty of variety, sunshine and amazing food” and she added, “You can’t beat a day like that with friends that share the same passion for cars”. We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. Keep on an eye for their next event in September, set at Whittlebury Hall near Silverstone.