In recent years, Japan’s car makers have opened their minds and their bank books to the outlawish Tokyo Auto Salon (TAS), which up until a decade ago was just a rebellious gathering of paroxided revheads showing off their souped-up engines, outrageous aeroparts and scantily clad show girls.
Those elements are all still there. It’s just that the manufacturers now use the Salon as a venue to showcase new material.
Leading the way at this year’s TAS was Toyota, which revealed some 17 models. Of note was the in-house-produced GRMN (Gazoo Racing tuned by Meister of Nurburgring) iQ Racing Concept. Based on the 2009 iQ GRMN, this racing version employs a supercharger, roll-cage, racing seats and harnesses, flared fenders and a tricked-up, race-spec dash.
Another highlight at Toyota was the Lexus IS F CCS-R, short for Circuit Club Sport Racer. This machine has been developed from the ground up as a race car, with lightweight carbonfibre body parts, a reinforced frame and roll-cage, new slipperier aero parts, and a mildly tweaked, 435bhp, 5.0-litre V8. The car will tackle this year’s Nurburgring 24-hour race.
Meanwhile, tucked over in a corner was the Toyota TES Concept T-Sports, a rear-wheel-drive coupe voted as the most popular concept by employees. It sits on an MR-S platform. Lightly modified G Sports versions of the Prius and Vitz (Yaris) also generated interest at Toyota.
As expected, it was the Nissan GT-R which garnered the most attention from tuners. At the Nissan stand, the sharp-looking Nismo GT-R RC (Racing Concept) follows the Lexus IS F CCS-R in that it comes standard with a lightweight carbonfibre body and roll-cage, as well as upgraded brakes and slicks.
At least a dozen other specialist tuners tackled the GT-R, with the Blitz GT-R topping the power war with a ballistic 1000bhp. The Tommy Kaira GT-R, with jet fighter-inspired aero parts, also weighed in heavy, with around 800bhp.
Honda focused on two cars: the CR-Z-based TS-1X and a 20th-anniversary NSX. Painted in a matte black finish and featuring some very edgy styling, stiffened suspension settings and uprated body rigidity, the TS-1X is Honda’s attempt to inject some much-needed passion into the hybrid coupe’s lacklustre persona.
The celebratory NSX got a carbonfibre rear wing, as well as high-performance shocks and grippier brakes.
One of the salon’s traditional favorites, the Subaru Impreza WRX STI, came under special scrutiny this year. The new WRX STI tS production model might have been launched this month, but it was the Nurburgring 24 Hours race-spec version of that car which Subaru executives wanted to promote. They’re targeting victory in the 2.0-litre turbo class.
One stand that all media flock to each year for its wacky designs is the NATS (Nihon [Japan] Automobile College) booth. This year, students outdid themselves by penning two stand-out creations: the bright yellow “Wamerican” which sits on a Toyota Crown platform and is inspired by a Corvette C2, and the “Justice,” a left-hand-drive concept inspired by the Batmobile and employing a Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder platform.
Long-time salon participant RE Amemiya Ltd returned with a fully tweaked 600hp RX-7, while well known tuner Veilside showed what happens when you tack a mock Bentley front end onto a Nissan GT-R R35. But the prize for the most outrageous body kit must go to Value Progress, for its Toyota MR-S-based DragStar F1 Dragon concept.
After several rounds of the floor to make sure we hadn’t missed anything, we went outside to the car park to watch a special ‘demo run’ by star drivers of Japan’s D1 Grand Prix drifting series, the only motorsport to have originated in Japan.