The Japanese love Italy and all things Italian. You’ll ﬁnd somewhere to eat pasta as often as you’ll ﬁnd a ramen or sushi place in Tokyo. So it should come as no surprise that the Japanese love Italian cars too. It’s not like some weird quirky niche either; they genuinely love them. It’s not uncommon to see 1980’s and 1990’s Fiats, Alfas, and Lancias driving around regularly. If you’re lucky you might even see something more exotic on the road.
Japan’s obsessions with Italian cars stretches even further than just buying the cars themselves. They love the whole lifestyle and fantasy of Italian motoring. They have events paying homage to the great rallies of the past like the La Festa Mille Miglia, a sort of Japanese take on the famous Mille Miglia road rally. Think of it in car terms. If the original Italian Mille Miglia is like a Ferrari, then the La Festa Mille Miglia is a Honda NSX. The Coppa di Tokyo, then, is more like a Honda Beat.
It’s a miniature version of the Japanese La Festa Mille Miglia, where instead of driving for 1,600 kilometres, it’s a small rally around Tokyo lasting about 2 hours. The start point and the end goal are at the appropriately nicknamed ‘Italia City’ in Shiodome, Tokyo. It’s an unusual place in Tokyo where the roads and buildings have a very European-esque look and feel to them. Again, the Japanese love Italian things.
It’s the 11th time they’ve held this event and it had a 110-strong car entry list. It was a diverse mix of quirky, interesting, and awesome classics. Most consisted of cars from – yes, you guessed it – Italy but there were a few American, French, German, and British motorcars too. Surprisingly there were a couple of Datsuns and even a Cosmo Sport representing Japan. The ‘newest’ car in the classic lineup was the Delta S4, though FCA did bring in some newer stuﬀ to act as support cars.
Every year the entry list is more or less the same but with a few cool additions annually. This year it was the white Ferrari 275 GTB from Yokohama and the pair of ridiculously cool and desirable Lancias; the Stratos and Delta S4. But perhaps the car most people were amazed to see there was the Ferrari 212 Touring. This particular car came from the Bardidnon Collection, via Osaka.
The ﬁrst cars to leave, for some bizarre reason, were the Corvettes. After that, the cars left in a somewhat more chronological order. It was great to see the enthusiasms of the spectators as they lined up near the starting grid and to see them all leave. Of course, having 110 cars leave one by one did take quite some time to get through. The cars would leave Italia City and drive through central and northern Tokyo, over the Edogawa River on the East, and loop back to the ﬁnish line via Tokyo Bay.
It wasn’t a particularly long route and I had gone over to Tokyo Bay to see some of the cars leave but by the time I got to the checkpoint at Tokyo Bay, some of the cars had already crossed the ﬁnish line so I had to leapfrog the rest of the cars back. Surprisingly, there was less fanfare as the cars came back to the ﬁnish line. Either the rest of the spectators had tried to catch the rally at other checkpoints or they just left. I’m not too sure but either way it was much quieter when the cars came back.
As the rest of the rally drove back on the cobbled streets of Italia City and parked together in the square, you could tell from the faces of the drivers and their co-drivers they had a great time. Even though it’s a small, short drive around Tokyo they were able to do it in some special cars and were able to share their passion with the rest of Tokyo.
Despite all the weird and wonderful things that regularly happens in Japan’s capital, seeing 110 classic cars driving together can still wow and surprise people. What shouldn’t come as a surprise though, was not all the cars made it back. But that’s a whole other thing…..
Ken Saito is a Guest Writer specialising in Automobiles who resides in Japan. With a B.A. majoring in Media Studies with minors in Asian Studies and History from Victoria University in New Zealand, Ken has contributed to motoring websites like DriveLive New Zealand, CarsOfTokyo (Japan), Jalopnik (USA) and Petrolicious (USA), as well as magazines like Lords Magazine (France) and Automobile (USA).
Ken may be one of the few people to have been ‘canyon carving’ in a Cadillac SUV against a Ferrari F40…