Enter the weird and wonderful world of Japan's answer to the SEMA tuner show
11 January 2008

This weekend, in the Makuhari Messe of Tokyo’s Nippon Convention Centre, tens of thousands of car nuts will visit a motor show totally unlike the one about to take place thousands of miles away in Detroit. Few in the automotive industry would deny that Tokyo’s Auto Salon lies firmly in the shadow of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS for short), but it’s vibrant and interesting nonetheless.This is Japan's premier custom and tuner show. Once upon a time, the Auto Salon was this kind of wild, outlaw event. Today, like America's SEMA show, it's gone increasingly corporate. All the big Japanese car-makers have official stands and a host of production models get the aftermarket treatment (body kit, wheels, tyres, suspension kit, exhaust etc) with factory blessing.And the Auto Salon was heaving again this year, on first press day today, and car of the show was unquestionably Nissan's GT-R. They seemed to be everywhere even though the GT-R's still so new and supposedly in short supply.Nissan, of course, has gone out of its way to spoil the tuners' creativity. After years of rogue 600-800bhp Skyline GT-Rs roaming Japanese roads, the new GT-R has a limiter to keep power at 473bhp and Japanese mandatory top speed of 112 mph for the road very much in check. Why? To keep the Japanese transport mandarins happy.The smartest tuning brains are now trying hard to crack that, of course. So for now, most were limiting themselves to wheel and tyre conversions. But one outfit called Blitz is already talking about a power jump to 519lb ft. Quite how they will manage that remains to be seen, as the GT-R management system is very hard to hack into. This time next year, though, with Nissan's own lightweight, high-power Spec V version of the GT-R on sale, maybe things will become a lot easier.At the Auto Salon, Nissan also unveiled the wicked-looking silhouette race version of the NISMO GT-R, destined for this season's Super GT series in Japan.

Mazdaspeed models; Honda Sports Modulo Type-R

Mazda is a company that's long woken up to the power of the Tokyo Auto Salon. So has Honda. Together they had a host of cool new cars to tempt and tease. On the Mazda stand, this was the cue for Mazdaspeed versions of virtually every model in the range, notably one of the new Mazda 6, known as the Atenza over here. Mazdaspeed in this case means a formula of aero body kit, sports exhaust, mild chassis tuning, wheels/tyres and a new engine power module (but no turbos). Mazda's new nose RX-8 also quietly made its debut in sporty Type RS guise.In the Honda camp, the car of choice was unquestionably the brilliant Civic Type R saloon. There were two: one from Honda, the Sports Modulo Type R, with unspecified engine/chassis treatment but unique aerodynamics, design and cabin. The other was from Mugen, which came up with the very tasty Civic Mugen RR Experimental Spec with lightweight carbon fibre body, trick 2.2-litre, 256bhp engine and plenty more besides.Then there was the Mugen Fit F154sc - a new Jazz with all the body gear and a supercharged 1.5 under the bonnet. Mugen wants to sell it as a whole package; just to prove it can do it better than Vauxhall does with the Meriva VXR, presumably.Another from Mugen was a very smart body-kitted S2000, called (prosaically) the 'Mugen S2000 Pre-Production Model.' Honda countered with an aggressive, designerish reworking of its new 3.5-litre V6 Inspire, its answer to the BMW 5-series in Japan.

Innumerable Evos; mad Suzukis

As you walk around the Auto Salon, you also trip over an inordinate number of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions. A yellow Ohlins car had been built for Japan's Super Taikyu Endurance Racing series. The orange Cusco Evo is for Japan's D1 Drift series.Rather different is this psychedelic low rider, the Galant Fortis - a slammed version of the new Lancer Evo, while on another stand, a 320bhp HKS-converted Evo was already nudging FQ territory.The Tokyo Auto Salon always has its fair share of the wacky, and the Fluente Disegno GT, a prototype Italianate coupe based on a Mazda RX-7, certainly qualified as that. Also, full marks go to Suzuki for displaying the Palette Version Gold, a mad, wave painted low rider version of its new 660 cc Palette mini wagon, on display before the normal Palette has even gone on sale.

Peter Nunn

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