Petersen Museum opens two significant Japanese car exhibitions

Roots of Monozukuri and Fine Tuning displays at legendary LA venue celebrate iconic classic machinery from the Land of the Rising Sun

It’s happened at last; the sun has finally risen on the Rising Sun’s automotive history, as well as its impact on industry and the collector world. As proof, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles has properly recognised and celebrated Japanese manufacturing and car culture by simultaneously opening two distinct exhibits on the subject.

The Roots of Monozukuri: Creative Spirit in Japanese Automaking (above), which has been more than two years in development, explores Japanese innovations in engineering and manufacturing. Meanwhile, Fine Tuning: Japanese-American Customs (below) focuses on Japanese car culture and customisation in the US and around the world. Both exhibits premiered to the public on May 25, 2018.

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As the title suggests, the Roots of Monozukuri explores the theme of monozukuri, or ‘the art, science and craft of making things’, and how it has led to the long-term global success of the Japanese automotive industry. Each car on display aims to highlight the creativity, innovation, craftsmanship and collaboration central to Japanese manufacturing.

Exhibits include a 1936 Toyoda AA (replica), 1966 Nissan Silvia (below), 1967 Toyota 2000GT, (the very first production) 1968 Honda N600, 1969 Mazda Cosmo and dozens more. Many of the vehicles have been transported to the US from Japan – and, as you might expect, Nissan is a major sponsor of the exhibits.

Everywhere you turn you can trace the very humblest beginnings of Japanese carmaking up to and through the 1970s – and later, in terms of the tuner cars exhibits.

What you won’t see (yet) are any of the Japanese hypercars, or modern performance hardware, as this programme is dedicated primarily to the first four decades of Japan’s motor industry. There’s quiet rumour of a second rollout later this year.

Looking at the earliest examples on display, you’ll be amazed at how small most of these cars are – an important factor given the crowded streets and minimal parking space in Japan’s largest cities.

007 fans will positively drool over one of the custom-built Toyota 2000GT roadsters that appeared in the 1967 James Bond flick You Only Live Twice. Only two were built in period; one sits in the lobby of Toyota’s world headquarters, and the other – this one – belongs to a private collector in Japan, who sent it to Los Angeles to highlight this exhibit. There is, of course, a standard-bodied 2000GT fastback coupé on show as well. Another notable movie car is the electric pink Honda S2000 from 2003’s 2 Fast, 2 Furious.

Interestingly, notable Italian designers had a big hand in the shaping of many special Japanese cars. Among these are the Michelotti-penned 1963 Prince Skyline Sport Coupé, wearing all manner of gold badging identifying the manufacturer, model, designer and trim level, plus the ever-handsome and well proportioned Mazda Luce coupé (below) by Giorgetto Giugiaro. And don’t miss the Renault 4CV sedan produced under licence by Toyota.

Great fun is the 1958 Toyopet sedan, which competed in the Australian version of the MobilGas Economy Run trials. It also doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that the bright yellow Suzuki sport-utility vehicle is a clear and faithful copy of the legendary Jeep CJ5. Rightly so, as the Jeep was the pioneer of this vehicle segment, and it’s likely the Suzuki designers didn’t feel they could substantively better it.

Likely the most dazzling car on show, and perhaps the one least expected, is the 1969 Nissan R382 Can-Am racer, inspired by the great McLaren, Porsche, Ferrari and Shadow Can-Am cars that wowed North American crowds with unlimited performance formulas, record-setting speeds and bellowing exhausts.

The R382 was a first and second-place winner at the Japanese [sports car] Grand Prix in 1969, and was designed and built from the ground up by Nissan. Interestingly, this was this carmaker’s first-ever V12-engined car.

The Roots of Monozukuri and Fine Tuning are currently open to the public and will run through April 14, 2019. See here for more details.

Photos by Matt Stone and courtesy Petersen Automotive Museum

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